Taming Noisy Women: Bell Telephone’s female switchboard operators as a noise source

Carmi, Elinor. 2015. Taming Noisy Women: Bell Telephone’s female switchboard operators as a noise source. Media History, 21(4), pp. 313-327. ISSN 1368-8804 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This paper focuses on women who worked at Bell Telephone Company in the USA during 1930s and 1940s as telephone operators, and the training programmes they went through. Transmission of information depended on their actions because they had to facilitate the switchboards, and therefore held a crucial position as part of the communication channel. Thus, Bell felt they should tune their ‘bad’ behaviour which embodied noise in their systems. In order to maintain equilibrium, Bell enmeshed Michel Foucault’s disciplinary and biopower forms of governmentality and developed a hybrid form. This combination was seen in their flagship training programme, A Design for Living, where Bell penetrated operators’ bodies and minds, inside and outside work. When the operators revolted, Bell realised power should be exercised through automated dial machines. This would then become an inspiration for cybernetics who aimed to control communication systems that constructed information’s correct behaviour, and consequently users.

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Identification Number (DOI):



biopower; automation; cybernetics; telephone operators; noise; Bell Telephone Company.

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


3 July 2015Published

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Date Deposited:

06 Aug 2015 06:20

Last Modified:

15 Apr 2021 10:46

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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