By examining the affective regimes generated by call center workers in Bangalore, the authors argue that the forms of alienation and intimacy they generate are coimplicated, rather than in opposition, to each other. In contesting the presumption that the intimate is in contradistinction to the public, the authors join scholarly conversations that trace how relations of intimacy are constructed through processes of labor. This analysis of intimate encounters and affective labor draws upon several years of intensive ethnographic field research in call centers in the southern Indian city of Bangalore. The authors argue that the affective labor of call center agents is service work but that it takes the form of intimate labor provided at a distance. While intimacy implies a proximity that may be physical, corporeal, emotional, and/or geographical, the affective labor of the informants underscored the ways in which it reconstituted their very experience of time and space, proximity and distance. On the one hand, their success at work was contingent on their construction of a relationship of proximity with their clients, eliciting and producing affects that generated intimate encounters. However, although these workers did not engage in physical travel, their virtual and imaginative travel was generative of new modalities of proximity that compel the authors to review existing assumptions about intimacy and distance, and about the relation between intimacy and capital.
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February 1, 2016
Research Article| February 01 2016
Intimate Encounters: Affective Labor in Call Centers
positions (2016) 24 (1): 17–43.
Purnima Mankekar, Akhil Gupta; Intimate Encounters: Affective Labor in Call Centers. positions 1 February 2016; 24 (1): 17–43. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-3320029
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