Society for Ethnomusicology, 66th Annual Meeting, Virtual, 28–31 October 2021

Panel Abstract: Complicating “Affective Labor” in Ethnomusicology 

Ethnomusicologists, increasingly interested in both affects and forms of musical work, use the term “affective labor” to denote the feelingful dimension of what musicians produce, whether or not they’re paid. Work on “affective” or “immaterial” labor argues that the production of subjectivities, particularly through the consumption of cultural products like music, is key to neoliberal socio-economic organization, where wages are gained through affective performance. This panel offers a productive critique of “affective labor” and the concepts it rests upon. Specifically, in setting affective labor as a unique form of work, the term suggests a division between labor that involves thought and feeling, and labor that involves “only” bodies, reproducing problematic conceptions of culture as “immaterial.” Moreover, the term muddies the ability to discuss the relation between acts which produce feelings as part of social meaning, and those which (also) produce profit. Each of these papers addresses the relations between affect, labor, and wage. The first examines musical and personal narratives about Punjabi truck drivers’ work ethics and disaffection, which reveal how patterns of circulation of material goods determine patterns of affect; the second focuses on musical leisure as a conceptual framework that questions the affective labor paradigm in the post-socialist context; and the third examines Brazilian Spotify contractors whose ability to curate branded playlists arose from their long involvement in unpaid, yet densely affective music production. The total panel, including a discussant, offers what we hope is a critical extension of an exciting new arena of ethnomusicological research. 


Ana Hofman, Research Centre of Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts
Back to Leisure: Labour, Class and Everyday Singing in a Post-Socialist Town
Davindar Singh, Harvard University
The Drive to Work: Punjabi Truck Songs and the Ethics of “Dis-Affected” Labor
Garland, Shannon, University of California, Merced
The Work of Making Moods: The Concrete Labor of Spotify Curation