Call centres are a part of the daily lives of most people across the world, as
they have become a privileged site of contact between firms and their clients.
Drawing on the unusual advantage of long-term ethnographic fieldwork, this book
describes the emergence of a regime of ‘disciplined agency’ within the
Portuguese call centre sector. The notion of ‘disciplined agency’ is the guiding
thread connecting the book’s account. Departing from a historical examination of
the neoliberal economic restructuring of Portuguese capitalism shaping the
emergence of the call centre sector, the analysis progresses through the
ascendancy of call centres as icons of precarity in contemporary Portugal, and
the specific features of the call centre labour process that configure a new
means of commodifying the worker. This book engages in a discussion of the
particular subjectivities and forms of personal dispossession attached to the
value-extraction system of ‘disciplined agency’ deployed in call centre labour,
and how it is facilitated by relationally and morally embedded structures of
kin, generation and class.
productivity – a fundamental contradiction in the call centre literature. 1 My description and analysis of this contradiction will reveal the extent to which the call centre labour regime might be defined as a regime of disciplined agency – an advanced system for the exploitation of a rarefied form of the human labour power: linguistic engagement, or human communicative competence. The deployment of such a form of labour power under the conditions of production I examine ensures the creation of a surplus value: agentive human intervention. In call centres, the ultimate
This book examines labouring-status women in late medieval Valencia as they negotiated the fundamentally defining experience of their lives: marriage. Through the use of notarial records and civil court cases, it argues that the socio-economic and immigrant status of these women greatly enhanced their ability to exercise agency not only in choosing a spouse and gathering dotal assets, but also in controlling this property after they wed. Although the prevailing legal code in Valencia appeared to give wives little authority over these assets, court records demonstrate they were still able to negotiate a measure of control. In these actions, labouring-status wives exercised agency by protecting their marital goods from harm, using legal statutes to their own advantage. The key factors in this argument are the immigrant and labouring-status background of these women. Many women immigrated to Valencia on their own from smaller towns and villages. In doing so, these women moved outside of their natal families’ sphere of influence, making them less embedded and subject to the authority of their kin relations. Labouring-status women worked themselves, most often as servants, to generate the necessary funds for their dowries. These factors gave wives of this status greater agency than elite women in contracting their marriages, providing dotal assets and challenging their husbands’ authority over this property in dowry restitution cases. Without the influence of their natal families in making marital decisions, these wives were able to act independently in controlling their marital property, negotiating the structures of patriarchy to their advantage.
how recent forms of collective organisation and mobilisation in the sector may develop in the future, they are illustrative of how call centres remain a significant emblem of precarity in Portugal, mobilised and deployed by distinct conjuncture interests to intervene in and shape the politics of precarity.
Throughout this book, I have posited that the work process of the Portuguese call centre is best defined as a regime of disciplined agency. The notion of disciplined agency aims to capture how the practices of recruitment and training, employment conditions
specific modes of conduct and behaviour through which subjectivities are organised and disciplined in the early stages of learning the job. The processes the trainees (and later workers) go through reveal how emotions, bureaucracy and hierarchy are framed in the organisation of work. These processes disclose a moral economy of labourer production within the Portuguese call centre sector, in which operators are positioned, valued, evaluated, and envisioned as potential containers of subordination and agency.
Recruitment: skills, docility and autonomy
In Portugal, the
relationships between global neoliberal restructuring shifts, expressed in the increased ‘normalisation’ of labour precarity, and the situated and context-bound specificities of the history of capitalist development in Portugal. The call centre sector’s architecture of value-extraction is analysed through relational and moral structures of kin, generation and class, jointly shaping practices of recruitment and training, and the organisation of work. This book describes the emergence of a regime of disciplined agency within the Portuguese call centre sector: a regime
the client in the call centre regime – a regime of disciplined agency.
Manufacturing the ‘transcendent client’: ‘we need to take good care of our clients’
In the previous chapter , I described how the programmes of recruitment and training people for work in a call centre make ‘orientation towards the client’ the central imperative. This imperative is not specific to the call centre sector and is found in several other types of business. It flowed logically from the historical advent of mass consumption in capitalist societies and the ideological constitution
As is clear from the last chapter, social and political institutions are inextricable
elements in Gewirth’s moral philosophy. Gewirth provides the theoretical and
conceptual resources for moral exploration both at the micro-level, in his simple
models of interaction between two agents, and at the macro-level, in his depictions of what kind of overall political architecture a society adhering to the fundamental principles of the PGC ought to have. But these moral considerations bearing
on agents on the one hand, and the basic
Persuasion and the value of a concept to mainstreaming co-operation
Our agencies: persuasion and the value
of a concept to mainstreaming co-operation
What is to mainstream, if not to persuade? From the straitened circumstances of his fascist prison cell, Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci
famously argued that contemporary intellectuals, ‘the organic intellectuals’ he saw as necessary to the success of a communist workers’ and
peasants’ movement, ought not to be orators in the classical mould, but
‘permanent persuader[s]’.1 Today the principal agent of a transition to
a better world cannot be ‘the Party
, demanding that Tomàs return the dowry, the administration of
which he had been entrusted.
Teresa Dauder’s story, as told through the civil court records relating
her suit of dowry restitution, exemplifies the central argument of this book:
that labouring-status wives such as Teresa were able to exercise agency
not only in the projects of marriage, choosing a spouse and gathering
dotal assets, but also in controlling this property after they wed. Although
the prevailing legal code in Valencia, the Furs, appeared to give wives little
authority over these assets, they were