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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Dead ringers : globalization and the paradoxes of development and identity

  • Author(s): Nadeem, Shehzad
  • et al.

This study investigates, through ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviews in India and the U.S., the causes and consequences of international outsourcing. Rhetoric about the "flat" and "borderless" world notwithstanding, I argue that outsourcing is a corporate strategy to reduce labor costs and not the great leveler it is often reputed to be. The Indian outsourcing sector, for example, is a niche and hugely dependent export-based industry. While offshore workplaces may look like hotbeds of technological innovation, they are very often sites of rote service provision as mostly standardized and replicable work, such as customer service and data transcription and basic software coding, is being moved. While long and busy hours are no strangers to Americans, their lengthening and deepened intensity in the offshore context raise the specter of "electronic sweatshops." And although the relatively high-paying jobs result in increased mobility, Indian workers, especially women, face considerable stigma for working the nightshift and for adopting "Western" and consumerist lifestyles. The offshore workforce, I argue, constitutes a global underclass of knowledge workers. At the theoretical level, while some argue that globalization homogenizes and others that it hybridizes, I find that globalization produces similarity and difference simultaneously. On the one hand, offshore spaces of work are constructed in the Western corporate image. On the other, existing values and organizational forms cannot be extended to new social groups without being transformed in the process. Workplace identities and relations are therefore composed of a variety of influences, not just corporate impositions on an amorphous Indian mass. Globalization is like a fugue, a technique of imitative counterpoint in musical composition. The first line announces the major subject or theme, which is followed by an "answer" in imitation, but in a different key and often distinct enough to form a counterpoint. Likewise, the mimicry of modes of work, consumption, and being does not result in a one-to-one correspondence; it is a practice of emulation, which necessarily takes on distinctive characteristics. I elaborate a notion of imitative counterpoint to conceptualize this difference-in- similarity

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