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Manufacturing Sexual Subjects: ‘Harassment’, Desire and Discipline on a Maquiladora Shopfloor

Abstract

Standing for all instances of problematic workplace sexuality, the notion of ‘sexual harassment’ illuminates but also obscures the role of desire in work relations. It spotlights isolated individual interactions at the expense of structural processes and stresses choice and blame rather than the way in which a given workplace evokes particular sexual subjectivities in the service of production. An ethnography of shopfloor relations in a Mexican export-processing plant shows how labor control operates through the interpellation of both workers and supervisors as sexual subjects. In this plant, panoptic architecture evokes and focuses the male gaze in the service of ‘quality’ and ‘efficiency’, and desire emerges as a force of production. Male supervisors are located as voyeurs and young female workers as sexual objects to be consumed. Worker efficiency and desirability are conflated and workers become subject to management for the affirmation of both. In such a setting, framing shopfloor sexuality as aberrant distracts from its primary, and equally problematic, function as a shopfloor discipline. © 2000, SAGE Publications. All rights reserved.

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