Kiran Mirchandani

Working and Learning in the Transnational Service Economy

Service Workers in India’s Multinational Technology Sector

Conducted in collaboration with Sanjukta Mukherjee, DePaul University, USA and Shruti Tambe, University of Pune, India this project focuses on the lives and livelihoods of low wage service workers who are employed through subcontractors in India’s multinational technology firms.

We focus on the lives and livelihoods of housekeepers, drivers and security guards who work in India’s multinational technology firms. These call centres and software firms are housed in gleaming corporate towers within lavish special economic zones; spaces which have become symbolic of new, sanitized, technology driven development regimes. This book is centered on the experiences of three sets of workers deeply implicated in multinational capital, even though they are rarely seen to be part of the global workforce. These include the housekeepers who clean the premises and buildings of multinational firms, the security guards who maintain the physical borders and enforce the internal access norms within corporations, and the drivers who facilitate the movement of company employees into and out of corporate spaces. We show how ironically, right in the midst of the highly regulated and lavish spaces of multinational technology firms, hidden labour informality is rampant.

We argue that these low-wage service workers stand out in several ways. They are highly visible because they work in organizational sites which are distinctively associated with wealth, progress and promise. Yet they are hired through subcontractors and do not earn a living wage. They experience social and economic barriers which perpetuate long established cycles of poverty and in this sense they are left standing outside the “new India” which their places of work represent.

Empirically grounded, the book is based on 138 interviews conducted over the course of four years (2011-2014) with women and men working as drivers, housekeepers and security guards, as well as with subcontractors, company facilities managers, and labor officials. We explore contrasting narratives of workers, subcontractors, managers at multinational technology companies and policy makers on the social organization of service work supporting India’s multinational technology sector.

Theoretically, the project is situated at the intersection of scholarly debates within sociology of work, gender studies, critical geography and labour studies. We explore contrasting narratives of workers, subcontractors, managers at multinational technology companies and policy makers. Empirically grounded, the book is based on interviews conducted over the course of four years.

book cover

Mirchandani, K, Mukherjee, S and Tambe, S. (2020) Low Wage in High Tech: An Ethnography of Service Workers in Global India. Oxford University Press.,on%20low%2Dwage%20service%20workers.

Borders in Service: Enactments of Nationhood in Transnational Call Centres

Bordepicture1rs in Service traces the intersection of service labour and national identity across global call centres in seven countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Mauritius, Morocco, the Philippines, and the US-Mexico border. While most studies on offshore call centres have focused on India this collection explores the experiences of call center workers in many of the newly emerging hubs of transnational service work. In this collection, Kiran Mirchandani and Winifred Poster have gathered a wide range of contributors to explore the dynamics within global call centres. Such dynamics include: language, speech, accent issues, expressions of consumer sentiment, physical space, and organizational, human resource, and labour policies. By grounding the theoretical debates on nationhood and labour in the realities of daily life in global call centres, Mirchandani and Poster have created a timely, accessible and revealing collection that will change what we know about offshored customer service work.

Edited by Kiran Mirchandani and Winifred R. Poster

University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2016

Call Center Workers, Authenticity Work and Hate Nationalism

Kiran Phone Clones book front

In Phone Clones, based on one hundred interviews conducted over a decade, I argue that two dominant relations structure Indian customer-service workers’ jobs – first, the notion that they are fundamentally different from Westerners and, second, the idea that they are their cultural clones and can therefore establish service relationships based on familiarity. Chapters in the book focus on how the difference between Indian workers and Western customers is constructed – one example is through universal requirements for accent training which serves, in no uncertain terms, to name Indians as non-native speakers of the English language. As explored in other chapters, these workers have to become as much like their customers as they can – which involves working at night, adopting Western names, and being empathetic to customer needs. I argue that the concept of “authenticity work”, which I developed in Phone Clones, is important to understanding the process in which Indian service workers are engaged.

Read a summary of the book

Table of contents

Read a chapter

Review in Canadian Journal of Sociology

Review in Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews

Review in ILRReview

Review in New Technology, Work and Employment

Review in The Hindu: Between the Covers

Review in Works and Occupations Journal

Review in American Journal of Sociology

Review in Vision: The Journal of Business Perspective

Review in Anthropology of Work Review

Listen to an interview based on the book on Radio Canada International

Listen to a talk on the book at the National University of Singapore

Audio: Radio Canada interview
Watch the presentation on the book at the book launch

Other Publications:

Trotz, A, Mirchandani, K and Khan, I (2019). Growing Downhill? Contestations of Sovereignty and the Creation of Itinerant Workers in Guyanese Call Centers. Pp. 297-325 in Bulkan, A and Trotz, A eds. Unmasking the State: Politics, Society and Economy in Guyana. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers. Reprint.

Mirchandani, K. (2019) Globality in Exceptional Spaces: Service workers in India’s Transnational Economy. In A. K. Sahoo and B. Purkayastha eds. Routledge Handbook of Indian Transnationalism.  Oxon and New York: Routledge.

Mirchandani, K., Mukherjee, S., Tambe, S. (2018) Researching the ambiguous global elite: methodological reflections on the invisible realities and contradictory politics of neoliberal globalization. In K. Gallagher ed. The Methodological Dilemma Revisited: Creative, Critical and Collaborative Approaches to Qualitative Research for a New Era. New York: Routledge, pp.153-171

Mirchandani, K. (2016) ‘We’re not talking to people, we’re talking to a nation”: Crossing Borders in Transnational Customer Service Work. Prasad, Prasad, Mills and Helms Mills eds. The Routledge Companion to Critical Management Studies. New York: Routledge. Pp. 359-369

Mirchandani, K. (2015) Flesh in Voice: The No-touch Embodiment of Transnational Customer Service Workers. Organization, 22 no. 6: 909-923.

Mirchandani, K. (2013) Caller Hate: The Orchestrated Production of Western Nationalism. Economic and Political Weekly, 25, 3:69-76.

Mirchandani, K. (2013). Pockets of the West: The Engagement of the Virtual Diaspora in India. T. T. Yong and M. M. Rahman (Ed.), Diasporic Engagement and Development in South Asia. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. Pp. 231-245.

Mirchandani, K. (2012). Learning Racial Hierarchies: communication skills training in transnational customer service work. Journal of Workplace Learning, 24, 5, 338-350.

Mirchandani, K., Maitra, S. and Sangha, J. (2012). Treats and Threats: Global Cultures in India’s Call Centres. In A. Prasad (Ed.), Against the Grain: Advances in Postcolonial Organization Studies (pp. 135-154). Denmark: Copenhagen Business School Press.

Mirchandani, K. (2010) Gendered Hierarchies in Transnational Call Centres. Pp. 78-98 in D. Howcroft and H. Richardson eds. Work and Life in the Global Economy. Palgrave McMillan.

Mirchandani, K. (2009). Transnationalism in Indian Call Centres. Pp. 83-114 in M. Thite and B. Russell ed. The Next Available Operator. New Delhi: Sage.

Mirchandani, K. (2008). Enactments of Class and Nationality in Transnational Call Centres. Pp. 88-101 in S. Fineman ed. The Emotional Organization: Passions and Power. Oxford: Blackwell.

Mirchandani, K. and Ng, Roxana. (2008). Linking global trends and local lives: Mapping the methodological dilemmas. Pg. 34-45 in K. Gallagher ed. The Methodological Dilemma: Creative, critical and collaborative approaches to qualitative research. Milton Park: Routledge.

Mirchandani, Kiran, et al. (2008). The Paradox of Training and Learning in a Culture of Contingency. Livingstone, D, Mirchandani, K and Sawchuk, P. eds. The Future of Lifelong Learning and Work: Critical Perspectives. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Mirchandani, K. and Maitra, S. (2007). Learning Imperialism through training in transnational call centres. Pp. 154-164 in. T. Fenwick ed. Educating the Global Workforce: Knowledge Work, Knowledge Workers. London: Routledge.

Mirchandani, K. (2004). Practices of Global Capital: Gaps, Cracks and Ironies in Transnational Call Centres in India. Global Networks: A Journal of Transnational Affairs. 4:4:355-374.

Mirchandani, K. (2004). Webs of Resistance in transnational call centers: strategic agents, service providers and customers. Pp. 179-195 in R. Thomas, A. Mills and J. Helms Mills eds. Identity Politics at Work: Resisting Gender, Gendering Resistance. London: Routledge.