Disciplined agency

Neoliberal precarity, generational dispossession and call centre labour in Portugal

By Patrícia Alves de Matos

Disciplined agency


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-3498-1
  • Pages: 176
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: July 2020
  • BIC Category: Economic Geography, Society & social sciences / Sociology: work & labour, Society & social sciences / Anthropology, Society & social sciences / Social & cultural anthropology, ethnography, Sociology, Social & cultural anthropology, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Labor & Industrial Relations, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Economy, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural
  • Series: New Ethnographies


Since the mid-2000s, the harsh reality of call centre employment for a generation of young workers in Portugal has been impossible to ignore. With its endless rows of small cubicles, where human agents endure repetitive telephone conversations with abusive clients under invasive modes of technological surveillance, discipline and control, call centre work remains a striking symbol of labour precarity, a condition particularly associated with the neoliberal generational disenchantment that 'each generation does better than its predecessor'.

This book describes the emergence of a regime of disciplined agency in the Portuguese call centre sector. Examining the ascendancy of call centres as icons of precarity in contemporary Portugal, this book argues that call centre labour constitutes a new form of commodification of the labouring subject. De Matos argues that call centres represent an advanced system of non-manual labour power exploitation, due to the underestimation of human creativity that lies at the centre of the regimented structures of call centre labour. Call centres can only guarantee profit maintenance, de Matos argues, through the commodification of the human agency arising from the operators' moral, relational and social embedded agentive linguistic interventions of creative improvisation, decision-making, problem-solving and ethical evaluation.


Series editor's foreword
1 Introduction
2 Capitalist and generational transitions in contemporary Portugal
3 Call centres as icons of precarity: between emancipation and stigma
4 The moral economy of labourer production in call centres
5 Clients: operationalising consensus, internalising discipline
6 The production of agency: humans disguised as robots
7 The dispossessed precariat
8 Conclusion


Patrícia Alves de Matos is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Research in Anthropology, Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Lisboa, Portugal

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