Working for Dignity: The Authorized Sightseeing Rickshaw Drivers of Keoladeo National Park

Date of Award

December 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Susan S. Wadley


Dignity, India, National Park, Social Marginalization, Tourism, Work

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation explores how the authorized sightseeing rickshaw drivers of Keoladeo National Park negotiate a world of caste, poverty and structural violence and, in doing so, challenge (mis)representations of them by local elites, other tourism workers, and tourists finding satisfaction in their positions. The fieldwork on which this ethnography is based was conducted over a period of 16 months between 2008 and 2011. My research hinged on the “deep hanging out” (Geertz 1998) that I did with rickshaw drivers, composed of participant-observation, informal discussions, and 40 semi-structured interviews.

The work of the rickshaw drivers provides a lens to examine power, agency, and dignity in the context of tourism. By engaging with tourists, peaking and sustaining their interest and giving good service, the rickshaw drivers both draw upon and challenge stereotypes of poor, low caste men (Doron 2008; Doron 2013a; Doron 2013b). These performances require just not the knowledge work, but an incredible about of emotional labor. They also use relationship with tourists and/or narratives about these relationships to make further claims that they deserve recognition. They use positive interpersonal relationships to challenge the assumption that they are immoral or untrustworthy. Furthermore, the rickshaw drivers benefit from cooperation and camaraderie with their peers, which both allows them to pass time in an enjoyable way as well as provide them with social capital on which they can draw when needed.

My research contributes on-going discussions about the extent to which and the ways in which people benefit from participation in tourism and how local politics shapes this participation. My research also contributes to the anthropology of work by looking at the ways in which the rickshaw drivers maintain their dignity through their work in tourism.


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