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Answer the Call

Virtual Migration in Indian Call Centers

2013
Authors:

Aimee Carrillo Rowe, Sheena Malhotra, and Kimberlee Pérez

Answer the Call

What are the personal and political consequences of being a “virtual American” in India?

Drawing from interviews with agents, trainers, managers, and CEOs at call centers in Bangalore and Mumbai, Answer the Call shows that 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, the agents come to internalize and perform Americanness for Americans—and each other.

Answer the Call takes on the investigation of call centers in India and uses that case study to help us to theorize, in more supple and nuanced ways, the multiple shifts in consciousness and social imaginaries that contemporary globalizing forces enable.

Jane Desmond, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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?”

Answer the Call

Aimee Carrillo Rowe is associate professor of communication studies at California State University, Northridge.

Sheena Malhotra is professor of gender and women’s studies at California State University, Northridge.

Kimberlee A. Pérez is a PhD candidate in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University.

Answer the Call

Answer the Call takes on the investigation of call centers in India and uses that case study to help us to theorize, in more supple and nuanced ways, the multiple shifts in consciousness and social imaginaries that contemporary globalizing forces enable.

Jane Desmond, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

This engagingly written book is an innovative analysis of the work that is done in call centers in India. The authors offer a careful academic examination of the time-virtual space issues connected to workers at these centers by asking readers to think about call-center work as a form of migration. The book draws on a number of disparate academic areas, demonstrating the strengths and necessity of interdisciplinary thinking in the social sciences. Readers will never think about call centers in the same way again.

Kum-Kum Bhavnani, University of California, Santa Barbara

A very relevant and timely work that addresses the issues of inclusion and exclusion in relation to globalization.

CHOICE

Answer the Call

Contents

Preface: On the Ground
Acknowledgments

Introduction: Answering the Call
1. The Rhythm of Ambition: Power Temporalities and the Production of the Call Center Agent in U.S. Popular Culture
2. “I Used to Call Myself ‘Elvis’”: Suspended Mobilities in Indian Call Centers
3. “I Interact with People from All Over the World”: The Politics of Virtual Citizenship
4. “I’m Going to Sing It the Way Eminem Sings It”: India’s Network Geography
Conclusion: Returning the Call

Notes
Bibliography
Index