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How Can I Help You? Call Centres, Classification Work and Coordination

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As a comparatively novel but increasingly pervasive organizational arrangement, call centres have been a focus for much recent research. This paper identifies lessons for organizational and technological design through an examination of call centres and ‘classification work’ – explicating what Star [1992, Systems/Practice vol. 5, pp. 395–410] terms the ‘open black box’. Classification is a central means by which organizations standardize procedure, assess productivity, develop services and re-organize their business. Nevertheless, as Bowker and Star [1999, Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences . Cambridge MA: MIT Press] have pointed out, we know relatively little about the work that goes into making classification schema what they are. We will suggest that a focus on classification ‘work’ in this context is a useful exemplar of the need for some kind of ‘meta-analysis’ in ethnographic work also. If standardization is a major ambition for organizations under late capitalism, then comparison might be seen as a related but as-yet unrealized one for ethnographers. In this paper, we attempt an initial cut at a comparative approach, focusing on classification because it seemed to be the primary issue that emerged when we compared studies. Moreover, if technology is the principal means through which procedure and practice is implemented and if, as we believe, classifications are becoming ever more explicitly embedded within it (for instance with the development of so-called ‘semantic web’ and associated approaches to ontology-based design), then there is clearly a case for identifying some themes which might underpin classification work in a given domain.


Martin, David; O’neill, Jacki; Randall, Dave; Rouncefield, Mark (2007): How Can I Help You? Call Centres, Classification Work and Coordination. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Vol. 16, No. 3. DOI: 10.1007/s10606-007-9045-4. Springer. PISSN: 1573-7551. pp. 231-264