This article starts with the recognition that labour has received less than its fair share of empirical and analytical attention in scholarship on global production networks. Little is known about how jobs for export markets fit into workers’ wider livelihoods strategies, or how workers react to new employment opportunities available to them. Based on evidence from the Tiruppur garment cluster in Tamil Nadu, South India, the article takes labourers, their livelihoods and their social reproduction as its starting point. It reviews relevant labour geography and GPN literature, and suggests that labour agency has been almost solely conceptualised in terms of collective forms of organised worker resistance. The article then draws on material from South India to examine how people enter garment work as well as the multiple and everyday forms of agency they engage in. We follow a ‘horizontal’ approach that accounts for gender, age, caste and regional connections in the making and constraining of agency. Such an approach reveals how labour agency is not merely fashioned by vertically linked production networks but as much by social relations and livelihood strategies that are themselves embedded in a wider regional economy and cultural environment. The article argues that labour’s multiple and everyday forms of agency not only help to shape local developments of global capitalism but also to produce transformative effects on workers’ livelihoods, social relations and reproductive capacities.
Carswell, G. Labouring for global markets: Conceptualising labour agency in global production networks. Geoforum (2013) 44: 62-70. [DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2012.06.008]