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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Resistance of tele-service workers : implications for qualitative policy research Koch-Schulte, Sarah Ann


This thesis investigates how resistance can be analyzed in qualitative policy research. My working definition here for resistance is: the interruption of rituals and performances of power. By qualitative policy research, I refer to methods of gathering stories from people for public policy development derived from ethnographic techniques in anthropology. Qualitative techniques generally prioritize the micro-analysis of particular situations in developing macro-policies. The problem here concerns a persistent focus in qualitative policy writing upon constraints and problems. This study engages issues of agency and human ingenuity through a resistance analysis. This thesis research addresses resistance tactics employed by thirty-nine tele-service agents in Canada, interviewed in summer 1998 in Fredericton, Moncton, St. John, Toronto, and Winnipeg. The call centre industry is an excellent case study of the modern service sector as it exists at the intersection of economic and technological change in a highly gendered environment. Two thirds of call centre telephone agents are women. Key informant interviews have been analyzed with Non-numerical Unstructured Data Indexing Searching and Theorizing (QSR NUD*IST 4) qualitative data software using a typology developed from Political Scientist James C. Scott. This reading of Scott applies his descriptions of resistance in five areas of analysis: grumbling and complaining, quitting and missing work, bodily appearances, unions, and technology and sabotage. Diffuse ideas of power from postmodern social theory are used to further understand the significance of non-collective resistances in this sector. Three significant findings are available from this study. First, narratives of telephone agents suggest that significant acts of resistance occur on a non-collective basis. Second, qualitative policy research creates opportunities to interrupt generalizations about service work; however, knowledge created by qualitative research remains embedded in the politics of the researchers and institutions where the research is produced. Qualitative policy research should be read accordingly. Third, if the call centre sector is profoundly shaped by worker resistance, it is worthwhile for professional economic development planners to consider these acts in policy development.

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