“We are Living in a Different Time Zone” - Transnational Working Places and the Concept of a “Glocalized Intermediary Class”

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The article would like to make a proposition on how to amend the underdifferentiated way social stratification within the “global society” is usually theoretized. In the dominant discourse there seems to be only one global class, the “winners of globalization”. Critics of this narrative, which I call the cosmopolitan delusion, make the “losers” of neoliberal globalization visible. But the “vulnerable” (Robert Castel) and precarious are usually not included in such a dualistic two-class approach. If the middle class(es) within societies of the Global South again are mentioned, this is usually done in simplified way. I would like to introduce the concept of a “glocalized intermediary class” (GIC) to better capture the social location of transnational class positions in between societies of the Global North and the Global South. The GICs can be considered to be part of the (service or white collar) proletariat of the North but at the same time to be part of the middle class in the society of their origin (in this case: the Philippines). If the middle class(es) can be understood as a “contradictory class location” (Goldthorpe), this is even intensifi ed for GICs working and living in between the worlds and the class positions. The exploratory theory of a “glocalized intermediary class” is exemplifi ed by the agents working at international call centers in the Philippines. They are working at transnational working places and can be considered sociocultural migrants.

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  “We are Living in a Different Time Zone” Transnational Working Places and the Concept of a “Glocalized Intermediary Class”  Niklas Reese University of Bonn, Germany  ASEAS - Österreichische Zeitschrift für Südostasienwissenschaften / Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies,1 (2), 2008SEAS - Gesellschaft für Südostasienwissenschaften - www.SEAS.at  The article would like to make a proposition on how to amend the underdifferentiated way socialstrati  fi cation within the “global society” is usually theoretized. In the dominant discourse thereseems to be only one global class, the “winners of globalization”. Critics of this narrative, whichI call the cosmopolitan delusion, make the “losers” of neoliberal globalization visible. But the“vulnerable” (Robert Castel) and precarious are usually not included in such a dualistic two-class-approach. If the middle class(es) within societies of the Global South again are mentioned, this isusually done in simpli  fi ed way. I would like to introduce the concept of a “glocalized intermediary class” (GIC) to better capture the social location of transnational class positions in between societiesof the Global North and the Global South. The GICs can be considered to be part of the (serviceor white collar) proletariat of the North but at the same time to be part of the middle class in thesociety of their srcin (in this case: the Philippines). If the middle class(es) can be understood asa “contradictory class location” (Goldthorpe), this is even intensi  fi ed for GICs working and living inbetween the worlds and the class positions. The exploratory theory of a “glocalized intermediary class” is exempli  fi ed by the agents working at international call centers in the Philippines. They areworking at transnational working places and can be considered sociocultural migrants.Keywords: Transnationalism, Social Strati  fi cation, Middle Class, Habitus, Postcolonialism  34  Niklas Reese - “We are Living in a Different Time Zone”   ASEAS 1 (2) Der Artikel möchte einen Vorschlag machen, wie eine unterdifferenzierte Theoretisierungder Sozialstruktur innerhalb der Weltgesellschaft erweitert werden könnte. Im dominantenDiskurs scheint es in ihr nur eine Klasse zu geben: die “GlobalisierungsgewinnerInnen”. Kritiker dieses Ansatzes machen auch die VerliererInnen sichtbar. Die “verwundbaren” (Robert Castel)Zwischenpositionen werden in der Regel jedoch nicht berücksichtigt. Und wo Mittelklassen im globalen Süden Berücksichtigung  fi nden, wird dies meist in einer vereinfachten Weise getan. Ichmöchte das Konzept einer “globalen Zwischenklasse” (Glocalized Intermediary Class/GIC) vorstellen,um die soziale Lage dieser Zwischenpositionen besser fassen zu können. Die GICs werden als Teildes (Dienstleistungs-)Proletariats im globalen Norden wahrgenommen, gleichzeitig aber auchals Teil der Mittelklasse in ihrer Heimatgesellschaft (hier die Philippinen). Wenn Mitteklasse(n)als „widersprüchliche Klassenlage“ (Goldthorpe) verstanden werden, so wird dies für GICs, diezwischen den Welten leben und arbeiten, noch verstärkt. Die heuristische Theorie der “globalenZwischenklasse” wird anhand der TelefonistInnen, die in den internationalen Call-Centers in denPhilippinen arbeiten, ausgeführt. Sie arbeiten auf transnationalen Arbeitsplätzen und können alssoziokulturelle MigrantInnen verstanden werden.Schlagworte: Transnationalismus, Sozialstruktur, Mittelklasse, Habitus, Postkolonialismus Preliminary Remarks Studying societies of the Global South – esp. the Philippines – for more than a decade now,I got more and more dissatisfied with how social stratification within globalized societiesis theoretized. I think that an important group of people from the South is only scantlycovered by it. The article takes its starting point in two perceived deficiencies of the theoryof social stratification within the “global society”. Not only in mainstream media, but also inmuch of the literature social differences let alone inequalities are not problematized. Herethe impression is created that only one global class exists, the “winners of globalization”. If again the “losers” of neoliberal globalization are noticed this usually leads to a dualistic two-class-approach. The middle class within societies of the Global South is hardly taken intoconsideration and if it is, this is usually done in an underdifferentiated way. Secondly, the“container approach” of clearly cut country societies (or nation states) still prevails in socialanalysis.This article aims to introduce the concept of a “glocalized intermediary class” (short: GIC)  35  as an attempt to better catch the “social location” respectively the social condition ( sozialeLage ) of a “class in between”: being a transnational class in between the societies of theGlobal North and the Global South and being vertically an intermediary class in betweencontradicting class locations. The GICs can be considered as part of the (service or whitecollar) proletariat of the North but at the same time as part of the middle class in the societyof their srcin (in this case: the Philippines). If the middle class(es) can be understood as a“contradictory class location” (J. Goldthorpe), this is even intensified for GICs working andliving in between the worlds and the class positions. GIC is a heuristic term and a work inprogress. Developing this concept is part of a longer research project, which wants to identifythe sense of citizenship within the globally exposed and connected marginal middle class inthe Philippines. The notion of citizenship I want to draw on expresses itself in (a) politicalagency and (b) a sense of entitlement to social and public services. It is not necessarily linkedto a sense of nationalism and a clear identification with one nation state.The first step in this research is to identify this globally exposed and connected marginalmiddle class in the Philippines. This article serves as a first step to do so. For now I amfocusing on four groups which possibly are GICs: Overseas Contract Workers with a professionaleducational background (teachers, doctors and nurses, technical training etc.), call centeragents in international call centers, local staff of foreign and transnational companies activein the Philippines and possibly even people working at foreign-funded NGOs - in case oneconsiders the “aid industry” to cater to the philanthropic and political needs of the middleclasses of the North (as well), which would turn these NGO workers to service providers of theFirst World. In November 2007 I did a research project on international call centers in Manilaand Davao, conducting semi-structured interviews with 12 call center agents and severalexpert interviews (Reese 2007). Many of my theoretical assumptions took off from the case of this “transnational working places”. Therefore they will serve as major example to empiricallyground my theoretical concept, even though they probably will not be the central focus of thefurther research (for reasons see below). In July and August 2008 I discussed the first draftof this article with several people in the Philippines (Reese 2008) and I will try to include theoutcomes in this presentation. 1   1 I like to thank all the persons who found the time to review this article and share their thoughts withme. Maraming Salamat! I have been working for an information office on the Philippines in Germany (www.philippinenbuero.de) for several years and as lecturer for Philippines Studies at the Universities of Passau and Bonn.The insights I gained during more than ten “field trips” to the Philippines ranging from 4 weeks to 6 months between1998 and 2008 shape much of my assumptions as well. Last but not least I like to mention the more than insightfulMaster thesis of the Filipina sociologist Aya Fabros on which I draw more than once during the article.  36  Niklas Reese - “We are Living in a Different Time Zone”   ASEAS 1 (2) I. International Call Centers in the Philippines Before deliberating on my assumption that international call centers typify ‘transnationalworking places’ let me give a short overview on international call centers in the Philippines.International call centers are one of the fastest growing industries in the country. Theboom is due to the fact that there is a redirection of business process outsorcing from India tothe Philippines by US-clients (see in detail Fabros 2007). Especially in an industry close to thecustomer like the call centers there have been regular complaints from American customersthat they can hardly understand the (British coloured) English of the Indian agents. A marketgap for the former American colony Philippines, which like India, possesses a well-trainedand computer-literate population and in addition has one of the largest English-speakingpopulations in the world. Due to the colonial past and the neo-colonial present Filipinos andFilipinas are more familiar with US-culture, particularly with American expressions and places,than other English-speaking low-wage economies. Labour costs are even slightly below thosein India. In the Philippines companies must pay only about a fifth of what they are payingtheir employees in the US. At the same time the payment is what is mentioned first whenasked for the motivation to work in an international call center. One earns much more in aninternational call center in Manila than in local jobs which college graduates can take up. Ateacher e.g. earns about 10,000 to 13,000 Pesos (150 to 190 Euro) a month, while even anewbee call center agent earns at least 15,000 to 18,000 (215 to 245 Euro). This is if graduatesfind a job at all! The unemployment rate is especially high for young people and for collegegraduates. According to the Labour Force Survey, 37.6 percent of the unemployed in 2006had at least a college level education. Getting a job in the public sector is a tedious affair.Applying for a government job usually takes several months to get approved, requires in manycases job experience and often one only gets one of the scant jobs with a  padrino using hisor her connections and who even in awhile asks to be bribed for this “service”. Getting ajob in a call center in contrast formally does not even require a college degree and allowsimmediate hiring. It promises “fast money” if one is in need of cash as Psyche Fontanillaexplained, who worked several months in a call center (Reese 2008). In a country wheresocial mobility is significantly restricted, going abroad or working for foreign clients is a notto be underestimated avenue for upward mobility. The lack of job prospects for Filipinos withample education fuels the migration of highly skilled workers like nurses (or doctors applyingto be a nurse overseas) teachers or even law graduates and engineers. (It seems however,that call centers do not serve as an alternative to migration but more as a deferment of andpreparation for migration.) Call center companies unlike many other companies furthermoreoffer social security contributions which are really remitted to the social security system  37 
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