Paid to Care

Domestic Workers in Contemporary Latin American Culture

The project explores paid domestic workers’ (self-)representation in contemporary film, testimonial literature and digital and visual culture from across Latin America.

It argues that domestic workers — who are often rural-urban migrants — have become key cultural figures that condense concerns surrounding intersectional experiences of race-, gender- and class-based discrimination. It also investigates the ways in which the legacy of transatlantic slavery weighs on modern day domestic labour relations in Latin America.

All of the texts analysed in the project are the product of very personal experiences: they are either inspired by artists’ experiences of growing up alongside their families’ ‘maids’ or ‘nannies’, or they are based explicitly on domestic workers’ literary, visual or digital testimonies.

This project culminates in a monograph divided into two parts that encompass testimonio, film, documentary and digital and visual culture. The first part addresses domestic and cleaning workers’ activism and literary and digital testimonies. It demonstrates that (paid) domestic labour is a key, but under-interrogated, theme in Latin American women’s testimonios. By drawing on the insights into the specificities of (‘live-in’ and ‘live-out’) domestic work that can be found in these testimonies, the first part of the monograph delineates a theoretical framework for its analysis of domestic workers’ public interventions and cultural portrayals. It explores the marginalisation, abjectification, and even bestialisation of ‘women’s work’. The second part of the book is dedicated to the depiction of domestic workers in contemporary Latin American cinema. It reflects on the ethical conundrums that directors face when attempting to make visible figures who have historically been marginalised. It argues that film’s propensity for the production of affect makes it a particularly privileged medium through which to evoke the complex, emotional ties that frequently bind domestic workers and their employer-families. All of these films constitute middle- and upper-class ‘mea culpas’ to differing extents, although the documentaries discussed in Chapter Four constitute more painful and profound interrogations of personal privilege than the fiction films because of their self-reflexivity: they interrogate and problematise the ‘anthropological’ gaze that characterises visual representations of the ‘Other’.


Dr Rachel Randall, School of Modern Languages


Leverhulme Trust, via a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship (ECF-2016-400), held from September 2016 until August 2019

This project is associated with the MMB Challenge on Bordering, control, struggle