Dead Ringers: How Outsourcing Is Changing the Way Indians Understand Themselves

Dead Ringers: How Outsourcing Is Changing the Way Indians Understand Themselves

Dead Ringers: How Outsourcing Is Changing the Way Indians Understand Themselves

Dead Ringers: How Outsourcing Is Changing the Way Indians Understand Themselves


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.


Would you rather have high hopes and have them routinely dashed, or have low expectations and rarely be disappointed? This was the question I pondered while listening to two Indian workers, Prashant and Anil, debate the merits of globalization. They are employees of Dynovate, an outsourcing company in northern Bombay that handles a number of basic financial processes for Western multinationals. As was their habit during breaks, the two had gathered in their building’s sixthfloor stairwell for a smoke. Prashant is 24, dark-skinned, and stocky and has a Cheshire grin. He says he “likes to party” and is a deejay at nightclubs in his spare time. His favorite group is the Black Eyed Peas. Anil is two years his senior. His complexion is fair, his frame slender, and his attitude sullen. He does not party, does not drink, and favors Indian music. (Curiously, Prashant, the devotee of Western popular culture, smokes the domestic India Kings, while Anil, the selfprofessed skeptic of globalization, prefers Marlboros).

A dyed-in-the-wool PR man—he works in “media relations”— Prashant has an admirable capacity to see silver linings and half-full glasses where other might despair. While some have speculated that the Indian outsourcing industry faces a critical shortage of “employable talent,” Prashant thinks that its future is bright and that it “isn’t a bubble that’s going to burst.” His work, like much of that in the industry, is tedious, but he finds the “open” culture of the company exciting and he enjoys working with American clients. They are demanding but fair. What is more, he has learned how to be a professional. “Everyone likes professionals,” he says genially. “They’re the ones that get things done on time. They interact with various people in the right way, in the right manner. You give them something to do and they do it quickly.” Prashant understands his work to be a performance, like his afterhours deejaying, and is anxious to please.

Anil, by contrast, is a grudging participant in the emerging drama.

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