Intertwined spatialities in call centre interactions: a multimodal analysis of a glocal workplace

Vicky Markaki, Florence Oloff, Véronique Traverso

ICAR Research Lab, Lyon (CNRS & University of Lyon), France

WS129: Language as social practice in the globalized new economy

Call centres are an emblematic workplace characteristic of the late modernity and of the globalized economy. One peculiar feature is constituted by the interconnection of various places, where several participants, inscribed in very different spatial realities, act together from a distance. This paper deals with such intertwined spatial scales, and with the way in which they are managed through telephone conversations.

Analyses are based on a corpus of telephone conversations videotaped in a call centre: the call centre in situated in a big French town, and offers help to foreign tourists experiencing car accidents in France. Calls are managed either in French, English or Spanish. For instance, in one of the cases we will focus on, the operator is simultaneously speaking with a Spanish customer and with a French garage mechanic and tries to fix a misunderstanding concerning the exact place where the customer is stuck and where the mechanic looks for him. In this kind of conversation, place description and identification are managed from a distance in a way which does not always match with the local contingencies. Multiple sources of spatial information and representation are used, such as customers’ depictions, official addresses and various web sites providing for maps. Moreover, discussions trying to understand where the various interconnected persons really are can go on in different languages, not always understood by all parties. Therefore, difficulties encountered rely on the complexities of the communication resources used (different languages, different modalities) and on the complexities of superposed spaces and contexts.

These peculiar problems described in a fragment of data constitute a locus of observation for the complex dynamics at the micro and macro levels: detailed study of the organization of plurilingual multimodal calls reveals the way in which local places and global organizations are intertwined within the work of call centre operators. Analyses will be carried on within the framework of conversation analysis and workplace studies, based on videorecordings of the call centre operator and of her computer screen. This kind of data makes possible a multimodal analysis of the organization of this talk and its technological mediations (phone, computer).

Analyses proposed here do contribute to the DYLAN European Project (6th framework) dealing with plurilingual interactions at work in international settings.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Language as social practice in the globalized new economy
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 03