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Skidmore College

"Hate nationalism" and call centers

October 5, 2016

"Phone Clones: Hate Nationalism in Transnational Customer Service Work" is this year’s Zankel Lecture. A discussion of Asian call-center workers and their Western customers, the talk takes place Monday, Oct. 10, at 5:30 p.m. in Gannett Auditorium of Palamountain Hall.  It is free and open to the public.

The speaker is University of Toronto professor Kiran Mirchandani, a scholar of service work, economic restructuring, welfare, and workplace learning. The author of Phone Clones: Authenticity Work in the Transnational Service Economy and Crimes of Color: Race and the Criminal Justice System in Canada, she has earned a wide range of Canadian national research grants to study the labor-market experiences of immigrants, racialization and gendering in workplaces, and the transnationalization of service work. Her results have appeared in major journals and other publications. 

Mirchandani argues that customer-service workers in India must cope with two constructs: "that they are fundamentally different from Westerners" and at the same time "that they are their cultural clones and can therefore establish service relationships based on familiarity." She cites the universal requirements for accent training in English, "which serves, in no uncertain terms, to name Indians as nonnative speakers," which of course they are not, and the requirement for the workers to "become as much like their customers as they can, which involves working at night, adopting Western names, and being empathetic to customer needs."

Mirchandani's Zankel Lecture will focus on the experiences of these workers, who, she has found, are often subjected to verbal abuse, especially by customers calling from the U.S., Australia, and the U.K. She'll discuss how this anger may well be a contributor to the creation and perpetuation of Western nationalism, and she’ll explore the emotional and aesthetic labor that call-center workers perform in response to this anger.

Organizer Pushkala Prasad, Skidmore's Zankel Professor in Management for Liberal Arts Students, says Mirchandani is particularly notable for "her ability to combine original field data with measured yet compelling theoretical analysis." 

The lecture is co-sponsored by the Zankel Chair, the International Affairs Program, the Management and Business Department, and the Sociology Department.

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