A Worker's Inquiry in a UK Call Centre : the Labour Process, Management, and Resistance

Woodcock, Jamie. 2015. A Worker's Inquiry in a UK Call Centre : the Labour Process, Management, and Resistance. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis contributes to an understanding of the labour process, management techniques, and the possibilities for resistance in a call centre. The research uses ethnographic methods to focus on a workplace inspired by the different moments of workers inquiry – from Marx, the Johnston-Forest Tendency, Socialisme ou Barbarie, to the Operaismo – and a sociological approach like Burawoy's (1979) extended case method. The study combines a theoretical analysis of the development and organisation of call centres with a detailed ethnographic account. It focuses on the specific features of the labour process and the application of Taylorist principles, developing Taylor and Bain's (1999:109) research on call centre work as creating the experience of ‘an assembly-line in the head.’ It discusses the implications of the shift towards the exploitation of emotional and affective labour.

The research considers the role of management and supervision in the call centre, detailing the electronic surveillance, “buzz sessions”, and motivational methods. The analysis re-applies the metaphor that Fernie and Metcalf (1997:3) used to conceptualise call centres as an ‘electronic panopticon’, through a return to Bentham (1995) and Foucault (1991). However, the central argument of this thesis is the ability of workers to resist in call centres, rather than the victory of management. The research uncovers a ‘repertoire of resistance strategies’ similar to those identified by Mulholland (2004) in an Irish call centre: ‘Slammin’ Scammin’ Smokin’ an’ Leavin’.’ These moments of resistance are conceptualised as expressions of the refusal of work, a key theme developed in the thesis. The problem of worker retention is therefore understood as the culmination of these different moments. The analysis of the case study at Trade Union Cover, a private company that sells insurance to trade union members, provides an important insight into the shift towards service unionism and its implications for workers and organisation.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Marxism, labour process, call centre, class

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



30 April 2015

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

18 Jun 2015 11:16

Last Modified:

10 Jun 2021 10:43



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