Video: Jamie Woodcock, ‘Working the Phones’

This week Pluto published Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres, by Jamie Woodcock. The latest in our Wildcat series, the book goes undercover to reveal the daily experiences of workers in one of the country’s most prolific (and least-loved) industries.

In this short video, Jamie expands the motivations and methodology behind Working the Phones.

Jamie Woodcock completed his PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is currently a fellow at LSE. His research interests include: digital labour, technology, management, critical theory, and the sociology of work.


Working the Phones is available to buy from Pluto Press, here.

A Planet Afflicted by a High Fever

The world is ‘overheated’. Too full and too fast; uneven and unequal. It is the age of the Anthropocene, of humanity’s indelible mark upon the planet. In short, it is globalisation – but not as we know it. Leading anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen is the author of a new book Overheating: An Anthropology of Accelerated Change, which is linked with an international anthropological project, centered at the University of Oslo. In this post, he introduces the themes of the book, and the importance of the project.

‘What do the fateful Brexit referendum, the epidemic spread of Nintendo’s ‘Pokémon Go’ game, theOverheating escalating death of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the fivefold growth in tourism since 1980 have in common? The short answer is that they all express symptoms or outcomes of global accelerated change, or ‘overheating’, as I call it in my new book.

It is as if modernity has shifted to a higher gear since the early 1990s. Modernity has always been about acceleration and change, but in the last quarter-century, acceleration has accelerated. While you were out having a coffee, the number of refugees in the world seemed to have grown by ten per cent by the time you returned. While you were offline on a short holiday, Indonesia overtook Australia as the world’s largest coal exporter. And when you log onto your favourite newspaper, in the hope that you might encounter a few drops of optimism, the first headline you click on is a story about the dramatic decline of biodiversity in the contemporary world (The Guardian, 14 July 2016). Caused by agricultural expansion, climate change and pollution, the loss of biodiversity is an excellent, if frightening, example of ‘overheating’: It is an unintended consequence of the planet having been filled slowly to the brim by human activities and projects. It is not caused by one single factor possible to contain or control, but by the confluence of several mutually reinforcing processes – population growth, land clearing and monocultures, global neoliberalism and fossil fuel use, to mention a few major factors.

Overheating: An Anthropology of Accelerated Change is based on the assumption that the fast changes characterising the present age have important, sometimes dramatic unintended consequences. Each of the five empirical chapters focuses on one key area – energy, cities, mobility, waste, information – and shows how changes may take unexpected directions, which were neither foreseen nor desired at the outset.

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Fredrik Barth: An intellectual biography

As  a new biography of social anthropologist Fredrik Barth is published this month, we ask the author Thomas Hylland Eriksen, himself a renowned anthropologist, to expand on why he chose his subject…

‘Social scientists come in many shapes, some more interesting than others. One of the Fredrik Barthextremes is the wide-ranging scholar who circles the planet in a helicopter with a pair of binoculars, eventually developing a theory about life, the universe and everything. The opposite extreme is the khaki-clad explorer crawling on all fours while peering at the grains of sand on the beach through a magnifying glass. This is the end of the continuum where most anthropologists find themselves. Yet, the grains of sand are not enough. Indeed, a major ambition of anthropology consists in ‘seeing the world in a grain of sand’ (Blake), building social theory from everyday events in ordinary communities and discussing human universals through the life-worlds of a few individuals leading perfectly average lives anywhere in the world.

In this endeavour, Fredrik Barth (b. 1928) is an undisputed master. One of the most influential anthropologists of the latter half of the 20th century, Barth’s career spans six decades and has brought him to more than a dozen field sites. This book tells the story of Barth’s life from his student days in Chicago just after the war to his retirement years in Oslo; and in doing so, it highlights the power of the ethnographic gaze and the critical potential inherent in an anthropological approach to human life. At its best, anthropology can tell us that everything could have been different, that there are many roads to the good life, and that the present social order does not necessarily constitute ‘the best of all possible worlds’ (Leibniz). Anthropology treats all lives in an equitable way, giving no pride of place to the pale and powerful.

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Anthropology and Development

Authors Katy Gardner and David Lewis discuss their new edition of this enduring classic  Anthropology and Development: Challenges for the Twenty First Century.

‘Whatever happened to the Anthropology of Development and its ‘post-modern challenge’? After Anthropology and Deveopmentnearly twenty years since the first edition of our book, we decided that the time was ripe to revisit the issues. What we found was both a huge amount of change and not very much at all. It depended where you looked. Whilst there were new players in ‘Aidland’ – corporations touting ‘social responsibility’ and billionaire philanthropists, for example – and with the emergence of BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and ‘the Next 11’ some notable shifts in Development’s geopolitics, in other ways the issues were resoundingly familiar. The collapse of the Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh during 2013, for example, reminded us that the issues that framed the earlier edition of the book remained horribly pertinent. As we had argued then, anthropological questions of access, control and effects were core to the academic critique of development and contributed to progressive policies which attempted to make it better. Yet as the biggest industrial disaster since Bhopal reminded us, lack of rights, weak and corrupt states, poverty and entrepreneurial criminality combined in a toxic mixture to bring about the deaths and grave injuries of thousands of factory workers in a country that was being hailed in some quarters for its accelerating economic growth. Those that died had no access to safe working conditions or employment rights and the building, which the day before was showing large cracks, was controlled by a member of the criminal underworld associated with land grabs and illegal construction. The Rana Plaza’s horrific collapse materialised the effects of rampant neoliberal development.

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