Relatively high wages and the opportunity to be part of an upscale, globalized work environment draw many in India to the call center industry. At the same time, night shift employment presents women, in particular, with new challenges alongside the opportunities. This book explores how beliefs about what constitutes "women's work" are evolving in response to globalization.
Working the Night Shift is the first in-depth study of the transnational call center industry that is written from the point of view of women workers. It uncovers how call center employment affects their lives, mainly as it relates to the anxiety that Indian families and Indian society have towards women going out at night, earning a good salary, and being exposed to western culture. This timely account illustrates the ironic and, at times, unsettling experiences of women who enter the spaces and places made accessible through call center work.
About the author
Reena Patel is a feminist scholar and currently serves as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S Department of State. She also advises companies on gender issues in the workplace.
"Unlike many studies of working women in India then, it goes beyond their roles in the household as mothers and wives. It extends more broadly to consider issues of movement and space—riding on buses, getting apartments, etc. It is also about how other groups—those in the society at large—view and construct the image of these women . . . No doubt this will become a primer for anyone interested in gender, work, call centers, family, and more, in South Asia."
—Winifred R. Poster, Anthropological Quarterly
"Overall, the book is well-written and easy to read. The case studies are detailed, interesting, and provide the reader a complex understanding of the varied ways in which the call center industry affects its female employees' lives. In the main, it provides a good foundation for students who want to study the effects of globalization on individuals and communities."
—Sandya Hewamanne, Journal of Anthropological Research
"Patel's book offers a fascinating look into the complex manifestations of gender inequality within emerging markets such as India . . . Overall, Patel provides a captivating inquiry into the complex reality of high-wage labor and its implications for women's autonomy."
—SaunJuhi Verma, American Journal of Sociology
"In a text which is refreshingly clearly written, free of too much gratuitous information, and which bears all the hallmarks of appropriate ethics and reflection on positionality, Patel has roundly succeeded in her task of sketching out a good deal of the social and economic anatomy of contemporary call centre work in urban India . . . Its accessible, personalised style will undoubtedly appeal to students in gender, geography, anthropology, and sociology, keen to flesh out the human face of feminised employment. Working the Night Shift also provides an excellent basis for debate and new lines of enquiry among researchers of evolving labour markets in developing nations in academic, policy and activist circles."
—Sylvia Chant, Gender, Place and Culture
"It will be difficult for anyone who has not recently conducted research in India to appreciate the massive social changes which the outsourcing revolution has brought to that society. Reena Patel's excellent ethnography, Working the Night Shift does, however, succeed in conveying to readers a sense of what is involved when new customer service industries originating in the West explode on the local scene . . . [T]he book provides a much needed gender dimension to research on global call centres."
—Bob Russell, Canadian Journal of Sociology
"Through the personal stories of a variety of women—from a single mother working to afford her rent to a middle-class daughter earning spending money—Patel creates an intimate portrait of a liberating but frequently dangerous profession, one which 'brings with it new challenges and new opportunities for women workers.' This well-written book will certainly give readers something to think about the next time they call to reserve a plane ticket or pay a bill."
—Foreign Service Journal
"Call centers have become the flash point for debates about globalization. However, the social impacts of call centers within India are immense and largely uncharted. Patel makes an important contribution towards understanding this phenomenon through a rigorous focus on gender. Her lively prose makes this book accessible to all audiences but will be especially appealing to students of sociology, geography, women's studies, and anthropology."
—Akhil Gupta, University of California, Los Angeles
"In this timely, beautifully written, and path-breaking ethnographic exploration, Patel brings to life the often unnoticed human beings who answer our phone calls on the other side of the world, making visible the dreams, lives, and desires of the women behind the anonymity of the call centers. In clear and accessible prose, she interweaves insightful analysis with the real life stories of these key players of economic globalization. Working the Night Shift should become indispensable reading; it is a book for everyone, for right now."
—Cecilia Menjivar, Cowden Distinguished Professor of Sociology, Arizona State University
"This is a fascinating book. Combining an acute geographical imagination with careful attention to detail, Patel makes a significant contribution to debates about the complex and contradictory consequences of women's growing labour market participation. This is a key text for all social scientists interested in global change and new divisions of labour."
—Linda McDowell, Professor of Human Geography, University of Oxford
"Patel provides a rare glimpse into the lives of Indian women, as global call centers dislodge restrictions on mobility and transport them into night and public worlds. Amidst renewed surveillance by the media and community, how these women navigate new freedoms of transportation, housing, and socializing is a fascinating story."
—Winifred Poster, Lecturer in Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, Washington University
"Feminist scholars, sociologists, women's studies and book groups, anyone interested in global women's issues will find this well-written book with its surprising and engaging content an excellent read for the revelations and glimpses of an Indian work place it supplies."
—Patricia Leslie, Examiner.com
"Some of the most intriguing insights of this study come from the moments when Patel speaks with women in the context of their families and homes. Here, she reveals what may be the in the long run the most important facet of women working in the call center industry—how they creatively negotiate new demands placed on the middle classes to produce the wealth and forms of connection spread upward mobility to other family members and future generations . . . [T]he finest passages of the text occur precisely when Patel is able to flesh out the sense of newness and routine that call center workers experience during and after their night shifts."
—Sareeta Amrute, India Review
"[Working the Night Shift] is engaging and well written. Its compelling narratives demonstrate the complexity of professional experiences and the ways in which working women align global work commitments with reconrmed gender roles and family duties. The study gives deep insight into the simultaneous feeling of freedom and experience of exploitation that women endure in their professional lives. It can be used fruitfully as teaching material, especially for undergraduate students."
—Ursula Rao, American Anthropologist
"Patel contributes to a growing literature that challenges the notion that increased income always translates into empowerment for women . . . Patel provides an insightful and well-researched study of how the call center industry has enhanced women's mobility in various ways by challenging some of the socially prescribed notions about women's place."
—Ranjeeta Basu, Signs