Redefining Professional: The Case of India's Call Center Agents

Redefining Professional: The Case of India's Call Center Agents

Premilla D’Cruz (Indian Institute of Management, India) and Ernesto Noronha (Indian Institute of Management, India)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-176-6.ch032
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Scholars researching the area of the sociology of professions had earlier predicted that as occupations seek to improve their public image, professionalism would embrace all their incumbents. It is therefore no revelation that call centre agents in India identify themselves as professionals. Using van Manen’s hermeneutic phenomenological approach, we explored this dimension with 59 call centre agents located in Mumbai and Bangalore, India. The findings demonstrate that neither the trait nor the power approaches drawn from the traditional literature on the sociology of professions explain call centre agents’ identification with professional work. Instead, agents’ experiences validate the contemporary explanation that emphasises the appeal of professionalism used by employer organisations as a means to convince, cajole, and persuade their employees to perform and behave in ways which the employer organisation deems appropriate, effective and efficient. It is in this context that agents accept stringent work systems and job design elements, techno-bureaucratic controls and the primacy of the customer in return for the privileges bestowed upon them by way of being professionals. While professional identity thus serves as a means of socio-ideological control facilitating the realisation of the organisation agenda, it is not all-encompassing as agents simultaneously show signs of resistance.
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Professions And Professionalism: Understanding The Phenomena

Traditionally, there have been two approaches in the sociology of professions: the trait or attribute approach and the power approach. Until the early 1970’s, the trait approach dominated the academic literature. Numerous efforts along functionalist lines (See, for example, Barber, 1963; Carr-Saunders & Wilson, 1933; Goode, 1969; Greenwood, 1962; Harris-Jenkins, 1970; Kornhauser, 1962; Marshall, 1962; Moore, 1970; Parsons, 1951; Wilensky, 1964) were devoted to isolating and listing attributes that served to distinguish professions from nonprofessional occupations. This school of thought believed that the sociological task was to list the characteristics of an ideal-typical profession against which actual examples of occupational groups could then be assessed as more or less professional (MacDonald, 1995). The trait model of professions included two core characteristics – a body of theoretical and technical knowledge and a service orientation. On the basis of these characteristics, the profession claimed and acquired other properties. This included professional autonomy which was the right accorded by society to members of a profession to determine the nature of problems with which they were concerned, the appropriate procedures by which these would be solved, and the evaluation of professional performance. In addition, the professions were characterised by control over recruitment and licensing of new members, a long period of training and socialisation, monopoly over the performance of certain tasks, authority recognised by clients and the public, a belief in the importance of their function, a sense of community, formal associations and a code of ethics (Latham, 2002; Leicht & Fennell, 2001; Toren, 1975;).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Socio-Ideological Control: Socio-ideological control can be defined as efforts to persuade employees to adapt to certain values, norms and ideas about what is good, important, praiseworthy, etc., in terms of work and organisational life (Alvesson & Karreman, 2004).

Techno-Bureaucratic Control: Technical control is embedded in the technology of work, moving the direction and pace of work from the control of the supervisor to the production line. Bureaucratic control is carried out through rules, policies, formal incentives and other impersonal devices. Thus, techno-bureaucratic control is institutionalised through technology and this is strengthened and deepened by bureaucratic control in shaping the social and organisational structure of the workplace (Callaghan & Thompson, 2001).

Professionals: Those who perform the tasks associated with the professions are called professionals. They also display the characteristics expected of the members of specific professions (Middlehurst & Kennie, 1999).

Call Centre: A call centre is a specialised office where employees (also known as call centre agents) remotely provide information, deliver services, and/or conduct sales, using some combination of integrated telephone and information technologies, typically with an aim to enhancing customer service while reducing organisational costs (McPhail, 2002).

Professionalism: Professionalism not only embraces the belief that certain work is so specialised as to be inaccessible to those lacking the required training and experience and the belief that such work cannot be standardised, rationalised and commodified, but also represents the occupational control of work where workers enjoy the autonomy to organise and control their own work as against customer or managerial control where customers or employers choose who is to perform what tasks and how much will be paid, on what terms, for performing them (Freidson, 2001).

Professions: Occupations that perform tasks of great social value because those enacting them possess knowledge and skill that in some way set them apart from other kinds of workers and that entail a self-regulating form of social control are known as professions (Freidson, 1984).

Organisational Control: Organisation control has been defined in numerous ways but most definitions seem to agree that organisational control includes the exercise of power (influence) in order to secure sufficient resources, and mobilise and orchestrate individual and collective action towards (more or less) given ends. Organisational control typically includes an apparatus for specifying, monitoring and evaluating individual and collective action. It focuses on worker behaviour, output and/or the minds of the employees. Sometimes it attempts to focus on all three. Managerial activity that attempts to control behaviour typically includes designing and supervising work processes. This is usually carried out in a way that attempts to make work processes as simple and transparent as possible, thereby lowering knowledge thresholds (and the price of labour) (adapted from Alvesson & Karreman, 2004). Socio-ideological and techno-bureaucratic controls (defined below) are two forms of organisational control.

Professionalisation: Professionalisation captures the process whereby work groups attempt to actually change their position on one or more dimensions of the occupation-profession continuum, moving towards the professional pole (Pavalko, 1971).

Complete Chapter List

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Dariusz Jemielniak, Jerzy Kociatkiewicz
Dariusz Jemielniak, Jerzy Kociatkiewicz
Chapter 1
Davydd J. Greenwood
This chapter questions the clarity of the concepts of “knowledge society” and “knowledge-intensive organization”. In particular, the author asserts... Sample PDF
Are Research Universities Knowledge-Intensive Learning Organizations?
Chapter 2
Juha Kettunen
The aims of knowledge management are to create knowledge and stimulate innovation. Knowledge management allows the knowledge of an organization to... Sample PDF
Construction of Knowledge-Intensive organizations in Higher Education
Chapter 3
Jeff Gold, Richard Thorpe
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is usually conceived as a planned and formulated process for individual members of professional... Sample PDF
Collective CPD: Professional Learning in a Law Firm
Chapter 4
Paul Trott, Andreas Hoecht
The United States and European economies have witnessed an enormous increase in the amount of specialized business services, which now provide... Sample PDF
Innovation Risks of Outsourcing within Knowledge Intensive Business Services (KIBS)
Chapter 5
Lars Steiner
A new knowledge management perspective and tool, ANT/AUTOPOIESIS, for analysis of knowledge management in knowledge-intensive organizations is... Sample PDF
Actor-Network Theory and Autopoiesis: A New Perspective on Knowledge Management
Chapter 6
Jo A. Tyler, David M. Boje
This chapter fits the theme, the interplay between creativity and control in organizations. Story is often claimed to be a way to elicit tacit... Sample PDF
Sorting the Relationship of Tacit Knowledge to Story and Narrative Knowing
Chapter 7
Louise Grisoni
The central discussion in this chapter is that poetry can be used to provide a bridge between tangible, rational and explicit knowledge and tacit or... Sample PDF
Exploring Organizational Learning and Knowledge Exchange through Poetry
Chapter 8
Ester Barinaga
“How do we define our project goal?” “How are we going to coordinate our independent national studies?” “Who is responsible for what?” “How are... Sample PDF
Vagueness: The Role of Language in the Organizing Process of Knowledge Intensive Work
Chapter 9
Stephen Sheard
In this chapter the author offers an argument towards the resurgence of a proto-alphabetic imagination in electronic and mobile communications. It... Sample PDF
Tyranny of the Eye? The Resurgence of the Proto-Alphabetic Sensibility in Contemporary Electronic Modes of Media (PC/Mobile Telephony); and its Significance for the Status of Knowledge
Chapter 10
Krzysztof Klincewicz
The chapter discusses the role of IT Research & Analysis firms in the diffusion of knowledge management. The research is based on content analysis... Sample PDF
Knowledge Management and IT Research and Analysis Firms: Agenda-Setters, Oracles and Judges
Chapter 11
Fatima Guadamillas-Gomez, Mario J. Donate-Manzanares
This chapter analyses the implementation of knowledge management strategies (KMS) in technologyintensive firms. Firstly, a review of KMS in the... Sample PDF
Knowledge Management Strategies Implementation in Innovation Intensive Firms
Chapter 12
Arla Juntunen
This chapter focuses on the development of the Knowledge Management (KM) platform, and, more generally, the knowledge- and resource based view (RBV)... Sample PDF
Developing a Corporate Knowledge Management Platform in a Multibusiness Company
Chapter 13
Jonathan D. Owens
Success in new product development (NPD) can be considered a general aim for any company wishing to survive in the 21st Century. It has been found... Sample PDF
Modeling the New Product Development Process: The Value of a Product Development Process Model Approach as a Means for Business Survival in the 21st Century
Chapter 14
Anders Örtenblad
The ambition of this chapter is to pay some attention to more obvious, as well as more subtle, methods for organizations to become independent of... Sample PDF
Achieving Organizational Independence of Employees' Knowledge Using Knowledge Management, Organizational Learning, and the Learning Organization
Chapter 15
Angelo Ditillo
Knowledge-intensive firms are composed of various communities, each characterized by specialized knowledge. These communities operate as critical... Sample PDF
Balancing Stability and Innovation in Knowledge-Intensive Firms: The Role of Management Control Mechanisms
Chapter 16
Aino Kianto, Jianzhong Hong
Nowadays knowledge and competencies are the key productive factors, and the organizational capability for continuous learning, development and... Sample PDF
The Knowledge-Based Approach to Organizational Measurement: Exploring the Future of Organizational Assessment
Chapter 17
Vidar Hepsø
In knowledge management literature, common information spaces (CIS) are believed to be instrumental in the development and sharing of knowledge.... Sample PDF
Common Information Spaces in Knowledge-Intensive Work: Representation and Negotiation of Meaning in Computer-Supported Collaboration Rooms
Chapter 18
Agnieszka Postula
This chapter presents and discusses two factors – creativity and control – which correspond to every organizational reality. IT specialists’... Sample PDF
Creativitiy and Control in IT Professionals' Communities
Chapter 19
Patrocinio Zaragoza-Saez, Enrique Claver-Cortes, Diego Quer-Ramon
Knowledge is one of the basic production factors owned by enterprises, and knowledge management is one of the main dynamic capabilities on which... Sample PDF
A Qualitative Study of Knowledge Management: The Multinational Firm Point of View
Chapter 20
Cliff Bowan, Pauline Gleadle
The chapter addresses a central dilemma from the viewpoint of dynamic capabilities and the resource based view of the firm: how to manage creativity... Sample PDF
Culture as a Dynamic Capability: The Case of 3M in the United Kingdom
Chapter 21
Maria E. Burke
The purpose of this chapter is to consider an original way of improving Knowledge Management relationships. This is done within the context of an... Sample PDF
Cultural Issues, Organizations and Information Fulfillment: An Exploration Towards Improved Knowledge Management Relationships
Chapter 22
Darius Mehri
The author worked in the research and design department at a large Toyota company in the late 1990s and experienced an innovative process where... Sample PDF
Engineering Design at a Toyota Company: Knowledge Management and the Innovative Process
Chapter 23
Federica Ricceri, James Guthrie
The shift towards a knowledge based economy is at the core of the debate of contemporary management and accounting literature and organisations are... Sample PDF
Critical Analysis of International Guidelines for the Management of Knowledge Resources
Chapter 24
Christiane Prange
Internationalization has accelerated the speed of knowledge generation and innovation. Thus, companies increasingly need to pool and create new... Sample PDF
Strategic Alliance Capability: Bridging the Individual Back into Inter-Organizational Collaboration
Chapter 25
Meryem Sevinc, Lawrence Locker, John D. Murray
In the contemporary context of knowledge discovery, the amount of information and the process itself has increased in complexity. Relevant to the... Sample PDF
Automation vs. Human Intervention: Is There any Room Left for the Analyst in the Data Mining Process?
Chapter 26
Joanna Shih
The hi-tech firms that predominate in Silicon Valley contain a large proportion of knowledge workers—employees with high levels of education and... Sample PDF
Temporality and Knowledge Work
Chapter 27
Alice MacGilivray
Knowledge management is often associated with the need for change and related shifts in ontologies, ways of knowing and ways of working. Combine the... Sample PDF
Knowledge Intensive Work in a Network of Counter-Terrorism Communities
Chapter 28
Tatiana Andreeva
Contemporary literature usually views knowledge creation and knowledge sharing as either independent or positively related processes. However, based... Sample PDF
Tensions between Knowledge Creation and Knowledge Sharing: Individual Preferences of Employees in Knowledge-Intensive Organizations
Chapter 29
Steffen Boehm, Chris Land
Knowledge is implicitly assumed to form an increasingly important, or even the dominant source of values for today’s knowledge based organizations.... Sample PDF
The 'Value' of Knowledge: Reappraising Labour in the Post-Industrial Economy
Chapter 30
Alexander Styhre
This chapter discusses the use of media in knowledge-intensive organizations. Media is defined here as the integration of technologies, practices... Sample PDF
New Media and Knowledge Work
Chapter 31
Ben Tran
This chapter examines knowledge and innovation as invaluable factors affecting the longevity of large organizations. It presents the history and... Sample PDF
Knowledge Management: The Construction of Knowledge in Organizations
Chapter 32
Premilla D’Cruz, Ernesto Noronha
Scholars researching the area of the sociology of professions had earlier predicted that as occupations seek to improve their public image... Sample PDF
Redefining Professional: The Case of India's Call Center Agents
Chapter 33
Dariusz Jemielniak, Jerzy Kociatkiewicz
Knowledge management and knowledge-intensive work are two of today’s hot buzzwords, though both already have a history of managerial usage. While... Sample PDF
Knowledge Management: Fad or Enduring Organizational Concept?
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