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‘Being Yourself’ in the Electronic Sweatshop: New Forms of Normative Control

Fleming, P. & Sturdy, A. (2010). ‘Being Yourself’ in the Electronic Sweatshop: New Forms of Normative Control. Human Relations, 64(2), pp. 177-200. doi: 10.1177/0018726710375481


This article extends research about high-commitment management practices in tightly controlled work environments typified by the call centre. One promising research avenue suggests that normative management systems in such contexts, involving ‘fun’ exercises and culture programmes, etc., are more about distracting employee attention away from other, more taxing controls. This article develops such an approach by exploring the specific nature and conditions of such distraction. An empirical study of a call centre in which employees were encouraged to ‘just be themselves’ (in relation to lifestyle differences, sexuality, diverse identities, etc.) reveals how the distractions are partly informed by the dysfunctions of existing technical, bureaucratic and conventional cultural controls, all of which homogenize workers. Furthermore, the new regime not only serves to distract employees, but proves instrumental in capturing their sociality, energy and ‘authentic’ or ‘non-work’ personalities as emotional labour. At the same time, it gives rise to some contestation and less individualistic forms of authenticity. These outcomes have wider implications for our understanding of worker autonomy in and around hybrid control systems.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: Copyright Sage 2010
Publisher Keywords: authenticity, call centre, control, distraction, dysfunctions
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Departments: Bayes Business School > Management
SWORD Depositor:
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