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
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