For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Entrapped by the ‘electronic panopticon’? Worker resistance in the call centre"

by Bain, Peter; Taylor, Phil (2000)


This article presents a thoroughgoing critique of Fernie and Metcalf’s perspective, that the call centre is characterised by the operation of an ‘electronic panopticon’ in which supervisory power has been ‘rendered perfect’. Drawing on evidence from a telecommunications call centre the authors analyse the significance of emerging forms of employee resistance.

Key Passage

By early 1998, two sharply contrasting portrayals of the call centre had been established in popular consciousness. On the one hand were the optimistic descriptions, cultivated by the sector’s publicists, who presented exciting images of centres, staffed by co-operative teamworking employees ‘smiling down the phone’ and talking to customers in a relaxed and professional manner in comforting regional accents. On the other hand, there was the perspective of Fernie and Metcalf who utilised Foucault’s adaptation of Bentham’s Panopticon to claim that electronic surveillance had ‘rendered perfect’ the supervisor’s power, thus eliminating the possibility of worker resistance. When a leading consultant, Roncoroni, described call centres as ‘dark satanic mills’, the imagery of Blake complemented that of Orwell, to produce a bleak composite picture (IDS, 1997: 12). (p.3)


Foucault, Panopticon, Call Centre Work, Work Supervision, Surveillance, Telecommunications, Employee Resistance


On Foucault, Foucault, Call Centres

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