Accepted paper:

"Humiliating the talking battery!": the modern sweatshop, call centre and workers' health


Kwanwook Kim (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

The research focuses on describing the lived experience of female call centre workers in South Korea in the era of Neoliberalism. I show how humiliation works to exploit call handlers and its effect on health, and a self-help form stretching exercise and its benefit.

Paper long abstract:

This was the research about the lived experience of female call centre workers in South Korea, so-called an Information Technology powerhouse. While the Neoliberalism had been extending since 1997 when the International Monetary Fund bailed out South Korea of Asian financial crisis, the call centre industry has been developing rapidly. At the moment, the call centre is represented as a modern sweatshop with 'low wage and intensive labours' and temporary workers. Throughout one and half a year fieldwork, I found that female call handlers suffered from humiliation by a manager, customer, and even colleagues. Their salaries were monthly determined, correlated to individual abilities to control one's humiliated emotion quicker than others. Some relieved themselves 1) by consuming cosmetics, etc. and recharging their emotion with chemicals like sweeties, alcohol, and cigarette (figuratively 'inbound' self-healing), 2) by humiliating or swearing others like other call handlers, shop assistants, friends, and family members ('outbound' self-healing). Ironically, both strategies were likely to destroy one's body and mind. In contrast, I found that in one call centre the female call handlers' self-help form exercise, called 'MOM-PYO-GI' (means 'Body Stretching' in Korean), stretching the body and laughing 'together', was very effective in healing them. It, at first, purposed to relieve muscle and joint pain by simple stretching, but it subsequently reduced psychological stress. Interestingly, the exercise club was inaugurated by the labour union of the call centre, and then it helped to sustain the labour union to protest the company's unfair treatment and improve the working environment.

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