Most accounts of globalization are accounts of connections, integrations,
and flows. Since the advent of the web the world has appeared as a unity,
networked and engaged. India’s call centers in particular have come to rep-
resent a remarkable global shift: for the first time in history, mundane cus-
tomer interactions have begun to happen across continents in real time.
From global commerce to social media, the idea of society is increasingly
bypassing the boundaries of nations, cities, or local communities. Many al-
ternative accounts of this society have emerged: information society, risk
society, network society, cosmopolitan society, and world society.
Yet the emergent reality of unprecedented economic, political, technolog-
ical, and cultural interconnections cannot be understood, in my view, with-
out paying equal attention to global differentiations and separations. Eco-
nomic or cultural integrations often come at a cost whose accounting is one
of the purposes behind writing this book. Just as air travel—while connect-
ing us to distant lands—also disconnects our circadian clocks from day-
night cycles, leaving us jet lagged, there are durable disconnections pro-
duced by certain global connections. India’s call centers in their distinctive
complexity allow me to explore such disconnections on several registers—
place, language, labor, identity, and the body.
Call centers are a small part of India’s business process outsourcing
(bpo) industry, an industry that generated $14.1 billion of export revenue
and accounted for 34 percent of the worldwide bpo market in 2010, employ-
PROLOGUE:
One World, Diverse Itineraries
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