Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Robert Benford, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Laurel Graham, Ph.D.

Committee Member

James Cavendish, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mahuya Pal, Ph.D.


capitalism and social movements, class, frame-disputes, green movements, labor-environmental conflicts, trade unions


Popularly referred to as “blue-green” conflicts, the stand-off between labor and environmental movements is often understood as a class-based conflict between working-class labor unions and middle-class environmental movements. Such singular conceptions fail to explain labor-environmental conflicts in the context of countries in the Global South, where working-class participants constitute both these movements. In this backdrop, my dissertation seeks to explore the conflicts between labor and green movements surrounding an issue of industrial pollution in Kerala, a south Indian state with a unique trajectory of development and working-class movements.

I adopt a qualitative methodological approach to understand the nature and dynamics of the conflicts between labor and green movements in Kerala. The ethnographic methods used in this dissertation is informed by a combination of the extended case logic and constructivist grounded theory. The field study for this project was carried out from May to July 2018 in Kerala. I conducted 38 ethnographic interviews with the leaders and rank-and-file members of the two movement organizations, an environmental non-governmental organization (ENGO) and local environmentalists.

Relying on a mixed-method approach combining ethnography and document analysis, I explain the ongoing conflicts in terms of the heterogeneity of working-class interests, the frame-disputes between unions and greens, and the hegemony of industrial capitalism. Most importantly, this project establishes the need to move beyond generative class-based analyses to understand and explain labor-environmental conflicts in Kerala. The project underscores the need to situate labor-environmental conflicts within the backdrop of industrial capitalism, the political economy of development, and the nexus between state and capitalists. The findings of this research highlight the ways in which industrial capitalism influences the mobilization processes and outcomes of social movements in the Global South. Additionally, the study explores how the class compromise between labor and capital exacerbates the ongoing tensions between labor and environmental movements surrounding industrial pollution. The frame-disputes between the two movements expose how trade unions engage in counterframing tactics and strategies to delegitimize, discredit, and demobilize the local environmental movement. Thus, using the case of labor-environmental conflicts in the Eloor-Edayar industrial belt, this project delves into the linkages between labor, nature, and capital in Kerala’s social movement landscape. In doing so, this study re-evaluates the much-acclaimed ‘Kerala Model’ of development from the standpoints of environmental justice and sustainability. The findings of this study make contributions to the study of postcolonial social movements, inter-movement conflicts, frame-disputes, sociology of development, and the interactions between capitalism and social movements in the Global South.