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A job worth doing? Reinterpreting control, resistance and everyday forms of coping with call centre work in Glasgow

Hastings, Thomas Michael (2011) A job worth doing? Reinterpreting control, resistance and everyday forms of coping with call centre work in Glasgow. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

In recent decades Britain’s economic landscape has shifted from a Fordist manufacturing economy, to a labour market based on intangible forms of service work. Despite initial optimism regarding this shift, many of the replacement service jobs which workers now rely upon reflect instable, intensive and low-paying work realities. This thesis explores how low-end service work is actually experienced, as seen through the eyes of call centre workers based in Glasgow. Glasgow represents a particularly interesting case in this respect, as service work is arguably ill-suited to the traditional skill sets and worker cultures within this old industrial labour market. Despite this apparent mismatch, the thesis contends that workers possess and perform a range of coping strategies and practices that help limit the negative experience of telephone call centre work. Via interviews with workers, and non-participant observation of the call centre labour process across three different call centre settings, the thesis argues that workers can and do foster ‘lives worth living’ through a seemingly mundane, coercive, and low paying form of work. The opening of the thesis positions the research in the expanding sub-discipline of labour geography. While traditional understandings of labour and capital have tended to ignore labour’s ability to think and act, labour geography has emphasised the potential for workers to negotiate with capital through collective forms of (often union-based) ‘resistance’. In addition to resisting capital, the research argues that workers also (and more commonly) demonstrate agency whilst complying with existing structural constraints. This argument is advanced with recourse to studies from the labour process theory (LPT) tradition, in addition to the work of James C. Scott and Cindi Katz. Three main arguments are advanced throughout the thesis. Firstly, and despite the call centre typecast as that of an authoritarian and deskilled setting, it is argued that call centre capital remains responsive to the social and unpredictable nature of workers. In order to realise production, each centre is shown to draw upon the social division of labour in different ways, as well as relying upon ‘soft’ measures of control over and above forms of coercion. This is necessary in order to attain the consent of a productive call centre workforce. Secondly, and inside the labour process itself, call centre workers are shown to exhibit a range of passive and informal coping mechanisms – i.e. forms of agency – which help to improve the experience of call centre work. Crucially, these forms of coping do little to challenge managerial control in a direct sense: and this, in part, explains their effectiveness as a means of getting by. The final point relates to worker rationales behind call centre employment. Here it is argued that the subjective socio-spatial backgrounds of workers impact motivation behind call centre employment. Furthermore, worker backgrounds are shown to ‘carry over’ inside the workplace, further impacting the experience of call centre work. Ultimately pre-existing non-work subjectivities (in particular class, gender, and nationality) are shown to influence the identities that workers forge through call centre employment. By way of conclusion, the thesis attempts to feed these theoretical findings – with particular reference to findings on worker agency – back into the labour geography project.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Labour, Agency, Labour Geography, Resistance, Call centre work
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Colleges/Schools: College of Science and Engineering > School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
Supervisor's Name: MacKinnon, Dr. Danny and Cumbers, Dr. Andrew
Date of Award: 2011
Depositing User: Dr. Thomas M Hastings
Unique ID: glathesis:2011-2483
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 13 Apr 2011
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:55
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/2483

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