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The Lives of Cycle Rickshaw Men: Labor Migration and Masculinity in North India

Beckhorn, Patrick (2022) The Lives of Cycle Rickshaw Men: Labor Migration and Masculinity in North India. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation, based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in North India, examines the lives of men who migrated from the North Indian countryside to Delhi, India to operate cycle rickshaws for work. It argues that they cannot be understood as workers or migrants without simultaneously appreciating them as gendered actors who were attempting to be, or be seen as, proper men. Tracing the theme of masculinity also demonstrates that the lives of these low-caste, labor migrants have meaning that extends beyond their labor and migration. Pedaling a rickshaw, which was done to fulfill the male breadwinner expectation, was believed by the rickshaw men to conflict with their masculine goal of sexual fitness. This conflict of masculine priorities was behind their strategic non-performance of their labor. Thus, to understand the men’s worktime (in)activities requires an understanding of their multiple masculine commitments and the tension between them. Furthermore, the men practiced intimate relationships with their wives, sex workers, and female customers that were heavily influenced by their masculine heterosexuality, and these intimate relationships shaped their migration schedules and how they performed their labor.
This dissertation also looks at the relationships that rickshaw men practiced in Delhi with other rickshaw men who they knew from their villages. The support and cooperation exchanged between village-mates was important for the successful completion of their migration circuits, and the proper practice of these relationships was essential to being recognized as good men. The men’s village lives were likewise geared towards being, or at least being regarded as, good men, and in relation to this goal, their circular labor migration imposed constraints and created possibilities. The ethnographic evidence reveals, however, that the fact of labor migration failed to encompass all the important activities and meaning-making in which the rickshaw men engaged. A view is therefore advanced in which actors like those who migrate to operate cycle rickshaws should always be considered as complex, gendered people.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Beckhorn, Patrickpwb5@pitt.edupwb5
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairAlter,
Committee CoChairLukacs,
Committee MemberConstable,
Committee MemberBamyeh,
Date: 24 February 2022
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 3 September 2021
Approval Date: 24 February 2022
Submission Date: 13 October 2021
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 234
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Anthropology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: masculinity, South Asia, labor, migration, work, anthropology, ethnography
Date Deposited: 24 Feb 2022 15:27
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2022 15:27


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