Abstract: How Culture Matters: Global Business Process Outsourcing Meets Local Cultural Practices in the Philippines

Jan M. Padios


In 2011, the Philippines surpassed India to become the "call center capital of the world." Today, nearly 600,000 Filipinos work in call centers, the majority handling customer service and technical support calls for the likes of Hewlett-Packard, Citibank, and Vonage. The globalization of services from the United States to developing countries in the Global South poses significant questions about the intersection of local culture and global business processes. Drawing on historical sources as well as ethnographic observation of call centers in Manila, this paper considers the recent history of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in the Philippines, with particular attention to three distinct ways culture matters to global business. I focus on culture as a resource, culture as metaphor, and bridging cultural difference. However, I also critique and complicate each of these notions of culture along the way, arguing that to understand the constitutive role of culture within the global economy, we need complex and nuanced approaches to the term.