Gender Eclipsed? Racial Hierarchies in Transnational Call Center Work

Citation:

Mirchandani, Kiran. 2005. “Gender Eclipsed? Racial Hierarchies in Transnational Call Center Work.” Social Justice 32 (4): 105–19.

Author: Kiran Mirchandani

Abstract:

Feminist ethnographies on the nature of global capitalism have provided a wealth of knowledge on the gendered nature of transnational subcontracting and on the ways that women in the many parts of Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America have been constructed as the "ideal" workers within transnational factories producing garments, food products, shoes, electronics, and transcriptions at nominal cost in developing countries. This article explores a seemingly opposite trend at play in Indian call centers that provide voice-to-voice service to U.S. clients. Call center work is in many ways the epitome of what is commonly seen as "women's work." Providing good service on the telephone requires skills associated with hegemonic femininity, such as being nice, making customers feel comfortable, and dealing with irate customers (Hochschild, 1983; Steinberg and Figart, 1999; Leidner, 1999). Yet, interestingly enough, call center work in the newly emerging centers in New Delhi is not always segregated by gender. In fact, in the interviews I conducted, managers, trainers, and workers unanimously and emphatically construct their jobs in call centers as free of gender-bias and equally appropriate formal and female workers. This article evaluates these discursive claims of occupational desegregation in transnational call center work in India. I argue that the gender segregation in segments of the outsourced call center industry in India is situated within the context of racial hierarchies between Indian workers and Western customers, which fundamentally structure transnational service work. Gender is "eclipsed" in the sense that it is hidden behind a profound, racialized gendering of jobs at a transnational level.

Topics: Economies, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Femininity/ies, Gendered Discourses, Globalization, Multi-national Corporations, Race Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: India

Year: 2005

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