Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Listening Between the Lines: Culture, Difference, and Immaterial Labor in the Philippine Call Center Industry
by Padios, Jan Maghinay, Ph.D., New York University, 2012, 374; 3524180
Abstract (Summary)

Recently surpassing India to become the call center capital of the world, the Philippines hosts hundreds of offshore customer service call centers, where nearly 400,000 Filipino workers answer “1-800” calls mostly from the United States. Mainly young and college-educated, these workers are literally called upon to produce one of the most valuable feelings of our time: customer satisfaction. Drawing on interdisciplinary methods—including and especially ethnography—Listening Between the Lines documents how the globalization of customer service shapes and is shaped by Filipino call center agents' cultural practices, identities, and social capacities.

This dissertation considers, for example, how call centers exploit workers' affective, communicative, and other forms of “immaterial labor” within the labor process as well as call center corporate culture. Furthermore, as transnational sites linking the U.S. with its former colony, Philippine call centers reinforce colonial discourses and hierarchies of power, especially the demand for agents to speak English and draw on their cultural “intimacy with America” as part of their jobs. Finally, Listening Between the Lines tracks Filipino call center workers' engagement in new consumer, familial, and sexual practices, through which they fashion themselves as global subjects in an ever-precarious world.

Through this critical investigation,Listening Between the Lines reveals how immaterial labor draws on, and is organized around, modes of social difference—especially race, gender, sexuality, class, and nation—as well as how contemporary capitalism increasingly blurs the lines between production, social reproduction, and consumption. By making these crucial interventions within the theory of immaterial labor, this dissertation contributes to conversations and literatures that explore the social and cultural impact of the globalization of services in the Global South, the role of culture and difference in global political economy, and how the production of value increasingly relies on workers' immaterial capacities. By listening between the lines that connect Filipino workers to American homes and offices, this dissertation aims to understand the inequalities and identities enabled by changing patterns of work, in order to find more truly satisfying modes of living.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Davila, Arlene M.
Commitee: Duggan, Lisa, Hegde, Radha, Rodriguez, Robyn, Ross, Andrew
School: New York University
Department: Social and Cultural Analysis
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 74/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, Cultural anthropology, Management, Occupational psychology, Social structure
Keywords: Call centers, Customer satisfaction, Immaterial labor, Neoliberal globalization, Outsourcing, Philippines, Service work
Publication Number: 3524180
ISBN: 978-1-267-58442-7
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