Centre for the Study of Social Systems
School of Social Sciences
Winifred R. Poster
(International Affairs, Washington University, St. Louis)
Will be presenting a paper on
Maintenance Work on the Global Information Highway:Village Outsourcing Centers in India
Date & Time:
November 22, 2018 (Thursday), 3.30 pm
Venue:CSSS Committee Room (No: 13), SSS-II
Abstract:Data flows in the global economy are not without maintenance stops. At times, information needs to be processed, reconditioned, and transformed. This presentation focuses on sites of such data processing in unlikely places – the newly-installed village ICT outsourcing centers of India. Referred to as “social enterprises,” these data centers are touted as a solution to unemployment. They receive data from Europe and the US (on package tracking, sales invoices, human resources, etc.), and then transform, input, and transmit it back. While this growing industry has historically been concentrated in the techno-hubs of India (Gurgaon, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, etc.), it is now moving into rural areas of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Karnataka. In these locations, the work is broken down into more simple tasks, but still directly connected to global information systems, and done in real time. This analysis will trace the modern history of information and communication technology outsourcing to India based on a three decade long fieldwork in high tech production sites around the country, and examining changes in their sociotechnical labor and geographies. The early stages of the 1990s were marked by software development and electronics manufacturing in enclosed high-tech parks of major cities like Delhi. Expansion to mid-level info-services (like global call centers) contributed to suburban sprawl in the 2000s and the diffusion of ICT firms within them. The current stage of the 2010s marks another era of ICT outsourcing – into villages and what is called “rural outsourcing.” These rural outsourcing centers represent meeting points – of old and new technologies, of rural and urban spheres, of consumption and information industries, of technical and non-technical labor. It is “unskilled,” but still involves interfacing with computer software, as well as reading and typing in many global languages. It is routine work, but involves the high pressure labor of linguistic translation, data conversion, and inputting information in real time, often just minutes. In this way, this iteration of ICT outsourcing in India represents a downward movement in the chain of technical skill, level, wages, and labor marginalization by gender, caste, class, and region.
Bio:Winifred R. Poster teaches in International Affairs at Washington University, St. Louis, and has held visiting positions in India, Sweden, Germany, and Canada. Her research interests are in digital globalization, feminist labor theory, and Indian outsourcing. Under several grants from the National Science Foundation, she has been following ICT industries from the US to India, both in earlier waves of computer manufacturing and software, and later waves of back-office data processing and call centers. Recent projects explore the labors of surveillance, crowdsourcing, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence. Her latest books are Invisible Labor (University of California Press) and Borders in Service (University of Toronto Press).