Seminar in Cultural Studies: Work of Love

                                    ENG 775: Seminar in Culture Studies: FALL 2023

        Work of Love: Gendered Labor and Sexual Desire

Instructor: Nandini Chandra


Office: KUY 714

Office Hours: TBA and By appointment

LSE and CSAP requirements fulfilled

SAKAM B 211 on Thursdays, 6-8:30 PM 

Course Description

            An adequate feminism for our times has to approach the question of sexual difference from the lens of labor and work without conflating the two. When people talk about the ‘feminization of labor,’ it means both that there are more women at work, and that 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. There is, for instance, the familiar anxiety of care work becoming less caring and loving as it assumes a more commoditized form. It would appear that as affective labor—a “flexible” and “informal” form of labor—collapses the traditional gendered division of labor, there is a simultaneous collapse in the difference between masculine and feminine desires—men exploring their feminine sides and women channeling their boss-women subjectivities. 

Our course “Work of Love” draws attention to the variety of ways in which literature, film, and social media capture the unpredictable landscape produced by the changing equations of labor and love/desire. In other words, we will look at the separate and overlapping registers of labor and love, love in labor, and the labor in love, especially as it pertains to the more traditional societies of Asia, and the Asia-Pacific.

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. “Hyper/toxic-masculinity” in relation to a preponderance of women-led households: Tamil, Korean, Hong Kong gangster movies;
  2. Care becomes a commodity and yet the care industries thrive off the unpaid labor of migrant and illegal workers: autobiographies, long form essays, investigative reports and films;
  3. Cuteness as an affect, symptomatic of a queerness that is about being “sensitive to things” or obsessed with “feels”: the different subgenres of Manga, and writings of Banana Yoshimoto;
  4. Workplace exploitation and accounts of sexual vulnerability in workplaces: social media posts.


 Primary Texts:

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

Ringo Lam (1987, Hong Kong). City on Fire (105 mins)

Jia Zhangke (2018, Chinese). Ash is the Purest White (150 mins)

Velraj (2014, Tamil). Velaiyilla Pattadhari a.k.a VIP (Unemployed Graduate)

(129 mins)

Berkun Oya and Ali Farkhonde (2020, Turkish). Ethos. Netflix

Ruben Östlund (2022). Triangle of Sadness

Baby Haldar (2002). A Life Less Ordinary

Jacques Audiard (2015). Dheepan (115 minutes)

Banana Yoshimoto (1988). Kitchen

Xun Xun (2019 ongoing). Anaerobic Love: Deep Sea Prisoner (online)

Shinta Harekawa (2019 ongoing). Last Omegaverse (online)

Achitapong Weerasethakul (2010), Tropical Malady (124 min)

Eleanor Goodman ed. (2016). Iron Moon: An Anthology of Chinese Worker Poetry (pdf)

Student Learning Outcomes:

You will gain a better understanding of theories of gender and social reproduction;

You will be able to identify and describe key concepts in gender, psychoanalysis, and labor theory as it relates to contemporary capitalism;

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;

You will gain experience delivering concise, informed, focused, and thought-provoking oral presentations to peers in the field;

You will gain familiarity with language and theory related to visual culture and films.


One Oral presentation (20 points)

Mini critical essays (400 words) on any four films, attending to the filmic form and medium, using proper film terminology.  (20 points)

One 1000-word report on what sexual desire or fantasy means in today’s increasingly exploitative service industries dominated by affective labor, based on social media posts (20 points); this will be workshopped (10 points)

Argument-Based Research Essay (4000 words) (30 points)