Transit Labour (Shanghai, Kolkata, and Sydney)

Concept Note


Transit-labour investigates changing patterns of labour and mobility in the whirlwind of Asian capitalist transformation. Mindful of the view of Asia as the world's factory, this three year research project examines the role of creativity, invention and knowledge production in the new economic order being forged from the region's capitalist centres. Particular attention is given to changing relations of culture and economy in this transition and their entanglement with the production of new subjectivities and modalities of labour.

The research focuses on the precariousness and mobility of creative labour across three cities: Shanghai (2010), Kolkata (2011) and Sydney (2012). Each of these cities is the site of a research platform that combines online and offline methods to map conceptual and material linkages between labour, mobility and subjectivity. Based on previous research conducted in Beijing (, these platforms gather researchers from across the world bringing them into collaborative relations with local participants through workshops, field trips, symposia, exhibitions, mailing lists, website documentation and the preparation of publications.

The project's interest is not merely in the transition of labour and culture in each individual city. Recognizing that the regional scale has become decisive in the world today, it places methodological emphasis on processes of inter-referencing between the research sites. This website is a principal research instrument for such inter-referencing. Fleeing the self-referential universe of social networking, it provides an environment for collaborative invention and the common production of knowledge. It is at once an open archive of research activities and a means of organizing them.

Creative labour refers not only to work in the creative and cultural sectors: music and performing arts; film, television and radio; software development and multimedia; writing, publishing and print media; architecture, design and visual arts. It also encompasses the various forms of service labour that feed into and enable work in these fields. Transit-labour conducts research that tests the boundaries between these forms of work. By tracing conceptual interconnections between the conditions of creative labour in Shanghai, Kolkata and Sydney, the project also aims to rethink how global regions are configured under current economic and social circumstances.

At a time when market rights interfere with territorially-based forms of citizenship, the effects of national creative enterprises are by no means confined by national borders. The project explores how changing patterns of economic, geographic and social flexibility (including labour migrations) are generating new forms and practices of governance in the Asian region (and how regionalism is redefined through such transformations). The role of borders, both those that traverse political spaces and those that define their edges, is crucial to understanding the theoretical and practical linkages between labour, mobility and subjectivity.

At the regional scale, it is possible to observe the emergence of production regimes that exploit differences between labour conditions in various territorial zones, leading to hierarchically organized regimes of labour mobility and attempts to coordinate and manage these mobilities through market, border and zoning technologies. The analysis of such differentially organized systems of inclusion and mobility is also a part of the project. Set against the rapid expansion of communication and information technologies, the re-ordering of intellectual property and conflicts in the production of knowledge, transit-labour probes these transformations to discern future tendencies of social, economic and political organization.

The research platform on Transit Labour is initiated by University of Western Sydney. CRG's research on the New Towm in Rajarhat has been conducted as part of the transit labour platform. 

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@2009 Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group