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Reflections on the call centre - a reply to Glucksmann

Taylor, P. and Bain, P.M. (2007) Reflections on the call centre - a reply to Glucksmann. Work, Employment and Society, 21 (2). pp. 349-362. ISSN 0959-0170

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The point of departure is the welcome contribution to Work, Employment and Society by Miriam Glucksmann (2004) to the call centre debate. The principal contention of Call Configurations is that the existing literature has provided only limited conceptualization. For, she argues, despite the 'wealth of empirical data detailing the inner workings of call centres, managerial strategies and labour process … and their conditions of employment', providing 'material for debates about "surveillance and resistance", work degradation and the relevance of the electronic panopticon', a 'shift of prism' is required. Through an analytical framework focusing on 'process', 'relationality' and 'division of labour', Glucksmann's intention is to situate call centres within a broader economic sociology and overcome the widespread tendency to treat them as 'selfstanding sites of work'. In so doing, she utilizes her 'total social organization of labour' (TSOL) perspective, developed fully in her historical study of women workers (2000). Applied to call centres, TSOL 'is broadened from a focus on work and labour to a wider concern with the various parts or phases of the process in which that labour is conducted' (2004: 798). This means considering call centres as intermediaries within the 'overall configuration of production/distribution/exchange/ consumption' and provides the means for understanding the differing forms and roles they take at the levels of organization and labour. Operators no longer appear as 'homogenous or self-contained' because of identifiable variability in call operating and the linkages to occupations 'presupposed' by the call.