Rina Agarwala

Rina Agarwala


Contact Information

Research Interests: International development, gender, labor, migration, globalization, India

Education: PhD, Princeton University

Rina Agarwala is Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University. Rina publishes and lectures on international development, labor, migration, gender, social movements, and Indian politics. She is the author of the award-winning book, Informal Labor, Formal Politics and Dignified Discontent in India (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and the co-editor of Whatever Happened to Class? Reflections from South Asia (Routledge, 2008 and 2016). Her most recent book, The Migration-Development Regime: How Class Shapes Indian Emigration (Oxford University Press, 2022), examines Indian emigration to the Middle East and the US from the 1800s to the present. Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, Rina worked at the United Nations Development Program in China, the Self-Employed Women’s Association in India, and Women’s World Banking in New York. She holds a BA in Economics and Government from Cornell University, an MPP in Political and Economic Development from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a PhD. in Sociology and Demography from Princeton University.

I am fascinated by hierarchies of power—particularly how vulnerable populations sitting at the bottom of those hierarchies fight to advance their needs, and the conditions under which they succeed or fail to alter those very hierarchies.  My research has examined a range of populations (including informal workers and migrant workers), workers’ identities (including class, gender, caste, and migrant status), and worker industries (including construction; tobacco, garments, and automobile manufacturing; trash collection and recycling; and domestic work). My first book, Informal Labor, Formal Politics and Dignifying Discontent in India (Cambridge University Press, 2013), examined alternative labor movements among informal women workers and their relationship to the state in India.  My recent book, The Migration-Development Regime: How Class Shapes Indian Emigration (Oxford University Press, 2022),  examines how the Indian state has differentially used poor versus professional emigrant workers to shape India’s domestic development since the 1800s, and how Indian emigrants have differentially responded. My current project, called “The Social Insecurity Project,” examines how different populations (across genders, classes, and races/castes) differentially define and address the concept of social and economic “insecurity” as a value and need in and of itself and as distinct from income.

My empirical research relies on in-depth fieldwork, interviews, surveys, and ethnography.  While my empirical research has focused on India, my work has employed a cross-national comparative lens to further our understanding of the global economy. My work on Indian diaspora organizations in the U.S. collaborated with colleagues examining diaspora groups from 7 other countries in multiple receiving states. My work on informal workers’ movements collaborated with colleagues examining parallel movements in 7 other countries in the global South and North. My work on labor’s use of legal empowerment in India and my work on informal work in India’s 21st century social contracts were each part of collaborative projects comparing country experiences through the United Nations. My co-edited volume, Whatever Happened to Class? Reflections from South Asia (Routledge Press, 2008), explores how class-based analysis can help us better understand the contemporary challenges faced by urban workers, agricultural workers, and middle classes in India and Pakistan. My co-edited volume, Gendering Struggles against Informal and Precarious Work (PPST, 2018), explores the role that gender plays in shaping informal workers’ movements in India, Mexico, South Korea, Canada, and the U.S. My current project on social and economic insecurity will conduct field research in India, the U.S. and Denmark.  Although my research focusses on the contemporary period, I employ a comparative-historical lens. My work on informal workers’ movements traces the global rise of informal employment, and their corresponding social movements, since productions structures began to liberalize in the 1980s.  My work on global migrant workers traces cross-class emigration patterns from the 1800s to the present. 

  • 230.150 Issues in International Development
  • 230.315 Advanced Topics in International Development
  • 230.318 State and Society in Modern India
  • 230.324 Gender & International Development
  • 230.362 Migration and Development
  • 230.395 Contemporary Social Theory
  • 230.625 Seminar on International Development
  • 230.674 Seminar on Political Thought and Economy in India
  • 230.603 Contemporary Social Theory
  • 230.690 Trial Research Paper Presentation Seminar


Agarwala, Rina. 2022. The Migration-Development Regime: How Class Shapes Indian Emigration. New York: Oxford University Press.

*Winner, Outstanding Book Award, American Sociological Association (ASA), Sociology of Development Section, 2023

*Winner, Thomas & Znaniecki Best Book Award, ASA, International Migration Section, 2023

*Winner, Best Book Award, American Political Science Association (APSA), Migration and Citizenship Section, 2023

* Honorable Mention, Best Book Award, ASA Labor and Labor Movements Section, 2023

Agarwala, Rina. 2013. Informal Labor, Formal Politics and Dignified Discontent in India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

*Winner, Outstanding Book Award, American Sociological Association (ASA), Sociology of Development Section, 2014

*Winner, Outstanding Book Award, Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP), Global Division, 2014

*Winner, Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research and Book Publication, Johns Hopkins University, 2014

*Honorable Mention, Distinguished Scholarly Work Award, ASA, Labor and Labor Movement’s Section, 2014

Herring, Ronald and Rina Agarwala (eds.) 2008. Whatever Happened to Class? Reflections from South Asia. London: Routledge Press

Refereed Articles/ Book Chapters

Agarwala, Rina. Forthcoming. “The Politics of Contradictory Class Locations in the Contemporary Era,” In Engaging Erik Olin Wright: Between Class Analysis and Real Utopias, Eds. Michael Burawoy and Gay Seidman. Verso.

Agarwala, Rina. 2022. “The Politics of Skilling and Migration in India.” In Paul Osterman, Nichola Lowe, Bridget Anderson, Joe William Trotter Jr., Natasha Iskander, and Rina Agarwala. “A Forum on the Politics of Skills,” pp. 1362-1365. ILR Review 75(5): 1348-1368. (on-line publication first: https://doi.org/10.1177/00197939221110097

Agarwala, Rina. 2020. “Capital, the Right, and a New Age for Labour Scholarship.” Global Labour Journal. Vol. 11, No. 3

Agarwala, Rina and Ron Herring. 2019. “How Does Class Matter in Politics? Rethinking Conditions and Reasons.” In Interpreting Politics: Situated Knowledge, India, and the Rudolph Legacy, Eds. John E. Echeverri-Gent and Kamal Sadiq. Oxford University Press: New Delhi.

Agarwala, Rina. 2019. “Informal Workers and the State,” in The Informal Economy Revisited: Looking Back, Thinking Forward, Eds. Martha Chen and Francoise Carre. Routledge Press.

Agarwala, Rina. 2019. “Incorporating Informal Workers into 21st Century Social Contracts,” UNRISD: Geneva.

Agarwala, Rina. 2019. “The Politics of India’s Reformed Labor Model.” In Business and Politics in India, Eds. Christophe Jaffrelot, Atul Kohli, and Kanta Murali. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 95-123.   

Agarwala, Rina. 2018. “From Theory to Praxis and Back to Theory Informal Workers’ Struggles against Capitalism and Patriarchy in India.” Political Power and Social Theory. Vol. 35, pp. 29-57.

Agarwala, Rina and Jennifer Jihye Chun. 2018. “Gendering Struggles against Informal and Precarious Work.” Political Power and Social Theory. Vol 35. pp. 1-28.

Agarwala, Rina. 2018. “The Development of Labor under Contemporary Capitalism,” Sociology of Development. Vol. 4 No. 3, pp. 239-260.

Agarwala, Rina and Shiny Saha. 2018. "The Employment Relationship and Movement Strategies among Domestic Workers in India.” Critical Sociology. Vol 44, Issue 7/8. (on-line publication first)

Agarwala, Rina. 2018. “Using Legal Empowerment for Labour Rights in India” Journal of Development Studies. Volume 55, Issue 3. (on-line publication first)

Agarwala, Rina. 2017. “Transnational Diaspora Organizations and India’s Development.” Routledge Handbook of the Indian Diaspora, eds. Radha Sarma Hegde and Ajaya Kumar Sahoo.  New York: Routledge. Pp. 104-116.

Agarwala, Rina. 2016. “Redefining Exploitation: Self-Employed Workers’ Movements in India’s Garments and Trash Collection Industries.” International Labor and Working Class History. No. 89, Spring, pp. 107–130.

Chun, Jennifer Jihye and Rina Agarwala. 2016. “Global labour politics in informal and precarious jobs.” Handbook of the Sociology of Work and Employment, eds. Stephen Edgell, Heidi Gottfried, Edward Granter. Sage: London. pp. 634-650.

Agarwala, Rina. 2016. “Divine Development-Transnational Indian Religious Organizations in the United States and India.” International Migration Review. Vol 50, Issue 4, pp.910-950. (online publication in 2015)

Agarwala, Rina. 2015. “Tapping the Indian Diaspora for Indian Development,” in The State and the Grassroots: Immigrant Transnational Organizations in Four Continents. Alejandro Portes and Patricia Fernandez-Kelly (eds). Berghahn Press. New York. Pp. 84-110.

Agarwala, Rina. 2014. “Informal Workers' Struggles in Eight Countries,” in Brown Journal of World Affairs. Vol. XX, Issue 11, Spring/Summer, pp. 251-263.

Agarwala, Rina. 2013. “A Second Marriage? An Intersection of Marxism and Feminism among India’s Informal Workers.” Handbook on Gender in South Asia. Leela Fernandes (ed). UK: Routledge. Pp.220-233.

Agarwala, Rina. 2012. "The State and Labor in Transnational Activism- The Case of India." Journal of Industrial Relations. Vol. 54, Issue 4, pp.443-458.

Agarwala, Rina and Emmanuel Teitelbaum. 2010. “Trends in Funding for Dissertation Field Research- Why Do Political Science and Sociology Students Win So Few Awards?” Political Science and Politics. April, pp. 283-293. *Featured in Inside Higher Ed

Agarwala, Rina. 2009. “An Economic Sociology of Informal Work The Case of India." Research in the Sociology of Work. Vol. 18, pp. 315-342.

Agarwala, Rina. 2008. “Reshaping the Social Contract Emerging Relations Between the State and Informal Labor in India.” Theory and Society. Vol. 37, No. 4, pp. 375-408.

Agarwala, Rina. 2007. “Resistance and Compliance in the Age of Globalization: Indian Women and Labor Organizations," in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Vol. 610, March, pp. 143-159.

Agarwala, Rina. 2006. “From Work to Welfare- A New Class Movement in India.” Critical Asian Studies. Vol. 38, No. 4, December, pp. 419-445.

Herring, Ronald and Rina Agarwala. 2006. “Introduction- Restoring Agency to Class- Puzzles from the Subcontinent” Critical Asian Studies. Vol. 38, No. 4, December, pp. 323-357.

Agarwala, Rina and Scott M. Lynch. June 2006. “Refining the Measurement of Women's Autonomy- An International Application of a Multi-dimensional Construct." Social Forces, V. 84, No. 4, pp. 2077-2099.

Agarwala, Rina. 2002. “Working for Autonomy: Differentiating Women’s Work in India.” Indian Journal of Labour Economics, Vol. 45, No. 4, pp. 1369-1388.

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