Karuna Dietrich Wielenga

Areas of Interest & Expertise

  • Labour history
  • Textiles
  • Artisanal history
  • Informal sector
  • Gender
  • Caste and class in histories of labour
  • Comparative perspectives in economic history
  • Social Movements


Karuna is a faculty with the School of Arts and Sciences.

She teaches common curriculum courses such as Understanding India and courses in the History major for the undergraduate programme.

She is a historian with a broad interest in the economic and social history of modern south Asia. Her work is grounded in the history of labour, with a special focus on the informal sector. Her doctoral dissertation explored the changing world of handloom weavers in south India – and the economic restructuring of the industry – from the early nineteenth to the mid twentieth century. Prior to joining Azim Premji University she was a Newton International Fellow at the University of Oxford. Her post-doctoral research focused on the historical emergence of the informal sector in India, looking at the complex interactions and conflicts between labour, capital and the state in a variety of industries between 1930 and 1970.

Publications and Writings

  • Weaving Histories: The Transformation of the Handloom Industry in South India, c. 18001960” (British Academy with OUP (UK), 2020).
  • The emergence of the informal sector: Labour legislation and politics in south India, 19401960”, forthcoming in Modern Asian Studies.
  • Repertoires of Resistance: The handloom weavers of south India, c. 18001960” in the International Review of Social History, No. 61 (2016), pp. 423 – 458.
  • The geography of weaving in nineteenth century south India” in the Indian Economic and Social History Review (IESHR), Vol. 52 (2) (June 2015), pp. 147 – 184.
  • Caste and Work: Weaving in 19th century South India” in Sabyasachi Bhattacharya (ed), Towards a New History of Work (New Delhi: Tulika Publishers, 2014), pp. 97 – 120.
  • Formalising the informal: What’s in it for workers?’, The Wire, 8 February 2018.
  • You can’t go back: Migrant workers told in Tamil Nadu’, The Wire, 9 May 2020.
  • Bled Dry: How India Exploits Health Workers”, The Caravan, August 2020.

On-going Projects

She is currently working on a project titled The informalisation of labour in India: Courts as a site of contestation”