Seminar in Cultural Studies

ENG 775: Seminar in Culture Studies: SPRING 2020

 Work of Love: The Circuits of Affective and Gendered Labor

0315-0545p / Sakamaki C103


LSE and CSAP requirements fulfilled

Course Description

An adequate feminism for our times has to approach the question of sexual difference from the question of labor and work. When people talk about ‘feminization of labor’, it means both that there are more women at work, and work itself has become more female. The “laborization of the feminine” alludes to the way in which females are cast as workers first, and only secondarily as mothers or wives (Power, 2009). This double character of gendered labor however is not a boon for women since they have to bear the double burden of production as well as social and sexual reproduction. “Work of Love” looks at moments of crisis in literature, film, and social media in which affective labor—a “flexible” and “informal” form of labor—begins to cause pain or degradation, and yet has to be performed as a uniquely feminine gift of nature, i.e. a “labor of love.” If affective labor has the capacity to fashion the world in purely feminine terms, then what happens to the ideal of abolishing gender?

The course is divided into four different trajectories that might unfold as a result of reproductive work becoming the dominant form of labor; the genres and forms conducive to these different trajectories are placed alongside:

  1. Care becomes a commodity and yet the care industries thrive off the unpaid labor of migrant and illegal, mostly women workers: autobiographies, long form essays, investigative reports and documentaries;
  2. Exhibitions of hyper-masculinity expressive of men’s rage at their supposed replacement by women’s productive and sexual promiscuity: Tamil and Hong Kong gangster movies;
  3. The cuteness industry, symptomatic of an androgyny that is about being “sensitive to things” or obsessed with things (the figure of the otaku): Shōjo and Shōnen Manga, and writings of Banana Yoshimoto;
  4. Women’s accounts of their sexual vulnerability in work places through the “me too” movement: newspaper and online pieces.

Student Learning Outcomes:

  1. You will gain a better understanding of theories of gender and social reproduction;
  2. You will be able to identify and describe key concepts in gender and labor theory as it relates to contemporary capitalism;
  3. You will develop the ability to place your own scholarly work within broader critical conversations, and to contribute to these conversations by conducting independent research;
  4. You will gain experience delivering concise, informed, focused, and thought-provoking oral presentations to peers in the field;
  5. You will gain familiarity with filmic language and film theory since the bulk of primary materials are films.

Course Requirements

Participation includes both preparedness and attentiveness in class 20%

Two oral presentations per student (15 minutes each) 20%

One short note on the political economy of “me too” testimonios based on ten different sources culled from across the world (1000 words) 20%

Article-length research essay (7000 words) 40%

Primary Texts:

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1974). Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (94 minutes)

Banana Yoshimoto (1988). Kitchen

Mani Kaul (1999). Naukar ki Kamiz (105 mins)

Baby Haldar (2002). A life less Ordinary

Selvaraghavan (2006), Pudhupettai (170 minutes)

Abdellatif Kechiche (2008): The Secret of the Grain (154 minutes)

Jacques Audiard (2015), Dheepan (115 minutes)

Nagraj Manjule (2016), Sairat (174 minutes)

Readings on Laulima

Karl Marx (1867). Chapter 10: “The Working Day.” Capital. Volume I

Frederich Engels (1884). The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (excerpt)

Nina Power (2009). One Dimensional Woman

Roswitha Scholz (2009). “Patriarchy and Commodity Society: Gender without the Body”

Kathie Weeks (2011). The Problem with Work (excerpts)

Feminist Fightback Collective (2011). “Cuts are a Feminist Issue.” Soundings 49

Francesca Bettio (2011). “Crisis and recovery in Europe: the Labour Market Impact on Men and Women.”

Silvia Federici (2012). Revolution at Point Zero

Maya Gonzales (2013). “The Gendered Circuit: Reading The Arcane of


Sara R Farris (2013). “Neoliberalism, Migrant Women, and the Commodification of Care.”

Litu Kabir (2014). “Rana Plaza, A Personal Journey.”

Nilita Vachani (2015). “The Strange, True Story of the Man Whose Maid Was Worth Millions.”