Neutral Accent

How Language, Labor, and Life Become Global

Neutral Accent

Book Pages: 168 Illustrations: 15 illustrations Published: May 2015

Author: A. Aneesh

Asian Studies > South Asia, Globalization and Neoliberalism, Sociology > Labor

In Neutral Accent, A. Aneesh employs India's call centers as useful sites for studying global change. The horizon of global economic shift, the consequences of global integration, and the ways in which call center work "neutralizes" racial, ethnic, and national identities become visible from the confines of their cubicles. In his interviews with call service workers and in his own work in a call center in the high tech metropolis of Gurgoan, India, Aneesh observed the difficulties these workers face in bridging cultures, laws, and economies: having to speak in an accent that does not betray their ethnicity, location, or social background; learning foreign social norms; and working graveyard shifts to accommodate international customers. Call center work is cast as independent of place, space, and time, and its neutrality—which Aneesh defines as indifference to difference—has become normal business practice in a global economy. The work of call center employees in the globally integrated marketplace comes at a cost, however, as they become disconnected from the local interactions and personal relationships that make their lives anything but neutral.


"This insightful look at the underbelly of globalisation reveals a workplace that is sustained by the painful "differentiations" that have been imposed on its workers.... Where his critique of globalisation succeeds best is in creating a convincing framework that exposes the "disintegration of the self from its place of socialization and meaning" brought about by the mechanisms of globalisation, in which both global workers and consumers become entities targeted for profit." — Lalita Murty, Times Higher Education

“Aneesh’s book is a delight to read. He writes with the ease and knowledge of a uniquely-positioned repeat ethnographer due to his long personal and intellectual investment in the region. His methodology includes not only interviews with workers and managers, but also his own experience as an employee at a call centre in Gurgaon. His empathy for and connection with the participants in his study allows readers to experience their aspirations and challenges too” — Kiran Mirchandani, South Asia

"...this book is an excellent contribution to a growing and significant body of literature on globalizing processes and the Indian call center industry."  — J.K.T. Basi, American Journal of Sociology

"I got more than I bargained for as I found geography, law, marketing and biology also thrown into the discussion and Aneesh was providing me with a tour de force as a Renaissance man." — Peter K.W. Tan, Asian Journal of Social Science

"I would recommend the book for anyone interested in how labor and identity are shaped by the convergence of economic globalization and digital communication technologies." — Paul C. Adams, Progress in Human Geography

"Neutral Accent is a tightly argued and well-researched account of a dense and unruly phenomenon, and should be essential reading for scholars of globalization, work, virtuality, and identity." — Mathangi Krishnamurthy, Anthropological Quarterly

"In Neutral Accent, Aneesh has produced a well-written, clear, and concise manuscript that unravels how communication actually works in so-called centers of cross-cultural interaction. He provides several important and creative contributions to our knowledge about globalization, inequality, identity construction, and work, and does so by locating the multiple disconnections that are reproduced when people of different groups virtually meet."
  — Victoria Reyes, Contemporary Sociology

"Powerful . . . Neutral Accent admirably succeeds in A. Aneesh's stated objective to use the experiences of communication workers in India to broaden the analytical reach and critique the underlying assumptions of cultural studies, transnational feminism, and communication studies." — Radha S. Hegde, Journal of Asian Studies

"In this evocative ethnography A. Aneesh offers us a bold rendering of globalization in which connection and disconnection are in constant, often jarring, relation. The discourse of "neutrality" might claim to foster global communication, but instead serves largely as a mechanism of distinction and hierarchy. The mimetic effects of such communicative dissonance are significant, for they expose global challenges to the logics of culture and emotion, and the meanings of the social and the self. Neutral Accent alerts us to processes we are bound to see much more of and suggests a novel analytical toolkit for interpreting their embodied and abstract expressions."
— Carla Freeman, author of Entrepreneurial Selves: Neoliberal Respectability and the Making of a Caribbean Middle Class

"A. Aneesh has written a great book on divergences where we usually assume convergence. In his usual ethnographic and narrative brilliance he goes digging into what might appear as minor facts or events. He comes back from these excursions with discoveries at the margins. I have long admired this author's work. This is, once again, a brilliant study, perhaps his best...thus far." — Saskai Sassen, Columbia University and author of Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

A. Aneesh is Director of the Institute of World Affairs and Associate Professor of Sociology and Global Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. He is the author of Virtual Migration: the Programming of Globalization, also published by Duke University Press.   

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Prologue: One World, Diverse Itineraries  1
1. Glimpsing an Urban Future: Divergent Tracks of Gurgaon  13
2. Inside a Call Center: Otherworldly Passages  35
3. Neutral Accent  53
4. System Identities: Divergent Itineraries and Uses of Personality  77
5. Nightly Clashes: Diurnal Body, Nocturnal Labor, Neutral Markets  101
Epilogue: The Logic of Indifference  127
References  137
Index  151
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5853-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5846-6
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