Calling for resistance: The political economy of Indian and Canadian call centre industries

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Stevens, Andrew Jr
sociology , call centres , labour , political economy
Call centres have in the last three decades come to define the interaction between corporations, governments, and other institutions and their respective customers, citizens, and members. From telemarketing to tele-health services, to credit card assistance, and even emergency response systems, call centres function as a nexus mediating technologically enabled labour practices with the commodification of services. Because of the ubiquitous nature of the call centre in post-industrial capitalism, the banality of these interactions often overshadows the nature of work and labour in this now-global sector. Advances in telecommunication technologies and the globalization of management practices designed to oversee and maintain standardized labour processes have made call centre work an international phenomenon. Simultaneously, these developments have dislocated assumptions about the geographic and spatial seat of work in what is defined here as the new international division of knowledge labour. The offshoring and outsourcing of call centre employment, part of the larger information technology and information technology enabled services sectors, has become a growing practice amongst governments and corporations in their attempts at controlling costs. Leading offshore destinations for call centre work, such as Canada and India, emerged as prominent locations for call centre work for these reasons. While incredible advances in technology have permitted the use of distant and “offshore” labour forces, the grander reshaping of an international political economy of communications has allowed for the acceleration of these processes. New and established labour unions have responded to these changes in the global regimes of work by seeking to organize call centre workers. These efforts have been assisted by a range of forces, not least of which is the condition of work itself, but also attempts by global union federations to build a bridge between international unionism and local organizing campaigns in the Global South and Global North. Through an examination of trade union interventions in the call centre industries located in Canada and India, this dissertation contributes to research on post-industrial employment by using political economy as a juncture between development studies, critical communications, and labour studies.
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