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Edwards revisited: Technical control in call centres

Callaghan, G. and Thompson, P. (2001) Edwards revisited: Technical control in call centres. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 22 (1). pp. 13-37. ISSN 0143-831X

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Abstract

Call centres represent a new strategy by capital to reduce unit labour costs. While this strategy has been applied to many different types of work, it is particularly successful in cutting costs in routine interactive service encounters. Telebank, the case study research site, is one of four integrated call centres throughout the UK. Data collection includes taped semi-structured interviews with customer service representatives and managers as well as non-participant observation of recruitment, training and the labour process. This article argues that management has developed a new form of structural control. Theoretically this draws heavily on Edwards's concept of technical control, but not only is this shown to be extended and modified, it is also combined with bureaucratic control, which influences the social structure of the workplace. Contrary to Edwards such systems are not distinct; rather they are blended together in the process of institutionalizing control. Part of the rationale for this is to camouflage control, to contain conflict by making control a product of the system rather than involving direct confrontation between management and workers. Despite such attempts the struggle for transforming labour power into profitable labour remains, and the article ends by exploring confrontation between workers and managers and worker agency more generally.