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Global "Body Shopping": An Indian Labor System in the Information Technology Industry [Paperback]

Biao Xiang

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Book Description

6 Nov 2006 In-Formation

How can America's information technology (IT) industry predict serious labor shortages while at the same time laying off tens of thousands of employees annually? The answer is the industry's flexible labor management system--a flexibility widely regarded as the modus operandi of global capitalism today. Global "Body Shopping" explores how flexibility and uncertainty in the IT labor market are constructed and sustained through concrete human actions.

Drawing on in-depth field research in southern India and in Australia, and folding an ethnography into a political economy examination, Xiang Biao offers a richly detailed analysis of the India-based global labor management practice known as "body shopping." In this practice, a group of consultants--body shops--in different countries works together to recruit IT workers. Body shops then farm out workers to clients as project-based labor; and upon a project's completion they either place the workers with a different client or "bench" them to await the next placement. Thus, labor is managed globally to serve volatile capital movement.

Underpinning this practice are unequal socioeconomic relations on multiple levels. While wealth in the New Economy is created in an increasingly abstract manner, everyday realities--stock markets in New York, benched IT workers in Sydney, dowries in Hyderabad, and women and children in Indian villages--sustain this flexibility.

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Winner of the 2008 Anthony Leeds Prize in Urban Anthropology, Society for Urban, National, and Transnational/Global Anthropology

"Xiang Biao's book opens a fascinating window. . . . Although addressing a profoundly complex subject, it is intended to be read by people with little background in India or familiarity with the IT industry. Global 'Body Shopping' is an enjoyable and easy read, while offering a detailed and sophisticated critique of the unchallenged embrace of global capitalism. It deserves a wide readership among those with an interest in globalization studies and will be particularly useful for people desiring to find out more about ethnographic work that is global in scope."--Nanlai Cao, Pacific Journal of Anthropology

"Xiang Biao's avowed goal at an analysis incorporating ethnography and political economic analysis has long been a requirement for scholars interested in the production and maintenance of transnational work and flexible labor. Global Body Shopping more than lives up to this ideal. . . . I strongly recommend this ethnography as essential reading for scholars interested in questions of globalization, transnationality, and flexible labor."--Mathangi Krishnamurthy, American Ethnologist

"Xiang Biao tells the fascinating story of how body shopping brought globalization into the lives of hitherto minimally influenced rural youth and facilitated their movement into the highly volatile global arena of information technology . . . he has created a remarkably clear picture of a complex globally dispersed labor chain. . . . Not only does this innovative book provide a strong foundation for scholars interested in this under-researched global labor system, it is a great resource for teaching political and economic geography as well as courses exploring the various facets of globalization."--Monalisa Gangopadhyay, Political Geography

"Xiang has produced what may well be the first contribution of a contemporary anthropologist from China to the ethnographic study of global issues. . . . The book is compact, lucid, and jargon-free, making it one of the most accessible ethnographies of how the global migration regime's shift towards temporary skilled labour is changing societies."--Nyíri Pl, Critique of Anthropology

"The book provides an important corrective to analyses that ignore the lower end of the IT labour market. The discussion of how Indian community associations contribute to workers' quiescence is a valuable addition to Saxenian's insights regarding how such community associations in places such as Silicon Valley promote entrepreneurship and innovation. Biao also goes beyond Castells' emphasis on exclusion through the digital divide to show how the more glamorous parts of the IT industry are sustained in part by the flexibility provided by body-shopped labour and the social reproduction taken on by local communities, extended families and governments."--Sen Riain, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

"Xiang Biao's Global Bodyshopping is an outstanding example of multi-sited ethnography and a timely story of globally mobile workers. . . . [Xiang] Biao must be congratulated for his nuanced approach to the subject."--A. Aneesh, International Review of Modern Sociology

"The novelty of this work lies in its attempt to study social groups within the context of the ongoing processes of abstraction and virtualism, as these groups develop strategies to participate in global processes. . . . Xiang's book presents the daily lives, the intricate familial and professional negotiations, calculations and strategies, dreams and speculations through which individual Indians in the finger-labour market survive."--Madhava Prasad, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies

"[A]n extremely well written-book with mega-doses of anthropology mixed with humour."--Raghunath, Nilanjan, Asian Journal of Social Science

"[The book is] remarkable for meticulous research, mastery of details and understanding of the structures and processes of the industry. . . . This book must be read--not only by all social scientists, but by all those enthusiastic votaries and skeptical denouncers of IT as India's present and future."--Samita Sen, Global South

"I find the book most instructive in teaching us how political economic analyses sensitive to fine-grained details about the local and everyday life can enrich a global ethnography. What holds the book together is its creative use of socioanthropological methodologies to understand the phenomenon of 'body shopping' peculiar to the information technology (IT) industry. . . . I find his honesty and the unpredictability of his narratives refreshing."--Mark Lawrence Santiago, Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography

"[A] sterling exemplar of what anthropology is and can be today. . . . In a world of anthropologists never-ending anxiety over the loss of cultures, the loss of their own ability to explain cultures, and the problem of finding new things to study, Xiang's book offers a way out: it shows how one can study a structure within a larger system and explain both how that structure works and how it illuminates the function of the larger system. The combination of a simple explanation (hard-won through fieldwork) of a complex technical and economic system, with the exploration of its effects on social and personal lives of an extended network of families, villages, and corporations scattered around the globe is what makes this the perfect 'Intro to Cultural Anthropology' book in my estimation."--Christopher Kelty, Savage Minds: Notes and Queries in Anthropology

From the Inside Flap

"Bravura ethnographic reportage. Of the many manuscripts and books I have read on anthropological forays into globalization issues, this is the one I would most want my students to have as an exemplar as they plan their research."--George E. Marcus, Rice University, coauthor of Anthropology as Cultural Critique

"This book is a wonderful contribution to the anthropology of transnationalism and the sociology of labor. It is also a really innovative analysis of an important new professional cadre that is of crucial importance to globalization."--Peter van der Veer, Utrecht University, author of Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in Britain and India

"This is the first extended study of body shopping, a global system for training, managing, and circulating skilled labor. In this multisited analysis, Xiang Biao traces the links between Indian kinship and mobile professionals, Indian body shops and Western corporations, and Asian outsourcing and the rise of new entrepreneurs."--Aihwa Ong, University of California, Berkeley, author of Buddha Is Hiding: Refugees, Citizenship, the New America

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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