Precarity, gender capital and structures of (dis)empowerment in the neoliberal service economy

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Abstract

This chapter aims to explore and develop the under-theorised notion of gender capital. Doing so, it is argued, will enhance the elicitation of emerging historically and contextually situated reconfigured patterns of gendered hierarchies and structures of (dis)empowerment in the neoliberal service economy - and beyond. Call centre work is often mobilised as way of illustrating the ‘emerging new middle classes’ in developing economies (such as India), and as carrying a potential empowering effect in women’s livelihoods. The chapter discusses the contrasting Portuguese context, in which call centre work is not only (re)producing long-lasting images of female subordination and masculine privilege mediated by enduring gendered features of the Portuguese labour market, but also reinforcing unequal gendered patterns of class social mobility. Building on feminist critical political-economy analysis and Bourdieu’s theory on capital formation and class distinction, the chapter examines the interplay of gender, precarity and frustrated projects of middle-class distinction among young people currently working in Portuguese call centres. It shows how and why male technical call centre operators deploy hegemonic masculinity as a form of gender capital. This capital, performed and enacted through the labour process, is put into play to enhance male call centre operators’ workplace and class status vis-à-vis their migrant working-class parents and female colleagues working on the commercial helplines. In the Portuguese call centre sector, gender capital - built upon and congruent with the dominant gender order - acts as a structure of (dis)empowerment, which both enables (men) and constrains (women), thereby conferring power on one part of the workforce, while restricting the freedom of another.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGender, Work and Migration
Subtitle of host publicationAgency in Gendered Labour Settings
EditorsMegha Amrith, Nina Sahraqui
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherRoutledge
Chapter9
Pages158-174
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781315225210
ISBN (Print)9780415788526, 9780367856601
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameStudies in migration and diaspora

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