Communication Studies

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New Faculty Publication! Answer the Call: Virtual Migration in Indian Call Centers

January 17, 2014

Answer the Call book coverAnswer the Call, coauthored by Communication Studies faculty member Aimee Carrillo Rowe with Sheena Malhotra and Kimberlee Perez, explores the daily, psychic journeys Indian call center agents undergo as they virtually migrate between India and the U.S. A thin cable that runs half way around the globe bridges the “here” and the “there,” connecting agents to faraway customers in real time. The new time-space relations generated by this virtual contact create conditions for these workers to undergo a global “migration” from India and to America, even as their bodies remain bounded within the national homeland. To accommodate the U.S. American workday, Indian agents often work the nightshift and sleep during the day, leaving them little time for family, friends, and cultural events. This temporal arrangement displaces them from the daily rhythms of Indian life, generating a sense of loss, longing, and nostalgia for “India.” Further, while agents experience a sense of distance from India, they also experience a movement toward “America.” Agents’ accounts suggest a feeling of living between worlds, yet their movement is decoupled from physical migration. Call center agents migrate not through space, but through time. While virtual migration has no geographically distant point of arrival, the experience of moving between India and America is not merely imagined. Something is happening to agents’ sense of place and time, and yet this something falls somewhere, as agents explain, in-between: between India and America, migrating and remaining within the homeland, diasporic subject and Indian citizen; between experience and imagination; between class mobility and consumption; between here and there, then and now, past and future, tradition and modernity. Call center agents live and work between these multiple cracks of material culture. Our detailed investigation of their stories unpacks the dense cultural lives agents live as they dwell in the potentiality of virtual migration that affords them spatio-temporal, class, and citizenship mobility.