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Dead Ringers

Dead Ringers: How Outsourcing Is Changing the Way Indians Understand Themselves

Shehzad Nadeem
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Dead Ringers
    Book Description:

    In the Indian outsourcing industry, employees are expected to be "dead ringers" for the more expensive American workers they have replaced--complete with Westernized names, accents, habits, and lifestyles that are organized around a foreign culture in a distant time zone.Dead Ringerschronicles the rise of a workforce for whom mimicry is a job requirement and a passion. In the process, the book deftly explores the complications of hybrid lives and presents a vivid portrait of a workplace where globalization carries as many downsides as advantages.

    Shehzad Nadeem writes that the relatively high wages in the outsourcing sector have empowered a class of cultural emulators. These young Indians indulge in American-style shopping binges at glittering malls, party at upscale nightclubs, and arrange romantic trysts at exurban cafés. But while the high-tech outsourcing industry is a matter of considerable pride for India, global corporations view the industry as a low-cost, often low-skill sector. Workers use the digital tools of the information economy not to complete technologically innovative tasks but to perform grunt work and rote customer service. Long hours and the graveyard shift lead to health problems and social estrangement. Surveillance is tight, management is overweening, and workers are caught in a cycle of hope and disappointment.

    Through lively ethnographic detail and subtle analysis of interviews with workers, managers, and employers, Nadeem demonstrates the culturally transformative power of globalization and its effects on the lives of the individuals at its edges.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3669-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-13)

    Would you rather have high hopes and have them routinely dashed, or have low expectations and rarely be disappointed? This was the question I pondered while listening to two Indian workers, Prashant and Anil, debate the merits of globalization. They are employees of Dynovate, an outsourcing company in northern Bombay that handles a number of basic financial processes for Western multinationals. As was their habit during breaks, the two had gathered in their building’s sixth-floor stairwell for a smoke. Prashant is 24, dark-skinned, and stocky and has a Cheshire grin. He says he “likes to party” and is a deejay...

  5. CHAPTER ONE. Leaps of Faith
    (pp. 14-26)

    The cover illustration of the February 3, 2003, issue ofBusiness Weekwas of a white man in a business suit dangling from a pallet of cargo that is being hoisted into a clouded, pale-yellow sky. The juxtaposition of sartorial elegance and emblems of manual labor (the ship and crane are out of view, but their presence can easily be inferred) suggested that white-collar jobs were now vulnerable to the same galeforce economic winds that had spirited away the country’s manufacturing base. Moreover, the dubious coloring of the sky seemed to pose a suggestive question: Is this the twilight of...

  6. CHAPTER TWO. Variations on a Theme
    (pp. 27-49)

    The Royal Stag Corporate Music Carnival was held in New Delhi’s Mittal Gardens in late 2005. Sponsored by Seagram’s, the alcohol distiller, the event featured a competition between bands composed of BPO and IT workers who played an array of American and British hard rock and heavy metal songs, such as Metallica’s “The Unforgiven,” Radiohead’s “Creep,” U2’s “With or Without You,” Limp Bizkit’s “Take a Look Around,” and Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” While the performers represented companies like General Electric, E-funds, Wipro, EXL, and Daksh (IBM), their black T-shirts read Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Bon Jovi, and Judas...

  7. CHAPTER THREE. Macaulay’s (Cyber) Children
    (pp. 50-72)

    South Delhi is a dense settlement of middle-class homes and shopping markets, pitted with occasional slums, gardens, and Mughal landmarks. Its ethos is largely consumerist. The banner headline of a community newspaper during the Hindu festival of Diwali asks, “Want to Get Wealthy?” The question is material but the speculations are airily religious. “What pleases Goddess Lakshmi [the goddess of wealth]? When does she bless us with all the riches and comforts of the world? Different people have different answers: some say, it is the gem that you wear, the goddess that you worship, the colour that you paint your...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR. The Uses and Abuses of Time
    (pp. 73-101)

    On any given night, from the empty parking lot behind Kalkaji post office and across a pitted road, you can see a narrow band of yellowish light emanating from beneath a propped metal door. Behind the door and down the concrete steps are about 40 call center workers and their boss, Ajay, a young entrepreneur who has started over 20 outbound call centers throughout northwest India. In contrast to the steel and glass modernism of the India’s burgeoning technology companies, Ajay’s unprepossessing center is run out of a basement in south Delhi. Whereas the interiors of many multinational call centers...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE. The Rules of the Game
    (pp. 102-131)

    In 2005, Ravi Aron, a professor at the Wharton School of Business, interviewed Vivek Paul, then vice chairman and CEO of Wipro Technologies, one of India’s most successful service companies. Paul had been named byBusiness Week,Barron’s, andTime/CNN as one of the most respected managers and CEOs in the world, and during the public debate on outsourcing he was its amiable Indian face. (“I was brave to take the arrows on my chest,” he says.) He exudes confidence and calm and speaks soothingly about the merits of offshoring for sending and receiving country alike. In addition to a...

  10. CHAPTER SIX. The Infantilizing Gaze, or Schmidt Revisited
    (pp. 132-168)

    In his famous 1911 essay,The Principles of Scientific Management, Frederick Winslow Taylor claimed to have discovered a method to optimize labor efficiency. His system would generate greater productivity with only a marginal increase in wages. To illustrate this possibility, he tells the story of “Schmidt,” a “little Pennsylvania Dutchman” who worked at a company called Bethlehem Steel. Taylor’s task was to get Schmidt to perform “impossibly hard work”—handling 471 tons of pig iron per day—and make “him glad to do it.” The strategy was to get him to focus on comparatively high wages. Writes Taylor:

    Schmidt was...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN. The Juggernaut of Global Capitalism
    (pp. 169-191)

    What is it like for an American to manage Indian workers? After five years with the company he cofounded, Tyler Pfeifer, an earnest man in his early thirties with gimlet eyes, closely cropped blonde hair, and some ability as a pop psychologist, has decided to quit. “The business world is depressing. That’s why I’m leaving,” he says moodily. Tyler plans to return to school and study mental health. He is particularly interested in the question of happiness. “Happy people are less likely to hurt others and be destructive,” he says by way of explanation, as the cold rays of the...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT. Cyber-Coolies and Techno-Populists
    (pp. 192-212)

    I usually have tea and fruit for breakfast. This morning, my tea, Wuyi Mao Feng, is from China, my overripe kiwis are from New Zealand, and my navel oranges were picked in some unspecified foreign locale. After a shower, I put on a cotton undershirt made in the Dominican Republic and underpants imported from Thailand. (The blue-gray songbird outside my window recently winged its way up from South America.) My transnationalism is mostly accidental and is born, in part, of slovenly convenience. (“Youshouldhave bought locally grown produce and union-made clothing,” my rickety conscience tells me.) But my point...

    (pp. 213-220)

    There is a line in Kafka’s diaries that reads, “‘You are reserved for a great Monday.’ Fine, but Sunday will never end.”¹ I can think of no better way to summarize the general tenor of this book, no better way to synthesize the bubbling optimism and stoical cynicism we encountered early on in the figures of Prashant and Anil. Monday dangles tantalizingly on a near branch like an impossibly sweet fruit, but it is forever out of reach however much we grasp and drool. So it is with globalization’s promises and India’s “New Economic Policy.” Is there a way out...

  14. APPENDIX. Research Methods
    (pp. 221-226)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 227-264)
  16. Index
    (pp. 265-273)