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Customer oriented militants? A critique of the 'customer oriented bureaucracy' theory on front-line service worker collectivism

By Paul A. Brook


This critique challenges the Customer Oriented Bureaucracy (COB) theory’s argument that the experience of customer service is pivotal to the formation of front-line service worker collectivism. COB’s rejection of the major tenets of Marxist analysis, thereby denying the exploitative and class nature of service work, results in Korczynski theorising front-line worker collectivism as based only on the shared experience of doing customer service rather than as workers per se. As a neo-Weberian theory, COB argues ‘consumer capitalism’s’ ideology of ‘customer sovereignty’ is a contemporary ideological ‘iron cage’ of value rationalisation in a unified, contradictory relationship with bureaucratic rationalisation. COB theory, consequently, allows only for a trade unionism that is limited to contesting the terms of customer service rather than challenging the deepening commodification of social relations.Peer-reviewedPost-prin

Topics: CONTRADICTIONS, CAPITALISM, customer oriented bureaucracy, front-line, marxism, rationalisation, service, unions, Weber
Publisher: Sage
Year: 2007
DOI identifier: 10.1177/0950017007076645
OAI identifier:

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