"Fragmented Feminine Occupational Identities. A study on the Portuguese and British Contact Centre Female Workers".

Isabel Maria Bonito Roque


Digital revolution of the 21st century, allowed work to become virtual, being performed in network and in constant connection, enabling a greater ease for new technologies' incorporation. Flexibility, unstable labor market, outsourcing, labor intensification, ageing labour and high level of emotional demands are becoming a pandemic, putting decent work into question. Commodification of labor and skills led to a process of deskilling and reskilling, where the majority of workers cannot put into practice what their academic or generic skills qualified them for. This scenario complicates the construction process of occupational identities, leading to a status of frustration. According to the Marxian theory, there is the general tendency to reduce workers to an undifferentiated mass, who can be easily replaced - cybertariat, precariat or proletariat. Work is deeply connected with the subjective dimension of the human being, a person’s occupation is one of the most important delineators of social identity. The global economic and social context of crisis is putting decent work and vulnerability into question, with processes of commodification of labor and skills. The services sector has one of the highest rates of women employability, mainly the call and contact centre sector. Women are no longer passive recipients of technologies, as users, but important actors in the process of their development (Berg, 1994: 96; Webster, 1996:6). In this sense, an increasing on women's participation on the labor market is very noticeable. In this sense, the present study aims at analyzing whether call centres are offering women new opportunities for skill and career development or whether they enact a more routinized, deskilled and devalued forms of work, preventing them from build an occupational identity. Through an ethnographic study and semi-direct interviews, conducted to former and present Portuguese and British contact centre workers, trade union members and academics of the contact centre industry, between 2010 and 2015. The analysis suggests that information and communication technologies did not dissipate inequalities and asymmetries between men and women on the labor realm. Women indeed appear more free than ever to choose their employment paths but they are nevertheless still more likely to be employed in less secure and lower paying jobs while men continue to dominate in higher status occupations (Stanworth, 2000). The present study aims at understanding the relationship between technological change affecting women's professional lives and gender relations at work, as well as its consequences on their occupational identity.

Feminine - Contact Centres - Occupational Identity - Cybertariat