EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Changing intimate exchanges and emerging forms of resistance to intensified self-commodification

Location S-243
Date and Start Time 01 August, 2014 at 09:00


Adi Moreno email
Claudia Liebelt (Bayreuth University) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel seeks to explore the recent transformations of individuals' relationship between 'self,' 'body' and 'commercial exchange' and resistances to the expansion of intensified commodification covering all aspects of our selves (e.g. bodies, body parts, sexuality, personality, emotions, affect).

Long Abstract

In neoliberal capitalism with the sharpening of economic inequalities, an all life encompassing expansion of the sphere of the economic, and a general trend of 'disenchantment' or 'cultural cooling,' intimate exchanges have increasingly come to resemble other forms of utilitarian transactions, even within private-sphere, nonmarket exchanges. It is precisely the extension of market logics to the realm of the personal and intimate that brings about an increased imaginability to the use of the body, sexuality and intimacy as a resource for economic advancement.

Commercialised intimate exchanges have experienced not only a diversification in contemporary capitalism but also a 'new respectability' as a result of which a broader range of subjects from a variety of social backgrounds now participate in commercial transactions, trading body parts or bodily substances, intimacy and sexuality. Market logics have not only made the commercial demand of personal and intimate services more acceptable, but also individuals' commodification of their bodies and intimacies. These changes stand in relation to the emergence and impact of the service economy in contemporary capitalism, and subsequent conceptual transformations of individuals' relationship between 'self,' 'body' and 'commercial exchange.'

This panel seeks to examine how attitudes towards marketability and practices of commodification have changed over the past two decades. Also welcome are explorations of changed notions of selfhood and of existing or emerging resistances against the expansion of intensified commodification covering all aspects of our selves (e.g. bodies, body parts, sexuality, personality, emotions, affect).

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Self-commodification in neoliberalism: bodies, intimacies, emotions

Authors: Susanne Hofmann (Universidade Estadual de Campinas)  email
Adi Moreno  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses neo-liberal practices of self-commodification, exploring examples of current-day bodily markets, i.e. sex trade and reproductive trade, in order to discuss how new forms of technology and governmentality can shape commodified bodies, intimacies and emotions.

Long Abstract

While humans were exchanged since the beginning of history for the purposes of sexuality and reproduction, religion, labour or scientific inquiry (Scheper-Huges 2002), our contemporary era has seen a rise and extension of the human commodity market, both into new populations and new terrains.

Neoliberal practices of self-commodification, instead of negating the existence of a subject (as was the case in the slave trade) are now based on the very existence of these valorised, thematised selves who actively 'choose' to sell body parts, access to their bodies and different kinds of emotional and intimate labour in the capitalist market, subjugating themselves into regimes of control and harm. In this context, discourses of self-authorship and freedom of choice enable the masking of harsh realities of impoverishment, gross inequalities and economies of extraction, in which bodies and bodily capabilities from the Global South serve the needs and desires of the more affluent populations in the Global North.

Global markets based on technologies of communication, transport and cryopreservation have served as crucial actors in the development of these new forms of commodification of human bodies, intimacies and emotions, enabling abstraction and anonymisation of both buyer and seller; further alienating the seller from her (or his) own personhood, and loading the object-self with fetishised meanings, aspirations, desires.

In our paper we will utilise two examples of body-trade, namely surrogacy and sex-work, in order to explore the novel and the persistent within the commerce of bodies, and in ways of resisting it.

Grooming Istanbul: on post-industrial bodies, beauty work and intimate encounters in a global city

Author: Claudia Liebelt (Bayreuth University)  email

Short Abstract

My paper explores intimate bodily encounters in Istanbul beauty salons and clinics in relation to changing forms of gender, consumption and subjectivities. On the background of the Turkish June 2013 uprisings, it also seeks to explore lines of flight from the colonisation of the gendered body.

Long Abstract

Following over two decades of neo-liberal restructuring and economic boom, Istanbul, Turkey, has been transformed into a service-oriented global city with an increasingly feminized workforce. As part of a distinct culture of consumption, an ever-growing beauty industry developed, which includes beauty clinics, aesthetic surgery, hair and nail studios. These are especially attractive for female professionals, many of whom are among the first generation of Istanbul-born and female wage earners in their families. Within a highly precarious and competitive 'pink-collar sector,' specific forms of female beauty are appreciated and women may invest in modifications of their bodies as a form of bodily capital.

Intricately linked to ideologies of feminity and modernity, beauty work in Istanbul is not only gendered, but also divided along class lines. It is produced in intimate bodily encounters that have moved from the domestic into the commercial sphere. Beauty ideals such as accurate eyebrows, depilation or 'pureness' of skin are enacted affectively, with 'girls' of lower social status typically servicing middle class women. Creating happiness, well-being and empowerment for the latter, these encounters are permeated by sensations and bodily reactions disturbing and at the same time reaffirming relations of power (Gutiérrez-Rodríguez 2010).

Based on ethnographic interviewing and fieldwork in Istanbul, my paper addresses the notion of intimacy in relation to changing forms of gender, consumption and subjectivities. Reading the Turkish June 2013 uprisings as a radical critique of urban commodification, my paper also seeks to explore Istanbul lines of flight from the colonisation of the gendered body.

Passion for work in retail

Author: Magdalena Petersson McIntyre (University of Gothenburg)  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents a study of work in retail environments in Sweden. Based on participant observations and interviews with workers in fashion, perfume, electronics and diy-stores the commodification of bodies and affect is explored as an affective identification with relations on the neoliberal work market.

Long Abstract

The paper builds on an ethnographic study of workers in retail. Participant observations in stores as well as interviews with workers in different segments of retail such as fashion, perfume, electronics and diy- building stores have been conducted. Retail is a part of the service economy that is signified of short-term employments and precarity on the one hand and on the other of a high degree of demands on skills that involve and commodify the bodies, dispositions and emotions of the individual workers. Workers had to embody particular styles and looks, they were expected to be enchanted by products, or to embody expertise related to technology and building.

The workers were generally very understanding towards such informal, and often unspoken, demands. They made sense to them as reflections of relations on the labour market which were understood as both "natural" and "taken for granted". Workers neither wanted any changes in these work relations, nor did they think that anything should be changed. Rather, to invest one's body, interests and emotions in work was described as something that has to be, as a capitalist model that cannot be changed. The only option available for workers who did not comply was, they thought, to find another job.

Building on a combination of theories of affective belonging (Berlant 2011) and of the agency of passions (Cooren 2010) the paper discusses these sense-making processes in terms of a commodification of passion as an increasing demand on the labour market.

"And then we bought the sperm": body substances, economic exchanges and intimacy in lesbian families

Author: Corinna Sabrina Guerzoni (University of Milano-Bicocca)  email

Short Abstract

Based on a fieldwork carried out in northen Italy on lesbian families (2012), this paper explores the changes brought about by the entry of reproductive technologies. I will develop a theoretical framework on the intersection among body substances, sexuality and intimacy.

Long Abstract

The contemporary logic of the market seems to have invaded also the kinship sphere. In fact the medically assisted techniques of procreation have caused profound changes on the characteristics traditionally attributed to human reproduction within the euro-american culture: gratitude, intimacy, naturalness.

The Italian law 40/2004, prohibiting any type of heterologous fertilization, makes medical techniques only available to heterosexual couples infertile. Ten years after the entrance of the rule does it make sense to use the term "reproductive tourism" to refer to those who are forced to travel outside the country to access reproductive technologies?

My paper aims not only to introduce a careful consideration on the sale of body substances necessary for reproductive purposes but also to build a discussion aimed to show how the sperm acquired by lesbian mothers is renegotiated within the intimate domestic space. If the language generally used to refer to such practices seems to have been borrowed from the economy of exchange ("sperm banks", "buying and selling of eggs and gametes"), in the daily use the actors involved in the ethnography do, it assumes contrasting meaning of gratuity. I will try to point out how the commodification of body substances has been eroded in favor of the primacy of love, emotions and intimacy. Particularly revealing in this regard will be the presentation of the emic term used to identify the donor, "Signore Gentile" (translated into "Kind Gentlemen") term that highlights the benefactor act of generosity, in contrast with the dark side of economic exchange

Pure body, polluting addiction: the complexity of intimate exchanges among people who beg on the streets of London

Author: Johannes Lenhard (Cambridge)  email

Short Abstract

Exploring the private lives of people begging on the streets of London, I trace relationships of friendship and love along lines of exchange. Even though different kinds of relationships frequently endure, addiction often turns the relational network on its unpleasant head.

Long Abstract

I ethnographically studied a community of people who beg in London. Engaging with recent writing on transactional sex and moral economy, I observed how exchange and intimate relationships are commensurable on the street. Certain forms of exchange match specific forms of relationships. While 'associates' are not much more than drug buddies lending each other money in a framework of immediate reciprocity, 'friends of trust' share housing and care. 'Love partners' even go beyond friends with their basis in romantic love, sexuality and a vision of the future.

The body plays a central role in this relational network. It acts as the most precious because only 'really' owned object of exchange in a situation of extreme poverty. The body marks the 'pure' space of voluntary and intimate sharing in contrast to otherwise dominant commodities. Bodies (as well as their extensions in precious housing) among the people I studied were often seen as the last resort of self and endowed with a notion of choice ('I prefer not to').

Pressing needs stemming from addictions and the chronic shortages of resources can turn the network on its head, however. Relationships frequently collapse into hostility and constellations of dominance. The body hence becomes a contested space and is pressed into the realm of market exchanges: people steal from a partner to pay for drugs; friends fight over begging spots; bodies are sold for money.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.