I spent the past two years thinking through issues of women’s labor in the electronics assembly industry in the context of the history of electronic music and audio. My work started as an exam bibliography for the certificate offered by the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Columbia, which was advised by Professor of music Ellie Hisama and Professor of sociology and gender studies and Dean of Social Science Alondra Nelson. This work evolved into a pair of conference papers – one at the Women in Sound/Women on Sound symposium in Lancaster, England brilliantly organized by Linda O’Keefe, and one at a graduate symposium at Yale convened around the theme Sound Limits.
I am happy that a paper coming out of this research, titled “‘Nimble Fingers’ in Electronic Music: Rethinking Sound through Neo-colonial Labor” has been accepted for publication. Details to come, but here is the abstract in the meantime:
How can historians of electronic music address the factory labor of the global underclass of women building electronics used in sound technologies? How can we speak to the repetitive work of women who are racially and sexually stereotyped as having ‘nimble fingers,’ being ‘detail oriented’ and ‘obedient?’ Although women workers in electronics assembly are already de facto entangled in contemporary sound production, scholars have yet to enfold their lives and labor into histories of electronic music. I situate electronic sound technologies since the 1960s in the contexts of the global division of labour and the intimate disciplining of women’s bodies, and investigate the discursive fallout of transnational subcontracting in the electronics industry. I argue that rethinking the category women in electronic music is a necessary step for sound studies and musicology, and call for a new disciplinary understanding of electronic sound and audio as fundamentally neo-colonial.