Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Lost in Translation

Cowie, in his discussion of the continuous struggle of industrial capital to maintain the social conditions necessary for profitability, argues that the problem of offshore production, that is the transnationalization of production, is not fundamentally different in cause or consequence from the problem of transregionalization of industry several decades earlier, although transnationalization does throw into question the role of the nation-state. But I think the recent trend toward outsourcing of tech and other forms of frontline customer support to countries such as China and India creats a fundamentally different problem than these earlier trends because it does not involve production processes hidden from the consumer. In the case of outsourcing, the consumer is confronted with an often rather obvious "other" directly, on the telephone. "There" is suddenly "here." This phenomenon changes the dynamic of transnationalization in a fundamental way. And somehow it's not unexpected that at least some of U.S. firms who embraced outsourcing of customer support initially are now rolling back those programs out of, they contend, concerns about quality of service.

1 comment:

Mark said...

This is an interesting point of view, one with which I would have to agree. I struggled with this article because of just this fact. The "contact hypothesis" you propose is qualitatively different than what Crowley describes. It is one thing to know the things you purchase are manufactured somewhere else, and quite another to have constant contact with those "others" who now hold a job that may have been yours. Moreover, this speaks to not just the shrinking of transnational production but transnational communication as well. Without even possibly being aware of it we are now all connected in a transnational manner via technologies of communication, even if we still try and "buy American."