Cultures of Service and Intersubjective Struggles: The Quest for Meaningful Interactive Service Work

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


    This dissertation brings to fore the challenges and stresses that service employees engaged in interactive service work deal with as they go about providing good service. Service marketing and management have rarely explored the subjective experience of service workers as they interact with customers and managers. Existing services research conceptualizes interactive service work primarily as a form of emotional labour and conceives of the worker primarily as a customer-oriented organizational resource. In contrast, the essays in this dissertation explicate struggles for control, symbolic power and meaning as well as the culturally-situated and socially-embedded nature of interactive service work. This dissertation comprises three interlinked essays that draw on ethnographic studies of interactive service work taking place in fitness gyms, coffee shops and luxury hotels in urban India. Each of these contexts had relatively distinct interactive scripts, rhythms and norms which provided opportunities for studying complementary aspects of the co-operation and conflict, value production and destruction, the local and the international in service interactions. Interactive service workers in non-professional occupations are amongst the most stressed occupational groups in the world. Existing explanations of high levels of stress hinge on the presence of emotional labour and role conflicts materialized in dyadic interactions with customers and managers. This explanation privileges the more formal-organizational aspects of interactive service work and recommends interventions that lessen emotional burdens. This dissertation complements these accounts of interactive service work and makes visible the presence of interconnected terrains of intersubjective struggle. With a theoretical repertoire sensitive to the management of class and caste identity, the striving for intersubjective recognition and the construction of meaningfulness, the essays in this dissertation develop a culturally-sensitive account of what goes on in interactive service work. Such an account holds transformational promise for the organization of interactive service work and generative potential for its analyses.
    Translated title of the contributionCultures of Service and Intersubjective Struggles - The Quest for Meaningful Interactive Service Work
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor's degree
    Awarding Institution
    • Aalto University
    • Arnould, Eric, Supervising Professor
    Print ISBNs978-952-60-3846-9
    Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-3847-6
    Publication statusPublished - 2020
    MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


    • interactive service work
    • cultures of service
    • power
    • language
    • recognition


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