Working With Your Hands Essay

Working with your hands : essays on craft occupations in India


Alternative Title:Essays on craft occupations in India

Author:Ranganathan, Aruna

Citable URI:

Other Contributors:Sloan School of Management.

Advisor:Paul Osterman and Ezra Zuckerman.

Department:Sloan School of Management.

Publisher:Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Date Issued:2014


Essay 1 : Professionalization And Market Closure: The Case Of Plumbing In India. Professionalization has long been understood as a process of establishing market closure and monopoly control over work; however, in this article I present a case in which professionalization erodes rather than establishes occupational closure. I demonstrate how the Indian Plumbing Association (IPA), a newly formed organization of internationally trained plumbing contractors and consultants, has used the rhetoric and structures of professionalization to threaten pre-existing ethnicity-based closure enjoyed by traditional plumbers from the eastern state of Orissa. By employing a discourse of professionalism and by instituting codes, training, and certification programs, professionalization in this case has undermined Orissan plumbers by changing the basis of plumbing knowledge and opening entry to outsiders. I conclude by suggesting that professionalization is a modern trope that does not necessarily imply monopoly benefits and higher job quality for all members of an occupational group. Essay 2 : The Price is Right? Ethnographic and Field-Experimental Evidence of Price-Setting from the Sale of Handicraft Products in Southern India. Scholars of economic sociology have shown that sellers often vary prices among different buyers for short-term monetary gains or long-term relational gains, but they have failed to consider how sellers' relationship with their products can affect their price-setting behavior even in the absence of such gains. This paper, by studying how artisans and traders in a wood and lacquerware cluster in India vary prices across buyers, demonstrates the importance of product attachment in understanding price discrimination. Drawing on a field audit study where trained buyers purchase identical products from artisans and traders, the paper documents that artisans of their products beyond the point of sale, even if these buyers are wealthy, in contrast to traders who price in accordance with buyers' willingness-to-pay. These findings are consistent with ethnographic evidence documenting artisans' and traders' varying attachment to their products as indicated by their investment in the products, meaning ascribed to the products and internal standards for the products. By introducing the idea of product attachment, this paper contributes to our understanding of price-setting and economic decision-making more broadly, while also offering a unique methodological model that combines experimental and ethnographic research. Essay 3 : Export-Oriented Industrialization and Technological Frames of Government Officials, Workers and Capitalists: Evidence from a Mechanization Project in India. Export-oriented industrialization (EOI) is a common strategy for economic development in developing economies that can be achieved by increasing exports in large manufacturing sectors or smaller-scale, cluster-based industries. A key component of the EOI strategy, whether in the context of large- or small-scale production, is technological upgrading of manufacturing practices to facilitate exports and boost worker earnings. While the literature has recognized the salience of technological upgrading, it has focused predominantly on successful cases, thus overlooking problems in the implementation and adoption of such technology that could impede exports. In this paper, I draw on an ineffective export-driven mechanization initiative in a handicraft cluster in southern India to illustrate how key stakeholders might adopt incompatible "technological frames" in making sense of new technology, thus hindering the expansion of exports. I describe how government officials in this case viewed the technology brought into the sector through the frame of "status," workers perceived the technology using a "creative control" frame, whereas capitalists saw the same technology as being a source of "profits." These mismatched frames led to discordant actions by the stakeholders, resulting in limited adoption of the technology, weak exports and little improvements in worker earnings. By highlighting a key condition under which export-driven technology projects might fail, namely when key stakeholders' technological frames are misaligned, this paper draws important implications for the many developing economies using EOI as their primary industrialization strategy.


Thesis: Ph. D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management, 2014.; Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.; Includes bibliographical references (pages 177-185).


Keywords:Sloan School of Management.

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Dear student,

I have just read your essay, and I must apologise – I have absolutely no idea what it said.

When you hold this essay in your hands in a few weeks’ time, I know that you will look immediately at the mark I’ve written at the top of the first page. You will make assumptions about yourself, your work – perhaps even your worth – based on this number. I want to tell you not to worry about it.

How to survive marking dissertations

When I was a student, I assumed – as you probably do now – that my work was meticulously checked and appraised, with the due consideration it deserved, by erudite scholars who perhaps wore tweed.

I wonder now if it was actually marked by someone like me: a semi-employed thirtysomething on a zero-hours contract, sitting at home in pyjamas, staring at a hopeless pile of marking, as hopes of making it to the shops for a pint of milk today fade.

Your essay is one of 20 or so I’ve tackled in one sitting this afternoon. They are beginning to blur into one; a profusion of themes and things “to be noted” and endless variations on the phrase “It is interesting that...”.

I’m reading something you wrote on page two and I’m wondering if I just read an explanation of this concept on page one, or if that was in someone else’s essay. I have to go back a page, eyes swimming, and check.

Your essay does not stand alone, but becomes amalgamated with the others I’ve read so far today, all talking about the same things, with varying degrees of clarity. Your words are diluted by the ones that came before, they are lost on me even before I begin.

It should not be like this. In an ideal world, I would spend my morning carefully marking three essays at most, giving them the thought they deserve. I would spend the early afternoon wandering around a meadow picking flowers – something, anything, to clear my head so I can approach the next batch with a fresh outlook and enthusiasm.

Academic workload: a model approach

But I do not have that kind of time. I have academic work of my own; I have a job interview to prepare for; at various points of the year, I have additional employment to help tide me over. (And I’m only a part-time lecturer, I’m aware that my colleagues in full-time jobs have a lot more of this to do.)

I have cleared this bit of space in my schedule to read your essays, and I have come at them genuinely excited to see what you have found out this term, and to tell you how you can improve. I try to be thorough and write actual comments on your essay, even though I’m aware that I could probably get away with a few ticks, question marks and a cryptic “needs improvement”.

I’ve been at it all day and it is 6.20 pm. There are 11 unmarked essays. I could carry on, but I can’t make sense of anything you say any more. I have to force myself to understand anything other than the clearest, nicest writing; the kind of writing that takes me by the hand and shows me round all your ideas. (Dear student, please note: I am not so exhausted that I can’t spot nice writing. Do us both a favour and spend time on your essay. Make it good. Edit, polish, relieve my boredom and let me award you a first.)

I know that I should go back and reread a few essays to compare the marks I’ve given, but there isn’t time. I would like to look up the references you cite, to tell you if there are other gems in those books you may have missed, or suggest other interpretations, but there’s no chance. I also have a life – washing to do, family to spend time with, that sort of thing.

In this letter (which I’ve written with an aching hand) I ask three things of you:

  • Work hard on your essays. Help people like me. It’ll open your mind, and it’ll make me happy. And I really, really want to give you a first.
  • Don’t think that if you just waffle on for three pages to bring your essay up to the required word count, I won’t notice. I will.
  • Do not get too upset – or complacent – because of whatever mark you’ve got. Don’t take it too personally. I’ve tried my best to be consistent and fair, and other lecturers will moderate my marking, but really, by a certain stage, I’m just pulling numbers out of the air. (55? 58? I don’t know)

Teaching at a university means constant pressure - for about £5 an hour

Your essay does not stand alone; it’s either going to impress me or sap my energy, and if it does the latter, it affects how I read the ones which come afterwards. Too many awful essays and I can’t concentrate anymore.

The books on your reading list will tell you everything about the subject that you need to know; read them. There are also books in the library with titles like How to Write an Essay; make use of them. If you don’t understand something, come along to my office hour. I’ve gone on about it all term, and you know where that is.

All the best,

Your lecturer

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