2017 Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
7 p.m.9 p.m.
Lander Auditorium, Hutchison Hall, University of Rochester
Akhil Gupta & Purnima Mankekar
University of California, Los Angeles
Since its beginning in 2000, the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry has grown to employ 700,000 young people in India. Future Tense is an anthropological study of call center workers in the outsourcing hub of Bengaluru. These young workers spend their nights interacting by phone and online with consumers in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and elsewhere. The study focuses on the affective dimensions of work in the BPO industry, asking: How does the experience of work produce particular understandings of time, embodiment, and sociality? The research explores the complex interplay between work, personal aspirations, social futures, and transformations in global capitalism. This industry has had contradictory effects that lead both to upward mobility but also to precarity.
Challenging superficial accounts of predatory corporations in the Global North using “coolie labor” in the Global South to enhance profits through off-shoring and outsourcing, we draw on long-term fieldwork to argue that such simplistic narratives fail to capture the complexity and density of interactions between imagination, aspiration, technology, and work for upwardly-mobile classes in the Global South. New technologies such as artificial intelligence, chat, and the digitization of work constantly transform the experiences of workers in this industry. Their experiences provide us with critical insights into capital, labor, and information technology in our rapidly changing world.