An Interdisciplinary Conference at the University of California, Santa Barbara

October 4 - 6, 2007
University of California, Santa Barbara

Presented by the Center for Research on Women and Social Justice, Women's Studies Program, University of California, Santa Barbara

Organized by Professor Eileen Boris, Women's Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
and Professor Rhacel Parreñas, Asian American Studies, University of California, Davis

Sponsored by the University of California Labor and Employment Research Fund; University of California Humanities and Research Institute; University of California, Santa Barbara: College of Letters and Science, Division of Social Sciences, Hull Chair in Women's Studies, Women's Center, Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy, the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center; College of Humanities, Arts, and Culture Studies at the University of California, Davis.

Intimate labor is work that entails bodily or emotional closeness or personal familiarity, such as sexual intercourse and washing genitalia, or intimate observation and knowledge of personal information, such as childcare or housekeeping. Such work occurs in homes, institutions, urban spaces, and other locations. It exists along a continuum of service and caring labor, from high end nursing and low end housekeeping, and includes sex, domestic, and personal care work. Against a scholarship that considers nurses, nannies, home aides, cleaners, prostitutes, masseuses, therapists, and hostesses apart from each other, this conference seeks to explore intimate labor as a useful category of analysis to understand gender, racial, class, and other power relations as well as look at current economic transformations.

The four panels and eleven workshop sessions aim to advance the debate among feminist theorists over the relationship between ‘care’ and economy. For some, these terms stand in for the “hostile worlds” of love and money, an inscription of separate sphere ideology with gendered attributes repackaged: women give care, men earn money. These theorists bemoan an increasing commodification of aspects of life that normatively should be beyond the market. Others claim that commodification already has entered into relations of care, while still others, including the conference co-chairs, point out that relations of intimacy already involve the exchange of money and the wages of care or sex work suffer from social expectations about what women should undertake out of love, kinship, or obligation. To navigate these debates, conference sessions seek to understand what happens when intimate labor enters the marketplace and becomes paid both in terms of working conditions and the value of the worker herself.

The significance of this conference comes from the bringing together of research on racialized gendered labors not usually thought about together and from creating an interdisciplinary dialogue among scholars from women’s studies, ethnic studies, history, and humanistic sociology. This interdisciplinary approach will help unpack the social, cultural, political, ideological, and representational definitions of work and worker and see how embodied identities based on gender, race, nation, and class shape the meaning of intimate labor. Participants will seek to define intimate labor; interrogate its significance vis-à-vis market participation and global economic processes; evaluate relations of race, class, gender, sexuality, and citizenship; consider popular representations; and analyze the challenges and struggles in organizing workers.

Through historical, ethnographical, and related methodologies, gathered scholars will address four themes, each through an agenda-setting panel and then case study workshops:

The Political Economy of Intimate Labor:  States, Markets, and Families
What is intimate labor? Is it merely carework with sex? Whether tending to the bodily or emotional needs of others through touching, talking, or just being there, intimate labor has included women’s unpaid work for the family or what some scholars call reproductive and sex/affective labor, along with work performed by slaves, servants, and sex workers. Characteristics of the worker—her gender, race, or legal status—often defined the value of the labor, working conditions and pay. This session charts the history of such labors in light of the rise and devolution of welfare states, women’s labor force participation, family formation, the expansion of sex work into new industries, and development of institutions for children, the elderly, ill, and disabled. Neo-liberal privatization of social welfare and deregulation of labor standards represent significant challenges to both paid and unpaid intimate labor. This session also provides institutional frameworks for assessing the connections between care, sex, and love as work.

Examining Globalization “From Below” through Intimate Labor Practices
While intimate labor is nothing new, larger macro-economic processes in globalization spur the formation of “new” forms of intimate labor. The advent of “time-space compression” heightens the sex tourism industry and business travel forces the transfer of care from unpaid work within to paid work outside the home. This panel situates intimate labor processes in globalization.  It asks: what types of intimate labor does the global circulation of goods, ideas, and peoples encourage? What forms of inequalities do the practices and processes of intimate labor engender and maintain? How do practices of intimate labor reflect larger structural inequalities and cultural processes in national and transnational contexts? This panel shows intimate labor as a mechanism that maintains and reflects socio-economic inequalities. These inequalities are displayed and negotiated in social interactions in private spaces as well as public settings that are central to the operation of global capitalism, for instance airports and business hotels. How does the performance of services in these settings reflect inequities of race, class, and gender? How are such inequities negotiated, resisted, and maintained in the performance of intimate labor?

Work Process and the Cultures of Intimacy: Beyond the Binary of Paid and Unpaid Labor
This panel moves beyond the binary of paid and unpaid labor by examining the work process and culture of intimacy. It explores ways that the emotional ties of workers to their wards or customers can blur their identity as workers, leading them to accept their laboring conditions. It also addresses the moral dilemmas engendered by the commodification of emotions and the traditional work of women, particularly in motherwork and dependent care. In the commodification of both child and elderly care, how are race, class, and nation reflected in the division of labor between family members and paid workers? How are the moral dilemmas engendered by the “purchase of intimacy” negotiated? Finally, how do workers maintain their identities as workers in intimate encounters, intimate relationships, and intimate settings?

The Politics of Space and Labor Organizing
Intimate labor poses challenges for labor organizing and worker empowerment, not just because intimacy can engender emotional ties but also because much intimate labor occurs in private and decentralized public spaces and exists apart from the labor law, which long has placed intimacy outside of collective bargaining or defined such workers as independent contractors. Such spaces include the realm of the illicit, like massage parlors, hostess clubs, and public alleys. What are the challenges of intimacy for worker organization? When do models developed for service sector or social movement/community organization work for intimate labor? Papers will address the challenges of labor organizing in decentralized or family workspaces, like those of immigrant “maids,” home health aides, and sex workers, and in centralized institutional or commercial settings, like hospitals and hotels.

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