Patronage and Class in Urban Pakistan
Modes of Labor Control in the Contractor Economy
Author: Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Of the rich academic literature that has emerged on the growth and dynamism of the "informal economy" in South Asia in recent years very little work has focused on the Pakistani context. This article builds upon the growing body of work on "informal employment" by identifying and explaining modes of labor control in the housing construction industry in metropolitan Pakistan. The crucial role of the subcontractor and his exploitative relationship with workers is discussed in a Gramscian framework. Workers are ensconced in a hegemonic relationship with contractors due to oppressive structural conditions as well as a culture of dependency that contractors have nurtured. Against the backdrop of the shift from Fordist to flexible accumulation regimes, the author argues that the present conjuncture is marked by the prevalence of extra-economic forms of control such that workers conceive of contractors as patrons. The instrumentalization of cultural norms of reciprocity by contractors does not mean that the labor–capital relationship is unchanging and rooted in "culture." In fact, personalized patronage networks coexist with impersonal market ethics dynamically so as to produce and sustain the hegemony of capital.