Future tense: Capital, labor, and technology in a service industry (The 2017 Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture)

Purnima Mankekar, Akhil Gupta


Since its beginning in 2000, the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry has grown to employ 700,000 young people in India. These workers spend their nights interacting by phone and online with customers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere. In this article, we focus on the affective dimensions of work in this industry. BPOs have led to contradictory outcomes such as upward mobility accompanied by precarity. Our research explores the complex interplay between work, personal aspirations, social futures, and transformations in global capitalism. Our informants’ experiences with affective labor performed at a distance provide us with critical insights into capital, labor, and technology in our rapidly changing world. Movement characterizes the industry and its workers as they communicate across spatial, linguistic, and cultural distance, while simultaneously being emplaced by regimes of racialized labor. We draw on long-term fieldwork to analyze the complexity and density of interactions between imagination, aspiration, technology, and work for upwardly mobile classes in the Global South.

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affective labor, futurity, mobility, BPOs, call centers, Bengaluru

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau7.3.004