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Precarias a la Deriva, “Four Hypotheses on the sex-attention-care continuum”

November 3, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

“Four Hypotheses on the sex-attention-care continuum”

Precarias a la Deriva

Translation by Nate Hawthorne


1. Affect knows a historically determined social stratification, which materializes in the chain sex-attention-care. This stratification:

a) counterposes sex and care

b) disincarnates affective communication and converts it into attention (communication based on uninvolved empathetic listening)

c) capitalizes fractions, isolated functions, of each one of these elements, opening new modalities of the sexual contract (buying and selling of spouses, rented mothers, children for order, proliferation and virtualization of sexual services…);

d) continuing to assign the tasks linked to this chain to women, but introducing new stratifications among them, linked, above all, to race/ethnicity and country of origin.

2. We call this chain the sex-attention-care continuum, on one hand, in order to emphasize  the elements of continuity that exist under this stratification and, thus, to challenge the stratification and to open possibilities of alliance and of transversal conflict. On the other hand, because we detect three processes (the sexualization of work, the crisis of care, and the capitalization of attention) that are blurring the neat distinctions making the fixed traditional positions of women more mobile and creating new positions.

An example: through the instauration in almost all countries of the western world of laws that penalized sexual services for money, those services remained restricted to determined places, spaces, and subjects. The whore was opposed in sharply to other good women; during Franco-ism, if a woman was ‘lost’ (or of a strange sexuality or a single mother or one of those that like to fuck) then she was called a whore and thus a clear barrier was established that
excluded her from other options (most obviously, the functions of the wife and the dignified mother). Even though at first she did not have this profession, she could wind up having it. She left from the matrimonial market and ended up either in some institution (prison for lost youth…) or on the street, “doing the street”. Now, in contrast, sexual service has a more uncertain place and those who behave badly are not immediately headed for the other side of the gate, to another profession, to a specific mode of life. Sex as a mercantile exchange impregnates other spaces and the subjects that exercise it can enter and leave with greater ease, they can even include women student-whores or phone sex operators and things like that…

The word continuum speaks of the breakdown of the borders in sex, care, and attention: internal borders in the “world of the sex industry” (porno-sex, street-sex, phone-sex); external borders (sex in relation to other supposed worlds: sex-fashion, sex-marriage, sex-domestic work, sex-care services). And in this breakdown of borders is where sex joins with attention and care: whores care, telephone operators masturbate, students attend, caregivers are girlfriends…

What do the three processes that we allude to and what continuities are there among them?

The sexualization of work: alludes to the expansion of sex as commodity exchange the strict bounds of the sex industry, and at the same time its expansion and diversification. Sex appears in play in the world of fashion and the spectacle, in job interviews, in the sexualized performance that is demanded of all women (and increasingly also of men) (in an expanding service sector), etc.

At the same time, sex, inserted itself into the chain pleasure-consumer, produces a specific value that adds to the value of the commodity/service to which it is associated. Thus, sex becomes a force of production. And bodies discipline themselves increasingly in function of this permanent demand for sexual performance. A demand that comes to saturation of a fixed and exclusively heteronormative plain (heteronormativity as a political regime) and that at the same time generates hetero, hypervisible and hypersexualized bodies, organized in unifamilar models of cohabitation. This assures its social intelligibilty and control, at the same time that it excludes or neutralizes other forms of organization of care, intimacy, and space. Which connects the sexualization of work with the following process:

The crisis of care: due to the feminist flight from the tasks of mother and spouse, to the increase of demand for feminine workers (because capital has learned to exploit the “feminine difference” for its profit), to the laboral deregulation and the dismantling of the welfare state, the informal networks of women, which in “private” had assured the sustainability of life supported by familial unities and in the welfare state, in the countries where that  has existed), they are destructuring, without the creation of a new organization to assure the care of persons, opening an authentic crisis, that experiences a conservative closing through three processes:

a) Replacement of the welfare state and its universal rights with the EMERGENCE OF A THIRD SECTOR whose principal task is the containment of risk(y) subjects;

b) Contracting of immigrant women workers, for the most part from the south of the world, to cover the tasks of care, on occasions in situations of semislavery, introducing into the bosom of the home the international division of labor and its tensions (affective flows in the south-north direction and creation of so-called global chains of affect);

c) Lack of time, resources, recognition, and desire to take charge of the labor of nonremunerated care (which notwithstanding continues to fall onto the shoulders of women), which ends up  translating into a powerful uncertainty for periods or illness or old  age;

d) Capitalization of attention delinked from affective bonds. With this the crisis of care connects to the third process to which we made reference:

The capitalization of attention: three heterogeneous phenomena come together in order to create an emergent market for the sale of “listening” and “empathy”:

a) The sensation of uncertainty that produces the crisis of care (which  feeds such things as confessional radio programs, sessions with psychics and psychologists…);

b) The centrality that the relationship with the client acquires in the process of production, in order to facilitate the adjustment of production that takes demand as its point of departure (for example, the market of telephone services which provide attention to the client or consulting services and causes the proliferation of figures such as the cool-hunter or the commercial…);

c) The need to trim public expenses, “filtering” the demand for assistance (which translates into the creation of things like emergency phonelines, phonelines for abused women, etc…).

Attention, exchanged for money in a temporal pattern of measure, isolates itself from incarnated communication – which produces an enduring relationship, trust and cooperation – and becomes an empty and uninvolved exchange of codes (words and gestures).

3.  In the context of uncertainty and deterritorialization imposed by the precarization of existence, a securitarian logic triumphs as a mode of taking charge of bodies, based on fear, individualiation, and containment. The two principal agents of this logic are private security services and NGOs. Care appears here as a mode of taking charge of bodies opposed to the securitarian logic and based on cooperation, interdependence, the gift, and social ecology.

Seeking a definition of care, which would take into account the form in which it is given today, but also its possible virtualities, we are given to the following formula:

task + attention + X + everydayness = care

Where we define the X in principle as affect, but affect not understood as that which you want or love, but rather as an ethical element and a criterion for social ecology. We speak of a virtuosity that happens in the juncture between attention and task and that produces care, empathy, intersubjectivity. This affective component has an indispensible creative character and constitute the part of the labor (nonremunerated as much as remunerated) that can not be codified. What escapes from the code situates us in what is not even said, opens a terrain of the thinkable and livable, is that  which creates relationships.

4. One of the fundamental biopolitical challenges today consists in inventing a critique of the present organization of sex, attention, and care, and a practice that, taking these – as elements inside a continuum – as point of departure, recombining these elements in order to produce new more liberatory  and cooperative forms of affect, that place care in the center but without separating it from sex nor from communication.

Categories: affect/care
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