Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres (Wildcat series) - Book launch

A booklaunch on 'Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres (Wildcat series) - Book launch'

Jamie Woodcock

Type Book Launches
When May 30, 2016
from 06:27 PM to 06:27 PM
Contact Name
Contact Phone 07970724441
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This is a proposal for a book launch panel for my forthcoming book: Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres (part of the Wildcat series published by Pluto) which will be out in November in time for Historical Materialism conference. From the blurb of the book: “Over a million people in the United Kingdom work in call centres, and the phrase has become synonymous with low-paid and high stress work, dictatorial supervisors and terrifyingly precarious job contracts. However, rarely does the public have access to the true picture of what goes on in these institutions. For this book, Jamie Woodcock spent time working the phones in a UK call centre in order to provide insights into the everyday experiences of call centre workers, and to understand and analyse methods of control and resistance that exist within the highly regulated environment. Woodcock shows how call centre work has become emblematic of the shift towards a post-industrial service economy, and all the issues that this produces, such as the destruction of a unionised work force, isolation and alienation, loss of agency and, ominously, the proliferation of surveillance and control which affects mental and physical well being of the workers. By applying a sophisticated Marxist analysis to a thoroughly international 21st century phenomenon, Working The Phones presents a window onto the methods of resistance that are developing on our office floors, and considers whether there is any hope left for the modern worker today.” The plan is to have a similar style panel to the launch of Immanuel Ness’ book in the series – Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class – which was took place at HM conference last year. This would involve a short introduction, 3 or so discussants, and time for responses and discussion from the audience. There are three main arguments in the book that I think make it particularly relevant to HM. First, it makes an argument for the use of workers’ inquiry (which has featured panels at HM previously) to study the conditions of contemporary work – in this case involving an undercover activist ethnography in a call centre. Second, it draws on heterodox and critical Marxist theory to understand the transformation of work. Third, it focuses on the challenges of resistance and organisation in a concrete example of a workplace. Although an academic book, it is also intended to be an accessible intervention into contemporary debates, having been significantly re-written from the PhD thesis upon which it is based.


    For the One-Day Themed Conference CFP: The Limits to Capital and the Limits to Nature In recent years, a new social movement called Degrowth has appeared on the European radical scene. In general, such movement is based on anti-consumerism (over-consumption is regarded as the root-cause of social inequalities), and on ecological economics (since the reduction of throughput – the quantity of matter and energy which traverses the productive sphere – is considered the most viable solution to environmental issues). Degrowthers claim that reducing consumption does not necessarily entail a sacrificial renouncement to wealth and pleasurable lifestyles. However, their theory also presents problematic shortcomings. In particular, the insistence on the physical limits to growth has led to an underestimation of the role played by the social limits of capital in the very production of the ecological crisis. My hypothesis is that such reliance on physical limits should be historicized against the background of an ecological critique of political economy. To sketch such brief history of the value-nature nexus I discuss the contribution of French thinker André Gorz who, in his 1977 Écologie et liberté, proposed the compatibility between Marx and Georgescu-Roegen – between the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (crisis of overproduction) and the physical limits-hypothesis (crisis of reproduction). The basic argument of the paper is that such compatibility was valid in the 1970s but has become problematic once the green economy (i.e. nature as a driver of value) has become hegemonic. In fact, whereas in the late 1960s – when the environmental crisis emerged as a fully political issue – its management used to be seen as a costly but unproductive necessity, in more recent years the corporate community has elaborated a new mindset according to which ecological criticality is to be approached as a profitable business opportunity rather than an unavoidable nuisance. Originally perceived as a crisis of capitalism (the industry-caused crossing of the immutable threshold represented by the physical limits of the planet), ecological deterioration is now considered as a crisis for capitalism, as a new instance of creative destruction. It is my conviction that on the basis of such a (still embryonic) ecological critique of political economy it would be possible to create a common space for dialogue between heterodox Marxists and critical Degrowthers.
  • Geopolitics of the Avant-Garde: Rethinking the Cultural Cold War
    In the late 1940s and early 1950s, two distinct constellations of cultural producers, cultural critics and intellectuals enlisted, wittingly or unwittingly, in what has become known as the Cultural Cold War. While the Soviet Union and United States both were entering period of cultural conformity at home, their international stance led them into competition over who could lay claim to the international Avant-Garde. On the Soviet side, luminaries included Georg Lukacs and Pablo Picasso, while Americans counted Jackson Pollock and Dwight McDonald. The Soviet side included a healthy mix of sincere (and often dissident) communists as well as ‘fellow travelling’ liberals and a good chunk of continental intellectual culture, while the Americans counted more than a few Trotskyists and other “non-communist” libertarian socialists like McDonald. Most accounts of the Cultural Cold War rely on a dichotomy, either castigating the latter for collaborating with the forces that would go on to with blood and fire, forge American Empire, or the latter for collaborating with the forces that embarked upon the Moscow purge trials, assassinated Leon Trotsky and repressed free thought at home. This paper will attempt to move beyond the moralism of these debates, and examine the cultural production ‘on both sides’ as reflective of ongoing debates within the Left in regards to aesthetics and politics, for example, that between Ernst Bloch and the aforementioned Lukacs. Reframing the debate as to one within the Left itself and drawing on Boris Groys and Greil Marcus’s respective works on Soviet aesthetics and “Americana”, questions will be raised as to who was using whom. Were the great powers merely co-opting art and intellectual culture art for great power politics? On the other hand, were artists and critics making use of grants and international support to engage in progressive cultural practice? Does collaboration with a given state render the Avant-Garde toothless, or did artists maneuver their way through these muddy waters, like DaVinci with the Vatican? These are not easy questions to answer but a first step must involve moving beyond condemnation.
  • Neoliberal Transformation of the City of Diyarbakir under the Shade of Political Tensions
    My research investigates recent socio-spatial transformation of the city of Diyarbakir (the biggest Kurdish city in Turkey) in the context of neoliberal transformation of Turkey. Diyarbakir displays the complexity of the issue of neoliberal transformation which, I assume, has two main aspects; namely, policies of (in)security and political economy. Witnessed a thirty-year of conflict between Kurdish uprising and the state security forces, on the one hand, Diyarbakir has been a political space where the state security practices have targeted a specific ethnic group (the Kurds) on the basis of concerns for security. On the other hand, with the negotiation process between the Kurdish political organizations and the state officials beginning from 2000s, the facet of Diyarbakir has also undergone through an economic transformation, especially basing on the construction industry following the western part of Turkey. In line with this transformation, neoliberal policies applied in Diyarbakir have gained a new dimension to include class conflicts between the Kurds, as the main pro-Kurdish party that holds the municipality has become one of the leading actors of the neoliberal transformation in the city. Examining the socio-spatial transformation of Diyarbakir has a potential to inform us about some particularities and tensions of the processes of neoliberalism. The example of Diyarbakir illustrates that neoliberal transformation is not limited to the state practices, but even the oppositional libertarian and egalitarian groups might appear as the leading actors of neoliberal policies. In this regard, my study will contribute to the comparative understandings of neoliberal policies which point out the shortcomings of the state oriented critiques of neoliberal processes and emphasize various dimensions of neoliberal transformation.
  • Structuring monopoly power through the back door of free trade negotiations: TTIP and international standardisation
    This paper aims at discussing the contradictory unity between monopoly and competition, which is currently illustrated by the challenges of free-trade negotiations. As such, I put forward the hypothesis that the crucial issue of the TTIP negotiations – and more generally of actual trade negotiations between industrialised countries – isn't primarily the liberalisation of trade through the elimination of tariffs but the ability to set the rules (standards) of global competition under the growing concern for maximising shareholder value. In order to underscore this point, I'll draw on data regarding future trade perspectives expected by industrialised countries and to a lesser extent by international organisations, and relate them to the crisis of capitalism since 2008, and the resulting slowdown of international trade. In this context, the analysis of global value chains helps us to understand why the oligopolistic power of lead firms is likely to be fostered through supposedly free-trade regulations and standards. As economic activity is ultimately grounded in space (Harvey, 2014: 79) this tendency has a concrete impact on the spatial limits of capital. Consequently, my papers puts emphasis on how, despite the annihilation of space by time, privileged positions on a local scale and hierarchical arrangements are preserved in favour of certain firms. In Capital Volume III Marx states that „so long as things go well, competition effects an operating fraternity of the capitalist class. But as soon as it no longer is a question of sharing profits, [...] everyone tries to reduce his own share to a minimum and to shove it off upon another.“ Thus, in a situation of slowing international trade, this paper outlines on the one hand the relation between the (industrialised) state and the economy and gives on the other hand some indications regarding the tensions of inter-capitalist competition. Based on these contradictions, I'll develop some possible strategic axes for the struggle against free-trade treaties.
  • The Invisible Hands of the Market: Reproductive Work and Female Labour
    Camille Barbagallo and Siggie Vertommen Since the reconfiguration of the capitalist world economy in the late seventies, the reproductive labours involved in care, nurturance and pleasure have increasingly been commodified and a global army of female workers including nannies, cleaners, surrogates and sex workers has developed in both the global North and South. Recent social scientific and feminist scholarship has therefore focused its attention to studying the immorality and exploitation behind the supposedly "new" sexual division of labour, with its exuberant marketization of bodies, intimacies and sexualities, while downplaying or even ignoring the structural inequalities of power (race, class, sex, gender) that underpin the unwaged forms of reproductive, affective and emotional labour, such as in sex, childbirth and housework. In this presentation we would like to suggest that a feminist Marxist understanding of capitalist social relations requires a combined attention to and organisation of both forms of labour - namely, waged and unwaged reproductive labour. Through a critical analysis of recent debates on altruistic (unwaged) versus commercial (waged) surrogacy, we posit a feminist Marxist account of the politics of motherhood, care and reproduction that transcends false dichotomies of waged-unwaged labour, gift-commodity, nature-social, market-non market. Siggie Vertommen is a doctoral student at Ghent University, who is finalizing her PhD on "The Political Economy of Assisted Reproduction in Palestine/Israel". She will soon start a post-doc at King's College London on studying the "Global Fertility Chain between Israel/Palestine - South Africa and Nepal". Siggie has been actively involved in the organisation of the Eye on Palestine Film and Arts Festival in Belgium and in the establishment of a Slow Science group at Ghent University. Camille Barbagallo is the Fisher Centre Fellow at Hobart and William Smith College where she is pursuing research into Gender and the Home. Her doctoral research, The Political Economy of Reproduction: Motherhood, Gender and the Home in Neoliberal Britain investigates how the processes and practices of reproduction have been transformed not only by the reconfiguration of the global economy but also by women’s struggles that have reconfigured motherhood, the domestic home and the gendered organisation of employment.
  • Marxist theories of imperialism and US “pivot” to Asia: the making of the Trans-Pacific Partnership
    The global relations of space and power have changed dramatically with the entrance into the post-2008 era, to the extent Barack Obama called it a moment of transition in the NSS 2010. The uneven development of capitalism has shacked the balance between states and produced structural changes that outweigh those of 1989 or 9/11. Major novelties in the 21st century world order are the rise of Asia as an economic powerhouse and market on the one hand, and the increasing old-fashioned geopolitical assertiveness of China in the Asia-Pacific on the other hand. This paper investigates the drivers of the Obama administration’ participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a mega-regional trade agreement signed by 12 Asia-Pacific countries in February 2016 after seven years of negotiations. The contribution of the paper is two-fold. Theoretically, the paper adopts a Marxist perspective on state-capitalist ruling class relations exploring the interactions between industry representatives and policymakers and how the latter group filters socio-economic pressures in pursing long term national security interests. This is also part of a contribution to the recent debate on imperialism and the attempts to recover the classical Marxist thesis. Empirically, the paper explains why the Obama administration invested much of its political capital in finalizing the TPP. It concludes that US commitment to the agreement sheds light of the intertwining of security and economic logics at play in the “pivot” to Asia. It shows how of the revolving door between businesses and government officials, lobbying efforts by IP and information technology companies, and a general will to overcome the Doha Round inconclusiveness have shaped the administration’s economic considerations in the TTP. In its security dimension, the agreement is driven by China’s expansionism, which US policy makers seek to tamper by maintaining a Western-fashioned rule of law in Asia-Pacific and by fighting China both on classical spaces of rivalry – territory – and on new spaces of rivalry- cybersecurity.
  • Lenin as a decolonial thinker
    From 1917 to the mid-1920s, Lenin and the Bolsheviks made tremendous efforts to think of and implement the combination of socialist revolution and anticolonial liberation at the margins of the Russian empire, especially in the vast Muslim areas of Tatarstan and Central Asia. Deeply aware of the specific conditions for the emancipation of “oppressed nations,” they struggled against great Russian chauvinism, worked in fruitful collaboration with Muslim organizations, and gave Muslims religious freedom, while denying it to followers of the Orthodox church. Such revolutionary policies however, have a darker side. It concerns the emancipation of the “oriental woman,” which was considered all the more crucial as, in regions with very limited industrialization, the exploited and degraded Muslim women were conceived of as a “surrogate proletariat” (Gregory Massell) whose liberation was key to the victory of socialism. Founded in 1919, the Zhenotdel, the women's department of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the All-Russian Communist Party, engaged in a fieldwork among Eastern women, the “last slaves” according to Alexandra Kollontai who headed the organization after Inessa Armand's death and who encouraged the first unveiling campaigns led in Muslim areas: “so far I have brought here only a few women from the harems of Turkestan. These women have thrown aside their veils. Everybody stares at them, they are a curiosity which gives the congresses a theatrical atmosphere. Yet all pioneering work is theatrical. […] How else would we get in touch with Mohammedan women except through women?” Displaced in the East, Kollontai's uncompromising leftism was becoming synonymous with blatant Orientalism. Such “colonial” policies were soon to have tragic consequences, when, on a few occasions, Zhenotdel activists were murdered by angry males. Long before anybody spoke of “intersectionality”, the Soviet Revolution faced, and apparently failed to solve the problem of women's emancipation in the East.
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  • Nationalism and the Literature of the Ethiopian Student Movement
    In "Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World" Partha Chatterjee's examines the thematics and problematics of Third World nationalist thought as the common thrust and ensemble of issues that can best be described as an attempt to produce an alternative discourse to colonialism, but which inevitably takes on the representational structure of colonialism and resolves the problems of that representational structure by assuming colonialism as its own space of autonomy. In this paper I use Partha Chatterjee's description of Third World nationalist thought to rethink the literature produced by the Ethiopian student movement during the years 1965-1974. In particular I take "Challenge", which was the premier English language journal of the Ethiopian student movement as a case study that helps us explore the major ideas that influenced debate within the Ethiopian student movement. I also focus on how ideas were mobilized to meet political ends, and I ask what kind of relationship between ideas, the social sciences and policy were created through the efforts of the Ethiopian student movement. Lastly I ask how this latter relationship helped pave the way for the circulation of intellectual persons from the world of letters, to the world of governance as well as the world of military action and war-making.
  • Exploitation and domination of nature : Adorno's reflections on the Marxian critique of the capitalist exploitation of nature
    It is now widely accepted that the Marxian approach to the exploitation of nature is by no means unilateral. Far from having neglected the deleterious consequences of the capitalistic exploitation of nature, Marx has developed, since his early writings, concepts aiming at seizing the complexity of this phenomenon and criticizing it. Consequently, even if the exact nature of this approach is still a matter of debate, it is no longer possible to argue that Marx has only a Promethean attitude towards nature. This point seems to render impertinent the critique put forward by the Frankfurt School, and especially by Adorno, against the Marxian way of thinking the exploitation of nature. This critique consists in denouncing the non-critical manner in which Marxism thinks the exploitation of nature. It seems that this critique of Marxism suffers, if not from bias, at least from superficiality. However, we would like to show that this critique is indeed pertinent, especially for our present conjuncture, provided that we understand that Adorno is aware of the fact that the exploitation of nature is indeed criticized in the Marxian approach, but that for him this critique is not entirely satisfactory. According to Adorno, domination of nature (Naturbeherrschung) and exploitation of nature (Naturausbeutung) do not signify the same thing; however, they are often used as synonyms, in an unthought and confused manner, and this in turn affects the Marxian reflections on nature. This unthought element is related to the fact that in Marxism, the capitalist exploitation of nature is often thought in merely economical sense, whereas in fact there are certain ideological aspects of this capitalist exploitation of nature which are not reducible to its economical logic. For Adorno, it would be equally necessary to reconstruct the ideological substructure of the exploitation of nature as domination. We would therefore try to show that with the help of psychoanalysis, Adorno has managed to develop a conceptual framework capable of problematizing those aspects of the capitalist exploitation of nature which are often overlooked within the Marxian approach, and how taking these into account may improve our understanding of capitalism.
  • Periodizing radical feminist mine labour film innovations of the settler colony
    This paper, meta-framed by Spivak's 'Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism', reconsiders the legacy of radical feminist labour film around the mine contract in order to think through the present-day engendering of divestment politics in the settler colony around new forms of extractive infrastructure and wage innovations. In Australia , contemporary mine production involves high salaried contractors negotiating 'unconventional' extractive regimes via increasingly privatized, post-democratic licensing and labour agreements, at the anthropocenic limits of land use. The image of Mine Work, once key for dramatizing production (and anti-production, in strike) has been mobilized within the New Economy in ways that fundamentally disturb the figure-ground relations of citizenship through which the mine worker dialectically achieved its value in the first place. Significant feminist achievements in experimental film form from the Canadian and Australian settler colonial context (Sophie Bissonnette CA, Sandra Lahire UK, Bonita Ely) are drawn upon to work through the difference of contemporary modes of extractive labour. Im-proper and clinamen-like engenderings of industry norms and formal 'movement', between labour and nature, inform a larger theorization of a possible contemporary aesthetic politics of divestment.
  • The “Increasing Misery” Debate revisited. An alternative approach
    The article presents a critical analysis on the origin and development of Marxist debate regarding to the “Increasing Misery of the working class” Doctrine. It is argued that the debate arises from the critique Eduard Bernstein performed on the interpretation of capitalist breakdown, dominant among the German Social Democratic Party’s members in the late nineteenth century. According to this position, the collapse of capitalism was a consequence of the increasing impoverishment suffered by workers with the development of capital accumulation. Bernstein, on his behalf, argued that empirical evidence of rising wages decisively questioned that connection. Ever since, Marxists have sought to argue Bernstein's assertions, trying to demonstrate that even if wages rise, working class tends to be more and more miserable, remaining, therefore, the raison d'être of capitalist breakdown intact. The article claims that Marxists’ arguments have failed to respond the question originally performed by Bernstein. In doing so, they left unsolved the apparent contradiction between the improvement in living conditions of the active working class and the need of it to become the subject who puts end to the capitalist mode of production. It is argued that the cause of the mentioned failure rests, first, on the absence of a clear conception regarding the trend and the determination of the level of wages received by the working class. Secondly, it rests on the lack of a consistent explanation about the supposed “necessary” connection between the increasing misery of the working class and capitalist breakdown. Based on some recent research, the article presents an alternative approach to both, trend and determination of the level of wages that shows to be consistent with the need to overcome the capitalist mode of production.
  • Modalities of State-Capital Relations in the Context of Financialisation: Insights from the Turkish Case
    The modalities of the relations between states and markets that could be observed over the last few decades in many of the so-called emerging markets as they have experienced economic and political crises while going through different phases of financial liberalization could be contemplated as alternative strategies of adjustment to the vagaries of international financial markets. Yet, at the same time, it is also crucial to come to terms with these strategies as hegemonic projects to the extent that they fulfil certain functions in the reproduction of particular forms of social relations in historically specific contexts. Structural adjustment understood as such in the context of financialisation, did not signify simply a change in the mode of integration that would put an end to intermittent crises of foreign exchange, but it signified a new ‘mode of living’ based on indebtedness of households on the one hand, and reconfiguration of the inter- and intra-class relations on the other. This paper will focus on the role played by the capital groups and SMEs as key adjustment mechanisms within the context of intermittent financial crises in Turkey. This, in turn, entails a focus on the specificity of the relations between financial sector and the real sector in the Turkish context with implications for the variegated nature of financialisation in general. To highlight the role played by the capital groups as a class actor in the context of the neoliberal transformation process is essential to overcome the inadequacies of the dominant discourses which tend to analyse the state/market relations severed from the power relations. By the same token, it will be argued that Turkish SMEs not only facilitated new patters of integration of large manufacturing firms into international markets, as they emerged as a major source of employment, formal and/or informal, but also revealed a panoply of different strategies as they struggled to enhance their access to finance. Such an analysis would also highlight the need to go beyond the conception of the state as entailing a rationality external to capital, quite often encountered in mainstream analyses.