Indigenous Circuits: Navajo Women and the Racialization of Early Electronic Manufacture
by Lisa Nakamura
Nakamura draws from “ A cyborg Manifesto”(1) where Dona Haraway reminds us that “ labor is commodified and extracted , often without compensation for labourer, within digital culture”. In her article, Nakamura is focusing on how Haraway raised awareness about “gendering and racializing of bodies as well as on computer hardware itself” . Exploring Navajo women ’s input in the growth and the success of Fairchild SemiConductor company, Nakamura answers to Haraway’ s call to analyse ”digital media , not only seeing its image but seeing into it” and see the “women of colour workers…integrated within the circuit of techno culture” .
Nakamura argues about how Fairchild, looking for cheap and flexible labor as well as tax optimisation, settled in 1965, a semi conductor plant in Shiprock Navajo reserve in New Mexico, and used the women natural “affinity for metalwork and textile” for electronics assembly.
She demonstrates how race, culture, gender and creativity were commodified by the Silicon Valley company and how they promoted a new economical paradigm based on “the spiritual and natural qualities of high tech manufacturing”.
Fairchild depicted it as huge success for not only them at the economic level but also for the Navajo women and their “nimble fingers” in being the “first informalized creative class workers” and “embodying nature itself using silicon as their medium”. They were a proof of the “ peaceful coexistence and integration of the past and the future, the primitive and the modern, creativity and capitalism”. Interestingly, as Nakamura stressed it too, Navajo community’s leader in his will in “transforming the Navajo as a “modern” tribe , allowed the stigmatisation of his people as “ a valuable commodity in the world of high tech manufacture”.
In 1975, when the political context was not favourable anymore, pursing their quest for cheap and high weaving skilled workers and for the same financial, rather than cultural, reasons that brought them in Shiprock, Fairchild reallocated their factory in South East Asia.
In her conclusion, Nakumara questions our perception of what is digital and calls us to look through computer interfaces not only physically but also to “its codes, its hardware, its infrastructures, its histories and its racial and gender formations”. Looking behind the physicality of electronic artefacts, how it was made, by who and when, in which context, that is what Fairchild did retrospectively for commercial rather than philosophical reasons and it is also similar to Gilbert Simondon (2) appeal to look into technical object and to apprehend it beyond its mechanical use.
REFERENCES – Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181.
On The Mode Of Existence by Gilbert Simondon Paris: Aubier, Editions Montaigne, 1958, http://dephasage.ocular-witness.com/pdf/SimondonGilbert.OnTheModeOfExistence.pdf