Test Cover Image of:  The Labor of Development

The Labor of Development

Workers and the Transformation of Capitalism in Kerala, India

The state of Kerala in southern India is notable for the ways in which lower-class mobilization and state intervention have combined to create one of the most successful cases of social and redistributive development in the Third World. In contrast to predictions that labor militancy in developing countries threatens to overload fledgling democratic institutions and derail economic growth, The Labor of Development shows that the political and economic inclusion of industrial and agricultural workers in Kerala set the stage for a democratically negotiated capitalist transformation.When compared to the other Indian states, Kerala's departure from the national pattern is tied to its history of social movements and highlights the significance of understanding sub-national patterns of democratic consolidation and state building. The case of Kerala provides important theoretical insights into the circumstances under which the expansion of political and social citizenship can become the basis for managing economic change. Using examples from agriculture, industry, and the informal sector, Patrick Heller examines the institutional and political dynamics through which the demands of organized labor and the imperatives of capitalist growth have evolved from a period of open conflict and stagnation to one of class compromise. He also demonstrates that the Kerala model has broad ramifications for understanding the relationship between substantive democracy and market economies in low-income countries.

Author Information


Patrick Heller is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.


John Willoughby:

"Heller's work challenges both mainstream and some Marxist analyses of capitalist development.... The Labor of Development should be required reading for all World Bank and International Monetary Fund apologists and mandarins who sing the praises of neoliberal structural adjustment and ignore the rich development potential of worker and peasant agitation within the capitalist world order."

Archon Fung, Harvard University:

"Patrick Heller offers an important and compelling account of how powerful social movements articulated to a democratic state can drive a mode of economic development that is certainly more equitable, and perhaps more effective, than the reigning neoliberal prescriptions.... His book should be read by those interested in comparative political sociology, social movements, development, and political economy."

Rudra Sil, University of Pennsylvania:

"This is a well-written book that will be of interest to South Asia specialists as well as students of development studies, economic sociology, political economy, industrial relations, and democratization."

Amrita Basu, Amherst College:

"Patrick Heller's carefully researched book, The Labor of Development, provides a compelling explanation for Kerala's relatively high levels of economic and social development within the Indian context. He attributes it to developed state capacities which are associated in turn with Kerala's highly mobilized working class. Heller overcomes the proverbial divide between enthusiasts of grass roots mobilization and of state sponsored reform by demonstrating the importance of mobilization to development. In doing so he makes a vital contribution to the study of social movements, state politics, and political economy in India."

Vibhuti Patel:

"This is the first and most up-to-date scholarly contribution towards understanding of the macro-economic parameters affecting socio-economic formations of Kerala. The book goes beyond economic history and examines contemporary development problems that affect conditions of the working class in India's most successful state in a human development index."

Gay Seidman, University of Wisconsin, Madison:

"The Labor of Development is a wonderful book, beautifully written and argued, that provokes a new set of debates about the relationship between social movements and development, and about the character of institutional frameworks for industrial relations in an era of globalization."

Adam Lee:

"This book is an engaging and insightful account of social development.... I recommend The Labor of Development without reservation."

Audience: General/trade;