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Talking class, talking race: language, class, and race in the call center industry in South Africa

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Abstract:

Against a backdrop of declining manufacturing employment, this article uses a study of the call center industry to argue that English language proficiency is central to new service jobs in post-apartheid South Africa. Drawing on research in Durban, we in this study show that access to call center work—especially the highest paid niches—is heavily mediated by English language skills generally attainable only at the most elite high schools. In doing so, we argue that access to English-medium education can challenge racial disadvantage, but simultaneously that English can help to consolidate white privilege through the continued association of a ‘prestigious’ accent with whiteness. The study accordingly reveals the importance of language in the changing intersectionality of race and class and, in doing so, underlines the value of social and cultural perspectives in labor geography.

Keywords: Afrique du Sud; South Africa; Sudáfrica; call centers; centres d'appels; clase; class; classe; geografía del trabajo; géographie du travail; idioma; interseccionalidad; intersectionality; intersectionnalité; labor geography; language; langue

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14649365.2012.704642

Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography,University of Toronto Scarborough, 1265 Military TrailToronto,Ontario, CanadaM1C 1A4, 2: Department of Humanities,University of Toronto Scarborough, 1265 Military TrailToronto,Ontario, CanadaM1C 1A4,

Publication date: September 1, 2012

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