Date of Award

8-2005

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Kristin M. Langellier

Second Committee Member

Mark Bailey

Third Committee Member

Marcia Bailey

Abstract

The contemporary historical moment finds us in a web of globalization that spans the globe. While our interconnectedness brings us into unforeseen communications, we enter the conversation grounded in particular subject locations. Postcolonial subjectivities hold strategic memories of colonial violences as a means of survival and resistance while colonizing forces hold onto binary narratives of their own superiority. Globalization provides the context wherein decolonized and colonizing nations interact with unequal power resulting in multifaceted outcomes, one of which I argue is a re-colonial dynamic. The phenomenon of U.S. corporate outsourcing to India is one instance where a re-colonial dynamic occurs. India's post-1991 liberalization policies facilitated its current relationship with U.S. corporations, many of which invested heavily in India's economy and telecommunications development. One facet of this investment resulted in the creation of call centers which provide customer service support to large corporations. Indian call centers supply customer service operations to U.S. corporations and Indian workers interact with U.S. consumers on the telephone. The condition of employment for largely 20- to 30-something Indian workers, what marks the unequal power relations and re-colonial dynamic, is a performance of "American" culture. Indian call center agents undergo training in "American" voice and culture to mimic and interact with the U.S. consumer while simultaneously erasing their Indian cultural identities. To understand the implications of this practice, I rely on the voices of Indian call center agents and their performance of U.S. culture in their work and training and its impact on their daily and cultural lives. The performances come from personal interviews with call center agents conducted by Sheena Malhotra and me in Bangalore and Mumbai, India, on film footage from Aradhana Seth's documentary I-800-CALLRVDIA, and on media representations from U.S. mainstream media. Interweaving postcolonial and performance theories as the framework, I use Robert Scholes (1985) method of textual criticism which involves a three-step hermeneutic process of reading, interpreting and criticizing performances to deconstruct and analyze their pleasures and power. I rely on Homi K. Bhabha's (1 994) theorization of ambivalence, hybridity and mimicry to understand colonial subjects' complex negotiation of colonial forces. From these performances emerge several themes and reveal the tensions between colonial forces of corporations and the complex negotiations of it through the performances of postcolonial subjectivities. While U.S. corporations outsource narrow constructions of what it means to perform "American," embedded in notions of whiteness, Indian call center agents perform a much more nuanced understanding of U.S. culture. Call center agents also narrate the implications of call center work for their personal and cultural lives as they balance the tensions of high paying nighttime employment with familial and cultural relations. It is a delicate negotiation from which emerge performances of postcolonial agencies in a re-colonial context. I analyze these performances for their agency and the oppressions of colonizing corporations to access the cultural costs on both sides of the line.

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