Women’s Labor in Electronics Assembly

My work on women’s labor in the electronics assembly industry in the context of the history of electronic music and audio started as an exam bibliography for a certificate offered by the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Columbia University. My certificate work was advised by Professor of music Ellie Hisama and Professor of sociology and gender studies and Dean of Social Science Alondra Nelson. Here is the bibliography for my IRWGS exam on electronic music and women’s factory labor.


I presented a conference paper on women’s labor in electronics assembly at the first installment of the now-annual Women in Sound / Women on Sound symposium in 2015. Here is the abstract:

“Women in Electronic Sound Production: Expanding Categories,”Women in Sound / Women on Sound, Lancaster University, England, November 2015.

Gayatri Spivak calls the Third World woman factory worker the “paradigmatic subject of post- modern neo-colonialism.” How should feminist sound studies address the factory labor of Third World and immigrant women manufacturing 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 they are already de facto entangled in contemporary sound production, scholars have yet to enfold their lives and labor into discourses on electronic sound and women in music.

My paper explores the affective and material affinities between the global underclass of factory women and American composers of electronic music. My aim is to explore ways of thinking across U.S./Euro-centric feminist theory and third-world/diaspora feminism, and thinking across the different theoretical and ethical objectives of feminist sound studies and musicology. I propose that we situate composers’ work with consumer and DIY electronics in the contexts of the global division of labor and the intimate disciplining of women’s bodies. I will argue that expanding the category ‘women in music’ is a necessary step for sound studies, and I will show how this disciplinary decentering alters our interpretation of electronic sound.

On a panel with British live-coders Shelly Knotts and Joanne Armitage.


I presented my second paper on women’s labor in electronics assembly at the 2016 Yale Graduate Music Symposium organized around the theme Sound Limits: Music and its Borders and keynoted by Columbia University Professor of Ethnomusicology Ana María Ochoa. My presentation was programmed as part of the opening panel on Gendered Work. Here is the abstract:

“Black Box White Box: Electronics Assembly and the Factory Museum,”Yale Graduate Music Symposium, Yale University, March 2016.

How can scholars of sound address the factory labor of the global underclass of women building electronics used in sound technologies? 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 discourses on electronic sound. My paper calls not for more marginalized research on women’s labor but for a new disciplinary understanding of electronic sound and audio as fundamentally neo-colonial.

A shift in Anglophone discourse surrounding consumer sound technologies and electronic instruments reflects the history of transnational subcontracting in electronics assembly. By staking the racialized production of electronics against the technoscientific claim that electronic technologies ‘democratize’ musical production, I illustrate how sonic Whiteness is constructed from the neo-colonial networks of electronics assembly. I then explore the Western luxury of converting former factories into museums from an acoustic-architectural standpoint. These hollow, resonant monuments, I argue, betray the human cost of capitalism—all the bodies spent elsewhere. I interpret several site-specific installations for these spaces (by Kara Walker, Kevin Beasley, and others), which address women’s factory labor through sculpture and sound.


This work evolved into a paper now published in the international peer-reviewed journal Organised Sound in a special issue devoted to Alternative Histories of Electroacoustic Music. Below is the abstract with a link to the paper.

‘Nimble Fingers’ in Electronic Music: Rethinking Sound through Neocolonial Labour,” Organised Sound, Alternative Histories of Electroacoustic Music 22/2 (August 2017). 250-258.

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.

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