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Global "Body Shopping"

Global "Body Shopping": An Indian Labor System in the Information Technology Industry

Xiang Biao
Series: In-Formation
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Global "Body Shopping"
    Book Description:

    How can America's information technology (IT) industry predict serious labor shortages while at the same time laying off tens of thousands of employees annually? The answer is the industry's flexible labor management system--a flexibility widely regarded as the modus operandi of global capitalism today.Global "Body Shopping"explores how flexibility and uncertainty in the IT labor market are constructed and sustained through concrete human actions.

    Drawing on in-depth field research in southern India and in Australia, and folding an ethnography into a political economy examination, Xiang Biao offers a richly detailed analysis of the India-based global labor management practice known as "body shopping." In this practice, a group of consultants--body shops--in different countries works together to recruit IT workers. Body shops then farm out workers to clients as project-based labor; and upon a project's completion they either place the workers with a different client or "bench" them to await the next placement. Thus, labor is managed globally to serve volatile capital movement.

    Underpinning this practice are unequal socioeconomic relations on multiple levels. While wealth in the New Economy is created in an increasingly abstract manner, everyday realities--stock markets in New York, benched IT workers in Sydney, dowries in Hyderabad, and women and children in Indian villages--sustain this flexibility.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3633-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, Business, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations, Tables, Boxes
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acronyms
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Prologue: A Strangerʹs Adventure
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    This book is a result of a research adventure by a Chinese-educated graduate student whose investigations focused on information-technology (IT) professionals migrating from India to Sydney, Australia, via a labor arrangement known (infamously) as body shopping. When I left China for the first time, in 1998, to pursue my doctorate at Oxford, I had no knowledge or even curiosity about IT, India, or migration to Australia. All I knew was that Ihadto work on a specifically non-Chinese case study. I made this decision because I did not want to be slotted into what clearly seems to be a...

  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    This ethnography is about embeddedness and disembeddedness—about how new human connections and disconnections are created and ultimately contribute to a process of abstraction in global capitalism today.

    Consider the following. Flying in the face of an industry projection of a labor shortage of 850,000 in the information-technology sector in the United States for the year 2001,¹ the first eight months of that year saw more than 350,000 high-tech workers, mostly in IT, laid off,² a figure climbing to 600,000 by November.³ And in another twist, the period 1998–2000 found delegations from more than twenty countries coming to India...

  8. Chapter 1 The Global Niche for Body Shopping
    (pp. 13-23)

    The single most important catalyst defining the form of the body-shopping practice was the global demand for the “Y2K” programs. Primarily based on the largely obsolete IBM mainframe technology, the Y2K programs involved little innovative design, but their implantations were extremely labor and time intensive. Hence, it made more sense for companies to outsource their Y2K projects to software service firms (vendors) who were better placed to organize large numbers of contract workers dedicated to this task. When the Y2K frenzy became widespread by 1998 in Australia, larger vendors often targeted clients with a high revenue base and willing to...

  9. Chapter 2 Producing ʺIT Peopleʺ in Andhra
    (pp. 24-38)

    Just after I landed in Hyderabad in June 2001, Gopal, a young IT worker, assured me that my field research could be completed within a month as I would easily identify and round up informants: “Anyone in the street who puts his shirt inside his trousers [in the Western style] is an IT professional.” Vinnie, who had first gone to Australia as a student and was running a body-shopping business in Sydney, first heard the term “Y2K” in 1998 on a call to his mother in Hyderabad. Vinnie had to ask his mother, who had only six years of education...

  10. Chapter 3 Selling ʺBodiesʺ and Selling Jobs
    (pp. 39-52)

    I first ran into Uday at Advance Technology Institute, a small IT consultancy cum training institute cum software outfit—a typical Indian body shop in Australia—located above a Chinese-run electronics shop and next to an Indian grocery, in the western Sydney suburb of Ashfield. Dark, well built, and wearing a baseball cap, Uday told me that “I have experienced so many things in life,” which I soon recognized as his signature line when he became my key informant and I his loyal flatmate. Uday believed that he had good reasons to claim so, and transnational mobility had beenthe...

  11. Chapter 4 Business of ʺBranded Laborʺ in Sydney
    (pp. 53-69)

    At the time of my fieldwork in 2001, most body-shop operators in Sydney were those who migrated to Australia as permanent settlers between the 1980s and the early 1990s¹ and had switched into the IT sector from other professions (particularly engineering). They had intended to set up businesses in software development and were pushed into body shopping after facing difficulties in expanding the Australian market for software products. Body shops in Sydney thus clearly differed from their counterparts in Hyderabad in the trajectory of development, but they also shared crucial commonalities, particularly the overlapping between body shopping and other business...

  12. Chapter 5 Agent Chains and Benching
    (pp. 70-81)

    The fact that Indian IT consultancies moved to the body-shopping business due to the difficulties in marketing software products by no means implies that it was easy to establish direct connections with clients for body shopping. CSR Holding, owned by a Telugu couple—Chandary and his wife Shireesha, a psychologist by training—was one of most successful Indian consultancies in Sydney. After repeated but unsuccessful bids to become a labor supplier of large companies, they targeted state-government departments as clients instead, with the advantage of Shireesha’s experience of working in various government agencies in Australia for ten years. Recruiting IT...

  13. Chapter 6 Compliant Bodies?
    (pp. 82-99)

    Benching and repeat placement raised two thorny issues for body-shop operators. First, how to prevent the workers whose visas they sponsored—their sources of profit—from running off upon finding themselves benched soon after arrival, an unpleasant experience for any migrant worker, more so for professionals who knew there was a market for their skills. Unlike what was common knowledge about H-1B visa holders in the United States,¹ the Australian 457 visa regulations allowed workers to switch sponsors unconditionally without repercussions on any future applications for PR status—in reality, therefore, workers could jump ship any time. Second, how to...

  14. Chapter 7 The World System of Body Shopping
    (pp. 100-109)

    Venugopal, a twenty-four-year-old Kamma Telugu who went to Australia sponsored by David in 1999, had a three-step career plan. In Australia, he would accumulate as many connections and as much work experience as he could. Hence, twice a week, instead of the home-packed lunch to save money (as most fellow Indians did), Venugopal made a point of lunching at his company’s café in order to meet more people. His next step, after two years, was to go to the United States: “After working two years in a Western country, you can understand the entire work system. Like learning cooking: after...

  15. Ending Remarks The ʺIndian Triangleʺ in the Global IT Industry
    (pp. 110-116)

    Information technology is widely regarded as a major cause of a series of fundamental social changes that we are going through, and is even expected to usher in an entirely new epoch in human history. Indeed, “IT revolution” is the only revolution that we can talk about today. This technology euphoria, however, often leaves unexamined the social processes through which the technologies are generated and implemented. This book has demonstrated that IT is powerful precisely because it is integrated with, therefore facilitating of, other operations, and the technologies would not have been developed without the demand for new paradigms of...

  16. Appendix Essay The Remembered Fieldwork Sites: Impressions and Images
    (pp. 117-128)
  17. Biographical Index of Informants
    (pp. 129-148)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 149-166)
  19. References
    (pp. 167-172)
  20. Index
    (pp. 173-182)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 183-184)