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Call centre agents and class identity: a Johannesburg case study

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dc.contributor.advisor Prof. Peter Alexander en
dc.contributor.author Motseke, Dieketseng M.
dc.date.accessioned 2009-05-07T07:24:41Z
dc.date.available 2009-05-07T07:24:41Z
dc.date.issued 2009-05-07T07:24:41Z
dc.date.submitted 2007-08-31
dc.identifier.uri http://hdl.handle.net/10210/2506
dc.description M.A. en
dc.description.abstract This dissertation explores the class identity of call centre agents in Johannesburg. My interest in the topic arose from an apparent contradiction. On the one hand, I had read sociological literature that had depicted such people as belonging to a ‘service proletariat’. On the other, my experience as a student working in a call centre was that, to the extent that the agents had a class identity, it was as members of the ‘middle class’. While there is now a considerable body of literature on call centres, there is relatively little on South Africa, despite that it now has the largest concentration of these workplaces anywhere in the world. Also, research has addressed the question of class, in terms of class position, an outsider’s assessment, rather than as class identity, the agent’s own understanding of their location within a social hierarchy. Moreover, given that call centres are in the forefront of globalisation, which has made possible the reorganisation of labour processes, is it possible that they herald new class identities that tally with a changed class structure? In researching these issues three call centres were studied. The first was where I worked as a normal student, but in the other I consciously undertook a participant observation. The second call centre was where most of my scientific research was conducted, with observation being supplemented by semi-structured interviews. The third call centre I went through an arduous recruitment process but was ultimately rejected. The dissertation describes the varied nature of call centre work, and it reveals agents’ thoughts about their jobs. To my surprise I discerned two kinds of identity among the agents. The first was the one experienced as a student. This was an identity more related to the social position from which the agents had come and to which they aspired, both of which were generally regarded as middle class. Work and class were not, however, an important part of the identity of such people, who tended to be individualistic, interested in ‘having fun’ and in ‘moving on’. But there was a second identity, not encountered as a student. This was undoubtedly a class identity, and some agents even described themselves in terms similar to ‘service proletariat’. Whereas there was little commitment to the particular call centre, there was recognition that call centre employment was a long-term option. Significantly, whilst the first identity was strongly associated with the agents who were ‘temps’, the second was coupled with those who were ‘permanent’. I argue that these associations were not only linked to the kind of contract that had been signed, but also to length of service, time spent at work and the nature of work undertaken, pay and conditions, age and family responsibilities, and expectations of future employment. So, then, the theory of service proletariat is not rejected, and, indeed, permanent agents had an identity related to this class position. However, a nuanced assessment of the class identity must recognise the significance of an agent’s commitment to working in a call centre, with many agents only employed on a temporary basis. en
dc.language.iso en en
dc.subject Call centers en
dc.subject Call centers in South Africa en
dc.subject Attitudes of call center employees en
dc.title Call centre agents and class identity: a Johannesburg case study en
dc.type Mini-Dissertation en

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