In the Indian outsourcing industry, employees are expected to be “dead ringers” for the more expensive American workers they have replaced—complete with Westernized names, accents, habits, and lifestyles that are organized around a foreign culture in a distant time zone. Dead Ringers chronicles the rise of a workforce for whom mimicry is a job requirement and a passion. In the process, the book deftly explores the complications of hybrid lives and presents a vivid portrait of a workplace where globalization carries as many downsides as advantages.
Shehzad Nadeem writes that the relatively high wages in the outsourcing sector have empowered a class of cultural emulators. These young Indians indulge in American-style shopping binges at glittering malls, party at upscale nightclubs, and arrange romantic trysts at exurban cafés. But while the high-tech outsourcing industry is a matter of considerable pride for India, global corporations view the industry as a low-cost, often low-skill sector. Workers use the digital tools of the information economy not to complete technologically innovative tasks but to perform grunt work and rote customer service. Long hours and the graveyard shift lead to health problems and social estrangement. Surveillance is tight, management is overweening, and workers are caught in a cycle of hope and disappointment.
Through lively ethnographic detail and subtle analysis of interviews with workers, managers, and employers, Nadeem demonstrates the culturally transformative power of globalization and its effects on the lives of the individuals at its edges.
Awards and Recognition
- Finalist for the 2011 C. Wright Mills Award, Society for the Study of Social Problems
Shehzad Nadeem is assistant professor of sociology at the City University of New York, Lehman College.
"A majority of America's Fortune 2000 companies say that off-shoring is an integral part of their growth strategy. So what's it like on the other side? Nadeem takes us into the back offices where Indian workers take American calls on all-night shifts under tough conditions. Yet workers also feel elevated by the pay and imagined participation in an American lifestyle which is, ironically, receding in the United States. An extremely well-informed and deep look at a crucial issue of the age."—Arlie Hochschild, coauthor of The Second Shift
"In this striking new work, globalization is not a slogan or abstraction: it is a living, breathing transformation of the lives of educated, middle-class young people in India who work in call centers and other back-office operations of Western corporations. With wit, irony, and literary flair, Nadeem makes vivid all the contradictions of their complicated lives. This is a window on people half a world away who, on the telephone, sound like they live next door. They do not, and the way they live has never been better portrayed."—Michael Schudson, Columbia University
"Dead Ringers is a brilliant exploration of the perplexing world that global outsourcing has wrought. With lucid and engaging prose, Nadeem shows how conspicuous consumption and exploitation are two sides of the same coin. This smart and witty book is essential reading for anyone concerned about the future of work and culture in a global age."—John Skrentny, University of California, San Diego
"Drawing on interviews, document analysis, and participant observation, this engaging book provides a nuanced, insightful analysis of the fascinating phenomenon of IT and service work outsourcing to India."—Kiran Mirchandani, University of Toronto
"This terrific and well-organized book gives a ground-up view of an industry where the costs of globalization are borne by its so-called winners—the middle-class IT and call center workers in India who have fueled production and consumption patterns, and contributed to the enlargement of the middle class. I greatly enjoyed reading this book and found it to be extremely informative."—Ethel Brooks, author of Unraveling the Garment Industry