Call center agents’ skills

Invisible, illegible, and misunderstood


  • Johanna Tovar WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business)



call centers, text trajectories, emotional labor, ethnography, articulation work, invisible skills


This article follows previous research arguing that skills of call center agents, which often include emotional labor, communication, procedural and substantive knowledge, and articulation work, are mostly invisible. Moving beyond previous analyses linking call centers to low-skilled standardized work, I draw on ethnographic fieldwork and transpositional analysis in the Philippines and the UK to show which real-world processes and written practices make agents’ skills not only invisible and illegible to industry outsiders but also to their managers. I argue that textualization practices such as data entry and script work are important, and that deemphasizing quantification in favor of qualitative assessment could produce better outcomes for agents and skill appreciation by others.

Author Biography

Johanna Tovar, WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business)

Johanna Tovar, née Woydack, is Assistant Professor at WU Vienna, Austria. She received her PhD in Sociolinguistics from King’s College London. She is the author of Linguistic Ethnography of a Multilingual Call Center published by Palgrave. She is also co-editor of an upcoming volume on Language and Country Branding (Routledge). Her publications have appeared in journals such as Language in Society, International Business Communication, and English for Specific Purposes. Her research interests include text trajectories, call centers, migration, and place and nation branding. 


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How to Cite

Tovar, J. (2021). Call center agents’ skills: Invisible, illegible, and misunderstood. Sociolinguistic Studies, 14(4), 437–458.