Student Spotlight: Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo


(Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, Photo credit Dirty Souf Yankee)


What is your area of research?

I am a Ph.D. student in the department of science technology studies. My specific area of research falls under the umbrella of sound studies, an interdisciplinary field in which the study of sound is used as a means to understand social, technological, and cultural developments as well as to access particular aspects of human experience. Sound studies scholars are interested in topics like the emergence of particular types of listening practices (and therefore new types of listeners); the historical, cultural and political coproduction of sound innovations such as the phonograph, the radio, and musical instruments; and the implications of sound usage as it emerges in medical contexts, pedagogy, warfare, and entertainment. My research topic focuses on the politics of what I term “community studios” – fixed and mobile sites that exist to provide “underserved” communities with access to free and low cost professional music recording equipment, services, and education. I am very interested in the ways that the institutional status of such spaces as both studios and community resources informs the norms and daily technical practices of engineers, producers, and local artists as well as the ways it informs their assumptions about certain production values like fidelity and quality.

What inspired you to choose this field of study?

As an undergraduate student at Cornell I was first introduced to sound studies through a science and technology studies course led by Trevor Pinch, who has since become the chair of my committee. In the class we read Dr. Pinch's work on the history of the Moog synthesizer, and as a digital music producer, I was excited at the prospect of working in a field that welcomes the study of such topics. I went on to declare a major in science and technology studies in addition to sociology, and wrote a senior thesis on digital music software and tacit knowledge.

Why is this research important?

This research is important on a number of different levels. I think that it will help community organizers to evaluate the efficacy of programs that are designed to serve underresourced communities. It is also important because it contributes to the body of work being produced in sound studies, a field that challenges the primacy of visual culture and begs researchers to ask new and interesting questions.

How has your background influenced your scholarship?

My background as a woman, as a hip hop artist, and as a former elementary school teacher in a low income community have all influenced my scholarship greatly. My initial research project was born out of a desire to make sense of the lack of other female hip hop producers I encountered in the pursuit of my craft. Based on the research site I chose, a local community studio, my project later morphed into one more focused on production practices in studio spaces designed for low income communities. Although my topic has changed, I am still deeply interested in gender disparities as it relates to expertise and music production, and I think that my own production background has illuminated the importance of this aspect of my research.

What else has influenced your thinking as a researcher or scholar?

I also think that my identity as a Black woman and as a child of two academics with an interest in African development has deeply influenced my thinking as a researcher. Racism is costing Black people their lives every day -- recognizing this means understanding how privileged I am to be able to pursue my PhD at Cornell, as well as the responsibility that I have to effect positive change from my position of power. I therefore selected a dissertation topic that has the potential to do just that. It is my hope that by interrogating community studio practices I can provide necessary insights into what works and what doesn't work in these contexts.

What other hobbies or activities do you enjoy in your spare time?

If I'm not doing research I am almost always making music or performing. But when I'm not doing any of those things, I enjoy playing retro video games, watching documentaries on big cats, and increasingly I'm trying my hand at cooking. I also enjoy traveling. Most of my travel has been related to research, conferences, or my music, though, so I haven't had a chance to do as much travel for travel's sake as I would like.

Why did you choose Cornell?

I chose Cornell because I already had a foundation here based on my undergraduate work and I knew that if I wanted to pursue any research in sound studies, Trevor Pinch was the person with whom I needed to work.

What’s next for you?

In the immediate future, I will be hard at work conducting research for my dissertation and I will hopefully be in a position to start writing soon. In terms of my post-graduation plans, I hope to pursue some kind of artist residency attached to a university as I would like to find a way to combine my desire to create music, collaborate, educate myself and others, and effect positive social change.

Any advice for incoming graduate students?

My advice to incoming graduate students would be to focus on holistic wellness. I had a really difficult first semester because I did not prioritize my mental, emotional, and sometimes even physical well-being. It wasn't until I started seeking out a community by joining the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association executive board, and pursuing my passion for music more fully that I began to thrive at Cornell. I became a better student when I was a happier person, and I could only be a happier person by making sure I nurtured every aspect of my life. Four years after starting this PhD process, I'm so excited that the music I initially pursued as a stress reliever, has opened many doors for me and even helped to inform some of the research I am now doing. Being a graduate student is a major accomplishment and undoubtedly will be an important part of your identity but it does not define who you are nor your worth as a person. If you can always keep this in mind, you will be okay.