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Answer the Call

Virtual Migration in Indian Call Centers

Aimee Carrillo Rowe

Publication Year: 2013

What happens over time to Indians who spend their working hours answering phone calls from Americans—and acting like Americans themselves? To find out, the authors of Answer the Call conducted long-term interviews with forty-five agents, trainers, managers, and CEOs at call centers in Bangalore and Mumbai from 2003 to 2012. For nine or ten hours every day, workers in call centers are not quite in India or America but rather in a state of “virtual migration.” Encouraged to steep themselves in American culture from afar, over time the agents come to internalize and indeed perform Americanness for Americans—and for each other.

Call center agents “migrate” through time and through the virtual spaces generated by voice and information sharing. Drawing from their rich interviews, the authors show that the virtual migration agents undergo has no geographically distant point of arrival, yet their perception of moving is not merely abstract. Over the duration of the job, agents’ sense of place and time changes: agents migrate but still remain, leaving them somewhere in between—between India and America, experience and imagination, class mobility and consumption, tradition and modernity, here and there, then and now, past and future.

However tangible and elastic their virtual mobility might seem in these relatively lucrative jobs, it is also suspended within the confines of the very boundaries they migrate across. Having engaged with these vivid and often poignant interviews, readers will never again be indifferent to an Indian agent’s greeting at the other end of a toll-free call: “Hello, my name is Roxanne. How may I help you?”

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5

Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Preface: On the Ground

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pp. vii-xii

Laveena pulls up in her black Land Cruiser in front of Sheena?s familyhome in Bangalore. Laveena is the chief financial officer and one of thefounders of I2U, a call center across town in the new Technology Park.Laveena has arranged for us to conduct interviews at I2U and was gen-erous enough to pick us up from Sheena?s house on her way to work. We...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xiv

The authors wish to thank individuals and institutions that graciouslysupported Answer the Call: Virtual Migration in Indian Call Centers overWe are thankful for the institutional support we received for our proj-ect. We thank the College of Humanities as well as the Office of GraduateStudies, Research, and International Programs at California State Univer-...

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Introduction: Answering the Call

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pp. 1-32

Sunita has worked at I2U for about a year, and like a good ethnographer,she has observed call center life carefully. She sits across from us at a smalltable in a quiet office, sharing thoughtful insights in a soft, clear voice: callcenter labor is changing India?s values; call center life takes its toll; thereare costs to modernizing India. Agents are becoming Westernized, she...

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1. The Rhythm of Ambition: Power Temporalities and the Production of the Call Center Agent in U.S. Popular Culture

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pp. 33-66

...?Welcome to customer care. Welcome to customer care.? Indian call cen-ter agents sound out each syllable in careful U.S. American accents togreet their customers with a well-honed professionalism. So the 2006 PBSWideAngle film 1-800-INDIA introduces the Western viewer, perhaps forthe first time through a visual medium, to the Indian worker at the other...

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2. “I Used to Call Myself Elvis”: Suspended Mobilities in Indian Call Centers

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pp. 67-100

...figures. And they talk like they?re pros. And they do it really well.This chapter draws on phenomenology and theories of governmental-ity to account for the politics of experience that shape Indian call centeragents? subject formation. We explore how agents negotiate disparate timeand space locations as their identities are pulled and tugged by virtual...

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3. “I Interact with People from All Over the World”: The Politics of Virtual Citizenship

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pp. 101-134

The most [satisfying part of my job] is the fact I get to interact withIt?s a natural evolution. People in North America will, as a result ofthis [call center industry], move into doing more value-added kindContemporary citizenship is caught somewhere between the national andthe transnational. A host of forces have rewritten conventional notions of...

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4. “I’m Going to Sing It the Way Eminem Sings It”: India’s Network Geography

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pp. 135-173

If you like the music you listen to it. You listen to try to understandwhat they are trying to say. If you like the music you listen to it. Ifyou like it you?ll repeat it. When you repeat it you get the hang of it.I mean, I love Eminem, I love all the songs. So when I sing it, andI sing an Eminem song, I?m going to sing it the way Eminem sings...

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Conclusion: Returning the Call

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pp. 174-196

The coolest thing [about call centers] is the infrastructure. We haveaccess to everything over here. The toughest thing I face is to takecare of my health because of the timing, and on and off. At times wehave to work when we used to sleep and at times you have to, youThe Indian call center industry, as Yadav suggests, is a vexed site of possi-...

Notes

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pp. 197-228

Bibliography

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pp. 229-238

Index

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pp. 239-242

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About the Author

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p. 259-259

...studies at California State University, Northridge. She is author of PowerLines: On the Subject of Feminist Alliances and coeditor of Silence, Feminism,California State University, Northridge. She is coeditor of Silence, Femi-...


E-ISBN-13: 9781452940380
E-ISBN-10: 145294038X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816689392

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2013