Navigating the City and the Workplace: Migrant Female Construction Workers and Urban (Im)Mobilities

  • Rebecca Bowers London School of Economics


While their labour shapes the growing cityscape, migrant construction workers often remain invisible – not only to property developers and consumers but also to the state. For female workers, this is compounded by gender-based discrimination within the industry. Utilising ethnographic data, this article explores how women working in construction in Bengaluru, India, both experience and strive for mobility. It provides a multi-sited analysis to establish the ways in which intersectionality between employment conditions, the urban environment and gender norms may inhibit or facilitate urban mobility for migrant female workers. Few ethnographic studies have attended to women’s experiences of intermingled work/accommodation sites within the industry, although the practices and outcomes produced by the blurring of such boundaries provides fertile ground for analysis. While the article confirms the enduring nature of discrimination experienced by women in the construction industry, it also attends to the ways in which female workers were able to utilise spaces of exploitation. I conclude that precarious livelihoods may not at first glance yield enduring or substantive beneficial outcomes for those compelled to undertake them, but they are nevertheless productive – allowing for the maintenance and fulfilment of aspirations which may not reside within the urban domain.

KEYWORDS circular migration; labour; gender; women; construction work

Author Biography

Rebecca Bowers, London School of Economics
Final year PhD candidate, Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science. Editor, South Asia @ LSE, South Asia Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science