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‘Hands Up’: Female Call Centre Workers’ Labour, Protest
and Health in the Seoul Digital Industrial Complex, Korea

KIM, KWANWOOK (2017) ‘Hands Up’: Female Call Centre Workers’ Labour, Protest
and Health in the Seoul Digital Industrial Complex, Korea.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This paper is based on research into the lived experience of female call centre workers in South Korea. A call centre has become a representative field-site to investigate the suffering of female workers in Korea, having been likened to the ‘sweatshop of the 20th century’ because of its panopticon-like supervision, regimentation of time, repetitive work. In reality, the current lives of female call handlers in Seoul Digital Industrial Complex seems not to improve compared to the past lives of the factory girls of the textile industry in the 1970s and 80s at the same industrial area, called Guro Industrial Complex. It can be inferred particularly from the perspectives of ‘chemical employeeship’ (i.e. workers depending on chemicals including caffeine and cigarette to work longer and harder for securing one’s job) and ‘cultural gravity’ (i.e. workers following the cultural force operating to demand their body be docile and industrious)
In the context of Korean call centre industry, I have sought the worker’s reality of labour, protest and health through focusing on three different types of ‘hands up.’ The first ‘hands up’ describes that call handlers have to put one’s hands up to go to the toilet, which is humiliating to them and represents the unfair working condition. Secondly, the use of ‘hands up’ is a gesture of defiance of the first call centre labour union in Korea. I explored how hard it was physically and mentally to establish the collective resistance, but also observed the call handlers’ shrunken bodies or daunted mind could stretch out through the opportunity created by the labour union. Lastly, I found female call handlers’ ‘hands up’ gesture as a self-healing exercise, called ‘mompyeogi undong’ meaning ‘stretching body exercise.’ This exercise helped the participants improve their health physically and mentally as well as elevating self-esteem.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:call centre, female worker, Korea, labour, protest, health, phenomenology
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Anthropology, Department of
Thesis Date:2017
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:17 Jul 2017 10:04

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