The Making of the Call Centre Cybertariat

  • Enda Brophy
Part of the Dynamics of Virtual Work book series (DVW)


This chapter explores the formation of the call centre workforce, its entry into the workplaces of communicative capitalism, and its encounter with the established yet struggling trade union movement. The twin backdrops for this account of how language was put to work in call centres during the 1990s and 2000s are Atlantic Canada and Ireland, regions divided by an ocean but united in their status as signature cases of state-sponsored informational development. In both regions a highly educated, multilingual workforce was introduced to working with a headset in the call centres that proliferated through newly wired urban centres. By zeroing in on the case of Aliant call centre workers in the province of New Brunswick, the chapter relates how the lively intelligences and communicative capacities of this new workforce were compressed and reformatted into what I call abstract communication. Harry Braverman’s vision of the degradation of mental labour became the lived experience of employees in the customer relations departments of the Atlantic Canadian wireless sector, where management’s subjection of workers to routinization, increasingly intrusive forms of monitoring, and threats of labour outsourcing eventually produced outbreaks of workplace unrest and labour organizing through incumbent trade unions. However, the cases in this chapter are not auspicious ones for the collective organization of the cybertariat, illustrating how even in-house, unionized call centre workers remain vulnerable to regional and global outsourcing strategies of their employers. This weakness appears to derive at least in part from the defensive organizing postures adopted by the trade unions representing these workers, raising the question of whether the established union movement in its present form is an adequate vehicle for the collective organization of the cybertariat.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Enda Brophy
    • 1
  1. 1.School of CommunicationSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

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