Accepted Paper:

The injured precariat and call centre labour: shame, stigma and downward social mobility in contemporary Portugal  


Patrícia Alves de Matos (CRIA-ISCTE - Instituto Universitário de Lisboa)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I examine the particular history and contemporary feelings of shame and resentment which afflict young people currently working in call centres in Portugal due to their inability in fulfilling the generational social hopes of middle-class distinction which were casted upon them.

Paper long abstract:

In recent years the call centre sector in Portugal has been transformed into the main symbol of precariedade laboral (labour precariousness). The categories of trabalho precário (precarious labour), trabalhador precário (precarious worker) and precariado (precariat) have only recently entered everyday language in Portugal. These terms are used by politicians, journalists and citizens as well as in social movements discourse as a way of describing and protesting against the growing insecurity of formal wage employment.

The trajectories of call centre workers - whose parents were (and are) mostly from a working class background - was deeply shaped by the social production of prestige associated with higher educational achievement (ser doutor), stable employment and middle class lifestyle and consumerism. These expectations were promptly dashed after they finished their college degrees and had to enter call centre work. A form of work perceived as unskilled, inferior and lacking career options.

The anthropological literature on call centres or outsourced, deskilled knowledge economy work, which is largely focused on India (or companies working for global clients), tends to underline this form of work with aspirational desires of upward social mobility and how this is linked with the rise of new middle classes and global consumption practices (for instance, Upadhya and Vasavi 2008; Freeman 2000). My paper, by contrast, shows that call centre work is much more commonly related with new forms of casual, precarious work which illustrate in a singular way frustrated hopes of social mobility among the lower middle classes.

Panel W070
Work and consumption: insurmountable links in uncertain times (EN) (FR)