Date: 12 Nov 2013

Service Is Not Servitude: Links Between Capitalism and Feminist Liberal Conceptions of Pleasure—Case Studies from Nicaragua

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Abstract

This paper describes how the way in which women learn to serve others (children, the elderly, partners) influences their possibilities of accessing material and symbolic resources, which have been instrumental for the deployment of neoliberal capitalism in Nicaragua. Through the exploration of the work of two feminist organisations, La Corriente and Grupo Venancia, and of the interviews with the women they work with, I trace the direct and more subtle links between sex and neoliberal capitalism, identifiable in the discourse on sexual pleasure that these organisations use when working with women. Building on the work of scholars coming from disciplines as varied as political economy, sociology, feminist economics, gender and sexuality and postcolonial studies, I argue that while this discourse on sexual pleasure does challenge certain elements of the neoliberal capitalist system and brings positive changes to women, it also contains several risks due to its modern and individualistic imperatives, which can actually reinforce capitalist relations and inequalities. These include the risk of validating and universalising certain sexual knowledge, the risk of diminishing and depoliticising the value of service, and that of building the freedom of some women at the expense of others. The paper advocates for a review of the discourse on pleasure and the reclaiming of the concept of ‘service’ as a political stance against neoliberal capitalism.