Ep #64 “Can I speak to the manager”: Caitlin Setnicar on customer abuse, ThinkPlace & cartoons

‘The reasons why uniforms exist is for various reasons. Among them is to visually identify a staff member, which is a functional reason – a really practical reason, rather. It’s also to take away any outside… personality that can come through on the person’s body.’

This episode, Caitlin Setnicar, Australian National University anthropology graduate with First Class Honours (2018) and current Business Designer at ThinkPlace, chats with Dee. They unpack customer service abuse and the many frameworks in place that allow this normalised violence to happen and continue happening, discuss some pathways to applied anthropology and consulting work, and explore how ethnography can be portrayed through cartoons.

We aren’t back in the podcast studio yet, so for this reason the audio quality will be a little different to our usual studio sound.

You can learn more about ThinkPlace at https://www.thinkplaceglobal.com/

This angry seagull sure looks like a customer complaining to retail staff, no?


‘Because of the way that the situation is set up [in retail exchanges], that kind of kindness can be removed at any moment with really no consequence and really no thought from the [customer].’

‘Not only do people forget [that] the person that they’re talking to, the retail worker, has a reality outside of the moment that you are talking to them in. So you’re talking to the checkout girl and because your interaction with them, interpersonally, only matters in that very moment, you loose sight of any kind of context that they exist outside of that and you don’t necessarily realise that there’s going to be consequences for them outside of this moment if you are rude to them.’

‘I think that these situations are actually set up in this way in some deliberate and non-deliberate ways by employers… this isn’t necessarily malicious’

‘I was reading a pamphlet about a doona cover, I remember this very clearly … so this person [who I worked with] came over to me and said “Caitlin, umm, just so you know you should make sure that you look like you’re working because the managers watch us over the security cameras“.’

The reason staff are told to wear nametags is ‘If you do something wrong or if you are rude, or perceived as rude to a customer, they can complain about you by name… [it’s] an accountability thing and therefore a surveillance thing.’

‘I was interested by the way that I realised everyone had changed the way they experienced air. Cause air is this thing that always fades into the background cause it’s literally invisible and literally around us all the time. We don’t know what it’s like to not have air… It’s only things that become exceptional to the norm that people notice… The air didn’t only become an object but a malicious object that was harmful. So every time you took a breath, you couldn’t help but think about what you were breathing in’

‘So one of my aims with [the comic] was to make it accessible to the people around me who were suffering like me… it’s an ethnography of our experiences with the fires’

‘There is this real magic to … the comic format because you’re able to combine visuals, like visualisations of information, and also words. So it’s this super quick way to impart lots of complex information fast and in a way which everyone can understand.’

‘One of my huge pet peeves with any kind of academic article is when it’s completely unreadable.’

Reminds me of the panopticon idea … watching from above.
(Image by Tom Driggers https://flic.kr/p/FzZ9mk)


BBC have kindly written about the rise of the ‘Karen’ here: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-53588201

They say that ‘”Karen” is associated with the kind of person who demands to “speak to the manager” in order to belittle service industry workers, is anti-vaccination, and carries out racist micro-aggressions, such as asking to touch black people’s hair.’

If you want to know more about those cocktail wasitresses that Caitlin mentioned, you can find the article by Bayard de Volo (2003) here: https://academic.oup.com/sp/article-abstract/10/3/346/1640693

For a brief explainer on what ‘habitus’ is, scroll down to the ‘Habitus’ section on this Routledge page about Pierre Bourdieu:

Ethics Explainer have written a useful piece on the Panopticon

We mentioned Foucault’s ideas on producing a docile worker. These are from his book ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of a Prison’. SparkNotes have written a nice summary of the book here: https://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/disciplinepunish/section5/

The ethnography Caitlin mentioned about waitresses switching nametags is ‘Dishing It Out: Power and Resistance Among Waitresses in a New Jersey Restaurant’ by Greta Paules (1991)

Don’t forget to head over to our Facebook group The Familiar Strange Chats and let us know what you found most interesting in this episode, or share your own retail ‘horror’ story. Let’s keep talking strange, together!

If you like what we do and are in a position to do so, you can help us to keep making content by supporting us through Patreon.
Our Patreon can be found at https://www.patreon.com/thefamiliarstrange

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com
Shownotes by Deanna Catto
Podcast edited by Deanna Catto and Matthew Phung

Feature image of an angry seagull by PublicDomainPictures on PixaBay

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