Affective and Immaterial Labour in Latin(x) American Culture

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Modern Languages


This transnational study explores histories and representations of wet-nurses, migrant domestic workers and sex workers in Latin(x) American photography, film, literature and digital culture from the late nineteenth century to the present day. It explores the similarities and differences between these kinds of work by analysing them as forms of immaterial labour, which is work that creates immaterial products, including social relationships, emotional responses and bodily feelings -- also termed 'affects'. This project is the first to ask: what does an analysis of Latin(x) and Latin American cultural productions featuring these workers contribute to our understanding of the links between these forms of labour, and to a public appreciation of these kinds of work, which are often marginalised or denigrated. To answer this question, it responds to the following four interdisciplinary research questions:

1) Which creative techniques do artists use to explore the challenges faced by Latin American and Latinx migrant workers employed in these forms of affective and immaterial labour?
2) How does an analysis of these creative works enable us to compare and contrast between different forms of affective and immaterial labour, such as wet-nursing, sex work and domestic work?
3) How can artistic depictions of affective and immaterial labour raise awareness of exploitative employment practices and contribute to a public understanding of the economic, social and cultural value of care work?
4) How can artists, academics and activists collaborate effectively and ethically with individuals involved in forms of affective and immaterial labour?

It is the first study to trace the historical, geographical and thematic continuities (and differences) between artistic representations of archetypal forms of immaterial labour in Latin(x) American culture including wet-nursing, domestic work, migrant labour and sex work. The research comprises four strands, which analyse: (1) photographs and paintings of Afro-descendant and indigenous wet-nurses produced in Latin America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; (2) documentaries and a literary testimony that record the experiences of Latin American women working as live-in nannies and domestic workers in modern-day Europe; (3) several films, documentaries and a novel that portray the experiences of female sex workers from across Latin America from the 1940s until the present day; and (4) a film, documentary and digital artworks that explore the invisibility and immateriality experienced by Mexican and Central American migrant workers in the US.

These research questions will be answered by the following six outputs:
1. An open-access book that addresses the four research strands identified above and draws on my own analysis of the chosen primary texts, as well as on interviews with the artists who produced them.
2. A peer-reviewed journal article - authored by the PDRA - that analyses a series of photographs of Afro-descendant and indigenous wet-nurses taken between 1879 and 1913, which were found at an archive in Lima.
3. A video essay - made in collaboration with an experienced video artist - that explores and illustrates the connections between visual representations of Latin American wet-nurses, nannies and domestic workers from the late nineteenth century until the present day. This output will be submitted to a peer-reviewed open-access video essay journal.
4. A policy advisory document that serves as a blueprint for effective, ethical forms of collaboration between academics, artists and activists and paid domestic and sex workers. This will represent the key output of an online workshop that unites these stakeholders.
5. A series of public film screenings and expert Q&As on the theme of 'Labour in Latin American Film' held at Watershed cinema, Bristol (subject to Covid-19 regulations).
6. An online platform featuring blogs, photographs and the video essay.


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