The ODRIIS Observatory (Observatory on Rural Dynamics and Inequalities in South India) is housed by the research program ‘Household vulnerabilities, labour and socioeconomic dynamics’ in the Social Departments of the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP).

ODRIIS was born from the crossroads of two interdependent social sciences programs:


The first program “Labour, Finance and Social Dynamics”, coordinated by Dr. Isabelle Guérin since 2003, focuses on financial practices (i.e. indebtedness, consumption, savings, etc.) and bonded labour in South India. This program seeks to understand the evolution of the financial practices, embedded in a complex system of social, labour and politic relationships. Southern economies, including rural southern India, are increasingly monetarised but also increasingly financiarised. Households have growing needs for financial services, whether to protect from the uncertainties of daily life, to fund life cycle events, to acquire consumer goods, including statutory goods, or to invest in income generative activities. Unlike what is often thought, the poor are not financially excluded: they are highly financiarised but, in particular, barely in formal ways. These are the combined outcome of local practices and a wide range of development projects and policies, such as microfinance, financial inclusion policies and other initiatives targeting the ‘bottom of the pyramid’. The program has explored various topics over the past decade: the complexity and diversity of financial and monetary practices in various communities, in terms of juggling and calculation frameworks; the social regulation of money, finance and debt in relation to various institutions such as class, caste, gender, ethnicity, religion, space and its cultural variation; the emergence of household over-indebtedness, as influenced by rising consumption, income stagnation and absent social protection; the renewal of bondage relationships; the ambiguity of microfinance and financial inclusion programs; the emergence of innovative forms of solidarities and political mobilization.

The second programLAbour, sKills, Social networks and Mobilities in India (LAKSMI)”, implemented in 2016 and coordinated by Dr. Christophe Jalil Nordman, aims at understanding the links between labour, skills, social and migration dynamics and social networks formation in India (and more broadly in South Asia). It explores how the formation of skills and social networks, especially those defined at the community and individual levels, influence observed inequalities in individuals’ trajectories in terms of social status (class, caste, gender, ethnicity, religion), employment and migration. This includes the investigation of various forces at play, spanning from the role of social structure (norms and institutions), the development and use of social networks, to the formation of cognitive and non-cognitive skills. LAKSMI proposes grounded and longitudinal methods (panel data) for appraising inequalities that duly account for the labour market functioning in all its dimensions, from the most individuals ones (skills) to the most structural (social networks). This allows its multidisciplinary research team to propose mixed method approaches (quantitative and qualitative), that could and will be replicated in other contexts. In particular, the program aims at articulating often disjoint disciplinary approaches: on the one hand, development, labour and behavioural economics; on the other hand, sociological and anthropological structuralist approaches.

Associated with these two programs, ODRIIS has become a multidisciplinary observatory of Rural Dynamics and Inequalities in South India. It analyses how structural changes in contemporary India are reshaping the organisation of work, social hierarchies and household livelihoods.

Contemporary South India is characterised by contrasting dynamics: rapid economic growth, a boom in the consumer credit market, strong demands from Dalit movements, persistence and even reinforcement of gender inequalities, etc. So, the observatory aims at studying these socio-economic changes in the long term: reconfiguration of social structures, employment, skills, migration, financial services, debt and wealth.

Our methods

The observatory combines different tools through a collection of projects to help understand these socio-economic changes under different lights:

  • We have been collecting quantitative panel data on households and individuals in rural South India via the NEEMSIS Survey.
  • We also use a variety of socio-economic methods (financial diaries, village monographs, life stories, video documentaries, etc). See an overview of our projects here.

Beyond the regional analysis, the ODRIIS Observatory intends to contribute to the theoretical renewal of the concepts of work, networks, skills, debt and financialisation.

More info, updates and data at:

Contact: Christophe Jalil NORDMAN Isabelle GUÉRIN Venkatasubramanian GOVINDAN