Circles of Value: A Study of Working Lives of Informal Sector Traders in Delhi, India

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


This study revolves around the working lives of pheriwale, a group of self-employed traders within India’s vast informal economy. Pheriwale have been trading in Delhi for nearly a century and are involved in the second-hand clothing trade. Among the wide variety of street vendors and traders in the city, pheriwale are one of the most visibly women-dominated. They offer a door-to-door service, collecting used clothes in exchange for new kitchen utensils through barter, to the residents of the city and its suburbs. The collected used clothes are then sold to bulk-buyers in the marketplace (mandi), who in turn sell them forward after repair or washing; the used clothes can also end up in export factories, where they are disintegrated and become part of the rag industry. In addition, the pheriwale’s marketplace offers a cheap and affordable second-hand clothing market to the city’s low-income and working-class groups. Thus, pheriwale, like workers who are involved in recycling and belong to lower-caste groups, add value to the used clothes by collecting, sorting and bringing them back onto the market.
Engaging with the concept of value enables this thesis to account for the value generated by pheriwale’s labour, as well as the aspects of their everyday working lives which they value. Locating these theoretical debates and empirical concerns through an intersectional framework inspired by Dalit feminist literature provides a more nuanced approach to exploring how caste, gender and class intersect. The research questions which guide this study include: How can the working lives of pheriwale women offer ways to unfold the multiple dimensions of value and deepen a theorisation of the concept? How do the pheriwale organise their working routines, and how are they as traders embedded within local, regional and global markets? How do experiences of waiting for state-issued documents and welfare benefits shape notions of value and pheriwale women’s relation to the state institutions? How does a feeling of having control over one’s time and energy at work by being self-employed frame notions of value in everyday working lives?
Qualitative research inspired by ethnographic study was conducted at the pheriwale’s mandi in West Delhi, to facilitate this study. Primary empirical material includes conversations with pheriwale, observation and fieldnotes. The theoretical frame draws upon anthropological, Marxist and feminist theorisations of value, and intersectionality provides a lens to contextualise the discussion on value specifically for this study.
The findings of this doctoral thesis highlight pheriwale’s working routines, and also how their trade is linked to local, regional and transnational flows of used clothes. Formalised state-issued documents are important for the pheriwale, who are primarily lower-caste women working in informal economic conditions, in order to secure welfare benefits. The feeling of having more control over time and energy and avoiding discriminatory and alienating work environments by being self- employed are important values at and beyond work for pheriwale.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Gender Studies
  • Rydström, Helle, Supervisor
  • Mulinari, Diana, Supervisor
Award date2021 Jun 10
Place of PublicationLund, Sweden
ISBN (Print)978-91-7895-759-0
ISBN (electronic) 978-91-7895-760-6
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Jun 10

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2021-06-10
Time: 13:15
Place: Online, Zoom Link: Passcode: 2020
External reviewer(s)
Name: Harriss-White, Barbara
Title: Professor
Affiliation: University of Oxford

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Economics and Business
  • Sociology

Free keywords

  • theories of value
  • pheriwale
  • informal economy
  • informal sector
  • recycle traders
  • Dalit feminism
  • intersectionality
  • caste
  • pheri
  • Social reproduction
  • waiting
  • relational autonomy
  • Delhi
  • India


Dive into the research topics of 'Circles of Value: A Study of Working Lives of Informal Sector Traders in Delhi, India'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this