Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Death of an Industry: Cultural Politics of Garment Manufacturing During the Maoist Revolution in Nepal

Gupta, Avinash (2020): Death of an Industry: Cultural Politics of Garment Manufacturing During the Maoist Revolution in Nepal.

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Dr Mallika Shakya’s scholarly contributions on industrial development dynamics in Nepal, the focus of her work being Nepal’s apparel sector (which evolved in early-1980s with the introduction of the Multifibre Agreement or the MFA), are well-known to most Nepal as well as South Asia scholars. Shakya has a longstanding and commendable engagement with not just Nepal’s apparel sector—and the institutional dynamics that govern it—but also with Nepal’s broader political economy of development. Several dimensions in Shakya’s scholarship are not only noteworthy and important but also exceptional, in part, due to the methodological approaches and interdisciplinarity that enables, inter alia, credible grounding into the context. Built on political economy frameworks—inspiration being disciplines such as anthropology and economic sociology—and principal empirical strategy being ethnography-based grounded case-studies, the publication under review here unpacks the interface of domestic and transnational politics with practices of, not only, firms but important spatio-institutional structures (relevant to industrialization) such as labour unions, bureaucracy, business associations, political parties and global retailers downstream in the apparel production network. At the risk of oversimplification, the publication analyzes how Nepal’s apparel sector evolved with the MFA and how politics within and beyond borders impacted its development and performance.

The rich empirical and archival insights presented across seven chapters are a major departure from the narrow and abstract formulations coming from much of the existing industrialization literature on Nepal, produced predominantly by IFI-affiliated or commissioned (IFI or International Financial Institutions) economists. For instance, the existing industrialization literature— looking at production dynamics from, for instance, the production function lens—informs little on the production dynamics such as its governance, organization and networks. Moreover, the existing formulations pay no attention to important elements in production such as production capabilities and that such capabilities are learnt and acquired via credible policy tools. Unsurprisingly, mainstream economics has been critiqued to not have credible analytical tools to assess important aspects of production and industrialization dynamics. Other gaps in the existing apparel sector analysis on Nepal—owing significantly to deployment of narrow analytical frames—pertain to the emphasis on supply-side constraints (that hinder progress in industrialization) and somewhat problematic empirics including in analyzing apparel sector performance. On the empirical analysis front, an important limitation that the book addresses is supplementing the rather unreliable and limited published data on Nepal’s apparel sector—an issue valid for much of the Global South—with extensive ethnographic fieldwork; spaces being firms, labour unions and business associations. In this backdrop and given the methodological approaches and interdisciplinarity, the book has significantly greater explanatory power in unpacking the industrial development dynamics; more so, in the case of backward developing countries.

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