Summary

  • Nakamura’s work is grounded in women of color feminism and questions of labor: she asks how WoC feminism can texture digital studies, “particularly in light of the emphasis on the physical and material” brought to light in media archaeology (920).
  • The archive: Navajo women working for Fairchild Semiconductor: Fairchild “produced a racial and cultural argument for recruiting young female workers in the electronics, and later digital device production industries, from among the Navajo population” (921). Navajo women’s labor becomes a “visual and symbolic resource” for the development of semiconductors. (Compare to Rosner’s work on “weaving core memory”; also Haraway’s “oppositional weaving.”)

Keywords

Notes

  • The Shiprock plant on Navajo land; little discussed except as part of narratives of outsourcing; “Reservations provided spaces of exception to US laws on minimum wage; in this way they were like foreign countries, but in other ways American mythologies around Indianness gave these workers a desirable identity as culturally foreign yet familiar” (923).
  • “In Fairchild’s promotional materials and in journalistic accounts, Navajo workers were always represented as different from white workers, as possessing innate racial and cultural traits that could be enhanced or rehabilitated to produce chips accurately, quickly, and painlessly” (924). Coincided w/ Navajo leaders’ desire to “modernize” in the 1960s.
  • Navajo women’s racialized qualities as precursors to the neoliberal creative class (cf Liu): flexibility, dexterity, responsiveness, on-the-moment availability (926).
  • “It was an opportune year to argue for the spiritual and natural qualities of high-tech manufacturing. Counterculture gurus such as the poet Gary Snyder and the publishing entrepreneur Stewart Brand viewed Indians as a curative to the anomie and alienation of American corporate culture, and Indians were already perceived as intimately connected to nature” (931), cf Turner.
  • “Race and gender are themselves forms of flexible capital. When it helps create a compelling narrative that justifies, even celebrates, the yoking of corporate interests to indigenous governance, Navajo women are understood and perceived as docile, flexible, and natural electronics workers, and indigenous identities change as a result” (933).
  • “The liberal discourse of the seventies assuaged its conscience in consigning vulnerable populations like Native Americans to this type of labor by suturing the work itself to an emergent discourse of multiculturalism. How could this type of labor be exploitative when it was already so much like the “native” cultural production that Indians had done for centuries without pay, the original ‘free labor,’ such as weaving blankets?” (935).
  • Transitions into thinking about platform studies, citing Montfort & Bogost: cheap Navajo labor becomes a platform upon which to build digital technologies (936).
  • “However, if we look inside computing hardware, we will not see dancing bunny-suited clean room workers, happily making chips for free. Instead we see Asian women, Latinas, and Navajo women and other women of color. Looking inside digital culture means both looking back in time to the roots of the computing industry and the specific material production practices that positioned race and gender as commodities in electronics factories. This labor is temporally hidden, within a very early period of digital computing history, and hidden spatially” (937). These points are vital when thinking about transnational electronics pollution and the Global South.

Archive and Impact

  • Begins from Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” and the question of “oppositional strategies” (919); “Haraway’s Marxian insistence on materiality rather than just virtuality in the ‘Cyborg Manifesto’—on the gendering and racializing of bodies as well as on computer hardware itself—anticipated many of the concerns at the center of media archaeology and platform studies in the twenty-first century” (919). Also ties together Terranova’s concept of “free labor” (920).
  • Nakamura’s got a fascinating archive here: Fairchild industrial and internal documents, incl. brochures. Points to the relatively untapped depth of corporate archives.