Research in CDS on this theme has a long history with a wide canvass, that is continuously evolving both in terms of research themes and methodological approaches. In line with the prevailing economic structures of early 1970s research in CDS had contextualised the structural transformation including agrarian transformation in Kerala and focused on questions of agrarian structure and labour relations; emerging industrial workforce and industrial relations; and labour market outcomes. In the late 1970s with the gender question emerging in Kerala, a set of studies came out in the ethnographic tradition focusing on the gender relations in employment and occupations. The late 70s also was the period when open unemployment in Kerala started getting serious attention from CDS researchers. In the early 80s, the scope of research widened to include studies on labour processes and questions of labour market discrimination. During this period, while the main stream agriculture sector was held up in institutional stagnancy, the allied sectors like fishing was experiencing technological change. Micro-level studies, including village studies on technological change and livelihood, were closely researched during this period. Around this period, macro-level studies using large data sets also came to vogue, especially focusing on women’s work at the All India level. Sectoral studies focusing on labour processes also flourished during this period. With educated unemployment becoming a serious concern by the mid-80s a number of studies attended to this subject as well. In the early 90s, the process of informalisation; and livelihood of informal workers came to attention, placing development in a political economy framework. However, the late 90s saw a decline in research under this theme with few research conducted in this area. The core theme of research shifted to the problem of social security for the informal sector workers in early 2000s. During this period studies using a new lens, labour geography framework, also started looking at the process of informalisation.
In the context of widening income inequality, deepening agrarian crisis, stunted structural transformation and liberalisation of the Indian economy, one of the emerging themes of the current focus of research is rooted in the structural transformation and employment. A set of studies has looked into the question of jobless growth at the national level linking it up with the skewed structural transformation and economic liberalisation. In this background, studies have also investigated the nature of employment and labour relations in the rural sector which is characterised by stagnation of the agriculture sector. In the face of this agricultural stagnation, Public employment programmes to reinvigorate rural livelihoods, especially MGNREGS, has been evaluated and researched from various angles, including its impact on rural livelihood and political economy of asset creations. With the stagnation of agriculture and rising informalisation in both organised and unorganised sector, the issue of social security for workers has become an important concern. Studies have been analysing the alternative social security models across different governance structures in a comparative perspective and highlighting their effectiveness.
Another set of studies had been researching on inequality and discrimination in the labour market, focusing on social differentiation based on caste and gender, as well as economic differentiation based on endowments, skills and occupation. Following the same question, studies had been examining the functional distribution of income and the nature and causes for declining wage share in gross value added. Following liberalisation, the question of jobless growth in the organised sector has been of serious concern. On this, studies have analysed the causes for declining employment, and the composition of employment in the organised sector, including the public sector. On the question of gender, research focused on the declining labour force participation of women and its causal factors. In this context, the role of conventional institutions, such as gender norms and patriarchy in influencing women’s decision to participate in labour market, is also being explored. Further to the question of gender, field based studies were undertaken to comprehend the nature and context of livelihood diversification strategies among women. Another theme that is getting increasing attention is the political economy of displacement and livelihood issues surrounding displacement.