Fixity

On the inheritance and maintenance of tea plantation houses in Darjeeling, India

by SARAH BESKY

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On tea plantations in Darjeeling, India, a house comes with every job. These domestic spaces constitute a significant portion of workers’ compensation. Jobs—and the houses that come with them—are inherited by successive generations of workers, but houses remain the property of plantations. Archival and ethnographic stories about the provision, inheritance, and upkeep of houses bring attention to the continued importance of “fixity” to capitalist regimes of accumulation. Fixity has three dimensions: a persistent association between ethnicity, place, and work; the fostering of senses of belonging through systems of inheritance; and the routine maintenance of infrastructures, including housing. As a theoretical and descriptive tool, fixity highlights a tension in late capitalism between work and life, and between freedom and bondage.

Four pucca (proper) houses, so called because they are made of durable materials as defined by Indian labor law. The house at right was enlarged with the help of remittances from service in a Gurkha regiment.
Four pucca (proper) houses, so called because they are made of durable materials as defined by Indian labor law. The house at right was enlarged with the help of remittances from service in a Gurkha regiment. (Darjeeling, India, 2009.)