A Matter of Care: Notes on Racialized and Gendered Performances of (Sometimes Digitally Mediated) Intimate Labor

Let’s begin with an exercise:

I will list a series of occupations. As you hear me name each, close your eyes and visualize someone performing it.

 A flight attendant.

A massage therapist.

A yoga instructor.

A nurse.

A house cleaner.

 In your mind, how many of them were women? Were they all white?

The commodification of feeling has complicated the boundaries between personal interactions and economic transactions for more than half a century; it started gaining force with women’s rights movements and our incorporation into the job market and has increased exponentially as economies globalize and shift their focus from goods to services. As paradigmatic as these transformations might seem, they carry over assumptions about gendered, classed, and racialized performances that perpetuate old power dynamics in new contexts. These transmutations grow all the more concerning as affective-, emotional-, care-, intimate-, and/or reproductive labor expand and become digitally mediated.

Last month I was working at a coffee shop that doubles as office space for grad students and freelancers and I spotted a flyer advertising an app that offers professional cuddling services. How does a professional cuddler look, smells, sound, feel, move?

The following is a collection of materials at the intersection of intimate labor, gender, race, and digital technologies. It is a mixtape of sorts that plays in the background as I try to make sense of my own ideas and experiences on the topic. It includes photos and videos of performances as well as texts from fields including anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies. I provide external links for pieces that are publicly available (whether in full or in part). For texts that are behind an academic paywall, I’ve found shorter open-access articles or interviews with the authors and included external links to them as alternative readings. There is only one video-performance for which, due to unavailability, I provide nothing but my own commentary and a still frame of the piece. I’ve decided to keep it as part of the list because in spite of its limited access the account of the performance (I believe) still contributes in significant ways to the whole collection.

 As you will soon realize, each of these pieces explores different dimensions of the gendered and racialized (and digitally mediated) character of emotional and intimate labor. They try to answer their questions via different methodologies and have distinct ways of presenting their arguments. In the process of assembling this collection, I have struggled to set a final structure as I see conversations and tensions emerging in multiple directions. As I write the sentence that precedes this one, the words “durational” and “endurance” (two qualifiers that characterize performances included in this list) come to my mind, maybe as a reminder that this piece is also something still in the making.

Dodging Potholes While Bombing Downhill on Crutches: Periperformative Pedagogies in Bill Shannon's Work

Paper delivered at the conference Practicing, Training, (Re)Thinking, and Questioning Emancipatory Pedagogies – Current Discussions and Debates. ESPE Paris, Sorbonne University. Paris, France.

This paper examines Bill Shannon’s multidisciplinary work through Eve Sedgwick’s theory of periperformativity to articulate and illustrate what periperformative pedagogies look like. By doing so, it aims to contribute to the discussion elicited by questions central to this conference including current developments of emancipatory and critical pedagogies, as well as their potential to dismantle oppressive systems and create a more just society.

Bill Shannon is an American multimedia artist, mainly known for his dance and public performance work. His experience growing up with a hip degenerative condition and his interest in street and hip-hop culture have led him to depart from abled-body movement and develop a repertoire of his own. In his public performances, Shannon plays with what he calls “ambiguity of disability,” combining actions from his everyday life with dance movements in improvisational sequences that are read by some as display of mastery and by others as physical struggle. He is interested in people’s reactions to his presence and movement, which become generative opportunities for him to turn power dynamics around. This paper frames Bill Shannon’s work as an instance of what queer artist and educator Eve Sedgwick called periperformative utterances; those that respond to and are always in aberrant relation to a performative utterances (Austin) that try to impose labels and power relations on those involved in the communicative act. There is an undeniable pedagogical potential to Shannon’s work, which he has explored more explicitly in his body-movement workshops that target both experienced dancers and individuals with disabilities. This article uses this case study as the starting point to argue that the reparative impulse in periperformatives and its educational potential deserve to be explored and formulated not only in but beyond Bill Shannon’s work. 

Full paper available upon request.

Moving Together: Migration, Periperformativity and Collaboration

Paper delivered at The Between: Couple Forms, Performing Together. Department of Performance Studies, NYU. 2018. Co-written and co-presented with dancer and educator Vanessa Vargas.

In 2016, latina student Tiffany Martinez’ professor wrote the following in one of her papers: “This is not your language”. She also highlighted her use of the word “hence”, suggesting she was practicing plagiarism. Martinez’ experience resonates with many migrants’. This professor’s response exemplifies what J.L. Austin denominated explicit performative utterances, those that beyond meaning something, do something. As a response, Tiffany Martinez published a post that sparked a wider conversation on discrimination in academia, with people sharing similar anecdotes or standing with her in solidarity. After J.L. Austin, Eve Sedgwick, poet, scholar, and educator, became interested in other type of utterances, those that go around the imposition of roles that comes into effect with the explicit performatives, she named these periperformative utterances. In this lecture-performance, we examine some explicit performatives that migrants are commonly subjected to and the role of alliances and collaboration in developing or strengthening periperformative responses to them. Amidst the precariousness of being deterritorialized, of being a migrant, calling ourselves “us” (“nosotras,” in Spanish), activates a new kind of presence, a specific way of being and doing: it potentiates the idea of a couple with poetic and political potentialities, belonging to each other while not-belonging together. As a women-couple in this context, we want to explore the periperformative potentiality of the duo and of collaboration as as a liminal, intimate place, a territory that potentiates creation, imagination, friendship and the commons.

Full paper available upon request.

Making Space for Others: Disability, Subjectivity, and Acknowledgement in Adrienne Asch and Fernand Deligny

Paper delivered at Breaking Through: Textures and Aesthetics of Rupture–English Student Association Graduate Conference. The Graduate Center, CUNY.

In the article “Critical Race Theory, Feminism, and Disability: Reflections on Social Justice and Personal Identity” (2001), Adrienne Asch, disability scholar and proponent of the model of disability as human variation, argues that what people perceive as disability is often the result of adverse environmental conditions that cause differences in performance by privileging certain types of bodies over others. The model of disability as human variation frames impairment as a universal condition and suggests that environmental accommodations can facilitate the integration of disabled bodies to the productive apparatus. This paper argues that Asch’s support of the model of disability as human variation follows a neoliberal logic in that it equates validation with productivity and it fails to consider alternative modes of validation for beings who experience severe forms of disability that foreclose any possibility for the “productive subject” to emerge. Following, it examines Adrienne Asch’s model of disability as human variation alongside the work of Fernand Deligny, French philosopher and psychologist who between the 1960s and 1980s led a series of experiences in communal living with profoundly or “non-functional” autistic children. His project attempted to explore modes of being outside the subject, outside language and interpretation. Although his work remains unknown to many, several post-Foucauldian theorists of subjectivity including Deleuze and Guattari, Giorgio Agamben, Erin Manning, and Brian Massumi have picked up his thoughts on other ways of being in the world. This paper yuxtaposes Deligny’s and Asch’s approaches to disability to think about validation of beings beyond functionality and to imagine what it would mean to assume the responsibility of guaranteeing environmental conditions that allow for other modes of existence to emerge and thrive.

Full article available upon request.

Approaches to Multimedia Documentation of Engaged Learning and Public Scholarship

This workshop was co-developed with Prof. Michele Kahane and co-facilitated with Prof. Mary Watson, Dean of the New School for Public Engagement, The New School.

2017 Imagining America National Gathering. UCDAVIS, California.

Workshop description

This workshop explores how people involved in social engaged teaching and public scholarship can better document their work.  This is important not only for academics whose work must be assessed within often narrow evaluation frameworks, but also for students, partners, and communities who understand the potential of documentation as a critical form of public engagement itself.  

The New School Collaboratory is a university­-wide initiative that focuses on this question of documentation of socially engaged learning and scholarship.  The initiative aims to enhance the University’s efforts to foster meaningful, efficacious, and sustainable engagements with communities and external partners, as well as making these projects visible for evaluation in an academic context. The Collaboratory has hosted a community of practice and action research to provide a context to explore ways to enhance our academic community’s efforts to achieve excellence in socially engaged learning and public scholarship. More recently, The New School Collaboratory launched a website that showcases diverse representations of socially engaged projects, pedagogies, research and resources, in order to improve knowledge, reflection, collaboration and resource-sharing across the University and community partners.

Workshop slides and resources available upon request.

More on The New School Collaboratory here.

The Question of the Subject in Times of the Quantified Self

Delivered as a paper presentation at First Forum 2016 ­- Subjected to Play: Locating the Subject in the Promise of Play. Cinema and Media Studies Graduate Student Conference. USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Revised version published in Spectator. Vol 38, No. 1, Spring 2018


Digital self-tracking is a contemporary phenomenon that started making waves around 2007 and ten years later is reaching its climax. It consists in using digital devices to monitor some aspect(s) of one’s life–from sleep, geographical movements, and exercise routines, to emotions and even sex performance–in order to understand and improve oneself. The Quantified Self(QS) is the default name journalists use to refer to these practices, even when the QS community is only a subgroup of self-trackers–one that is guided by the motto “self-knowledge through numbers”. The range of practices that today fall under the category of digital self-tracking is very wide, however, all of them usually share essential elements: they use digital technologies to do some type of monitoring of the self, most of the data is gathered through bodily indicators, and they tend to have a quantitative focus –if not in the nature of the data collected, in its aggregation and presentation. The paradox is that digital self-tracking is becoming a cultural phenomenon precisely when concepts of humanity and self are being called into question (Braidotti, Pettman, Esposito, Haraway, Stiegler). In this paper, I examine the growing popularity of digital self-tracking through the theories of three authors that problematize the concept of the subject–Michel Foucault’s, Vilém Flusser’s, and Bernard Stiegler’s. I also elaborate on how specific self-tracking practices can be analyzed as specific examples of abstract strategies to deal with the contemporary crisis of the subject proposed by these authors. Finally, I conclude by trying to resituate digital self-tracking in the context of the anthropocene, the posthuman, and the inhuman.

Full paper available upon email request.

Otras Lecciones, Otras Lecturas: Pedagogías Alternativas, Ciudadanía y Comunidad (grupo de discusión y experimentación)


Caracas, Venezuela

En medio de una crisis nacional en la que la situación política es solo uno de los muchos problemas por resolver, la escuela puede convertirse en un espacio para discutir, intercambiar y proponer ideas y acciones en conjunto. ¿Qué necesitamos aprender para enfrentar la situación actual mientras imaginamos y construimos futuros alternativos? ¿Qué tipo de experiencias pedagógicas pueden ayudarnos a adquirir/compartir/desarrollar esos conocimientos, habilidades y experiencias? ¿Cuáles son los valores, espacios y metodologías de esta(s) pedagogía(s)?

Otras lecciones, otras lecturas es un grupo de discusión y experimentación que explora los espacios de aprendizaje como plataformas para volver a reconocer(nos) y empoderar(nos) como seres humanos, como ciudadanos y como comunidad. A lo largo de un mes, nos reuniremos semanalmente para examinar, cuestionar, y proponer ideas y prácticas pedagógicas que fomenten el pensamiento crítico, la creatividad, la solidaridad y la participación ciudadana. Cada semana abordaremos nuestra práctica pedagógica desde un punto de partida distinto, tejiendo conexiones entre lecturas asignadas, iniciativas locales e internacionales, y nuestras propias experiencias como educadores y/o aprendices. Parte de nuestro trabajo en conjunto será proponer, discutir y comenzar a implementar propuestas que nos ayuden a transferir las lecciones aprendidas a nuestros propios contextos de enseñanza y aprendizaje. 

Esta experiencia de aprendizaje es colaborativa, autogestionada y gratuita. Dirigida a educadoras-es, estudiantes, activistas, padres y madres, artistas, ciudadanos-as. Se espera que todos los participantes tengan experiencia previa como educadores o estén interesados en formarse para la enseñanza y el aprendizaje formales o alternativos.

Todos los domingos de julio | 11:00am - 1:00pm | ONG (Organización Nelson Garrido)

Regístrate aquí

Itinerario tentativo

Semana 1 – 02/07: Definiendo y mapeando pedagogía(s)

Semana 2 – 09/07: Pedagogías en Necesidad/Emergencia

Semana 3 – 16/07: Quehacer Artístico y Pedagogías Alternativas

Semana 4 – 23/07: Cuerpo, Placer y Aprendizaje

Semana 5 – 30/07: Pedagogía y Cambio Social



First Prize. Vera List Writing Awards 2014 - 2015

americaforcomradesandlovers.py is a Python script, inspired by For Comrades and Lovers, Glenn Ligon’s installation at The New School University Center. When run, the program identifies all the nouns and adjectives in The Project Gutenberg EBook of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and randomly pairs them with the phrase “America is”. Below each sentence, an automated sentiment analysis module is implemented to measure the level of polarity and subjectivity of the statement, as an invitation for the viewer to compare the computer’s reaction with her or his own.

As great part of Ligon’s explorations, America for Comrades and Lovers is a text-based piece that reframes well known literary work in order to trigger specific questions and to provoke critical reflection around issues usually related to race, gender, or social (in)justice.

As Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, this exercise seeks to speak about America in a very experimental, provocative, and sometimes polarizing way. The apparently absolute character of the “America is…” statement, followed by a sentiment analysis that at times seems accurate and at times feels nonsensical, will hopefully ignite emotional reactions that will lead to meaningful discussions and reflections among the audience.

Despite of being inspired by their work, America for Comrades and Loversis faithful neither to Ligon nor to Whitman. On the contrary, it takes some licenses to generate a reflection on the essence of America today. This reflection does not aim to be a conclusive analysis of For Comrades and Lovers; it is instead an exploration of the key concepts of Whitman’s famous text and Ligon’s pursuits present in the piece, as well as an invitation to question our own ideas about America.

Download americaforcomradesandlovers.py.

How to run the program on your computer (you need to have Python previously installed):

1)   Save americaforcomradesandlovers.py and log.txt on your desktop

2)   Open americaforcomradesandlovers.py and change the directory in the last line for yours (ie: '/Users/nelesirodriguez/Desktop/log.txt')

3)   Open your computer Terminal (Type “Terminal” on the spotlight and open the application)

4)   Type on the Terminal window “cd desktop” and hit enter

5)   Type on the Terminal window “python americaforcomradesandlovers.py” and hit enter again

6)   Wait a few seconds, and the program will start running on the Terminal window


The program can be downloaded through the following link: http://continuum.io/downloads