This two-part essay seeks to explain why group-based and individual piecework arrangements have become the modal form of payment for a variety of agricultural tasks in central Gujarat, India. Part I of the essay reviews New Institutional Economics (NIE) and Marxist Political Economy (MPE) approaches to the labour process, and claims that while the 'efficiency' and 'disciplinary' considerations emphasised by NIE and MPE in their explanations of contractual change are important influences on the labour process, specific institutional outcomes depend heavily on the cultural realities of actors' practices. Part II challenges the epistemological assumptions of NIE and MPE narratives, specifically that agents with stable identities perform actions with fixed meanings. Instead, the recent surge in piece-work employment must be viewed as part of an ongoing tussle between the dominant Lewa Patel caste and the subordinate Baraiya/Koli caste to alter their relative standings in the social order. Their unceasing attempts to reinvent their group identities have involved shifting understandings of 'work' - with direct implications for labour contracts. As a corrective to NIE and MPE, the essay proposes a semiotic approach to the labour process that bundles the notions of 'social regulation' and 'self-regulation' into the concept of 'work governmentality'.