Karine Lan Hing Ting,
The Materiality of Offshore Call Centre Work
‘Just How Does Matter Come to Matter? Analysts, Members and the Material World’ panel, IIEMCA 2015
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Call centres are commonly associated with dematerialisation. Service is delivered on the phone from a distance, through talk – which constitutes both the work activity and the product. This perception of intangibility is even more true of outsourced/offshore call centres: customer data is stored on networked servers to allow globally distributed tasks, achieved by mysterious far-away workers. However, even the more global and advanced information industries implement production processes which are linked to place; no industry or company is completely dematerialized (Sassen, 2007). Indeed, call centres are very material production floors, where work relies on CRM software, certainly, but also on computers, headsets and keyboards, and is achieved by real human agents seated at their desks. My interest is on the social-material organization of this production “floor” (Macbeth, 1992), as a “place” rather than “space” (Harrison & Dourish, 1996). How are the characteristics of the floor, as an audio-visual field, made reflexively observable, and made relevant for collaborative activities and division of labour? How do tools and artefacts figure in the work activities we find there? This paper will discuss the organizational role of a paper spreadsheet, which is used by the supervisor to follow the performance rate in complement to the information that appear on his computer, and thus collaboratively organize his team’s activity. My aim is to explore and to point to the work itself done by contrasts between the material and the immaterial as features of specific, concretely located practices.