Who’s on the Line? Indian Call Center Agents Pose as Americans for U.S.-Outsourced Firms

Source: Winifred R. Poster, Industrial Relations, Vol. 46 no. 2, April 2007
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This paper explores the globalization of service work through an analysis of customer service call centers in India for U.S. firms. It reveals a new kind of managerial strategy, “national identity management,” in which employees are asked to subsume different national identities as part of the job. Through interviews with over eighty Indian call center personnel and case studies of three call centers, this paper analyzes how and why ethnicity and citizenship have become crucial elements of the labor process. It builds upon and elaborates seminal theories of managerial control in interactive service work, including Hochschild’s theory of emotion management and Leidner’s theory of scripting. It argues that globalization fundamentally alters the relationship of the actors, the purpose and practice of managerial control, and the outcomes for those involved. In addition, it reflects on theories of advancing information and communication technology (ICT), and global identity. Some scholars argue that the development of ICTs will lead to a homogenization (especially an “Americanization”) of identities, while others see increasing global disjuncture and renegotiation of identities. Instead, this analysis reveals a continuum of responses by workers to the process of national identity management, and the forging of multiple, internally differentiated ethnic identities. It concludes by arguing that customer service work will continue to be globalized, and as a result, issues of “nation” will increasingly surface within interactive service work.

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