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



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.


Service Pleasure Capitalism Feminism Nicaragua 


  1. Agurto, S., Guido, A., Alaniz, E., Acevedo, I., Sandino, A. & Michell, N. (s.f.). Mujeres Nicaragüenses, Cimiento Económico Familiar. Estadísticas e investigaciones de FIDEG 1998–2006. Managua: FIDEG.Google Scholar
  2. Antillón, C. (2009). Approaches to sexuality in a multilateral fund in Nicaragua. Development, 52(1), 64–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Armas, H. (2006). Exploring linkages between sexuality and rights to tackle poverty. IDS Bulletin, 37(5), 21–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Armas, H. (2007). Whose sexuality counts? Poverty, participation and sexual rights. IDS working paper 294. Sussex: Institute of Development Studies.Google Scholar
  5. Aydemir, M. (2011). Dutch homonationalism and intersectionality. Paper presented at the ARC-GS Lecture. University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam (15 April).Google Scholar
  6. Babb, F. (1996a). After the revolution: neoliberal policy and gender in Nicaragua. Latin American Perspectives, 23(1), 27–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Babb, F. (1996b). Negociando Espacios Domésticos y Sociales: Género y Poder en la Nicaragua Posterior a 1990. Nueva Antropología, XV(049), 117–131.Google Scholar
  8. Babb, F. (2001). Nicaraguan narratives of development, nationhood and the body. The Journal of Latin American Anthropology, 6(1), 84–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Barker, D. K., & Kuiper, E. (2003). Introduction. Sketching the contours of a feminist philosophy of economics. In D. K. Barker & E. Kuiper (Eds.), Towards a feminist philosophy of economics (pp. 1–18). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Benería, L. (1995). Toward a greater integration of gender in economics. World Development, 23(11), 1839–1850.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Benería, L. (1996). The legacy of structural adjustment in Latin America. In L. Benería & M. J. Dudley (Eds.), Economic restructuring in the Americas (pp. 3–30). Ithaca: Latin American Studies Program, Cornell University.Google Scholar
  12. Benería, L., & Feldman, S. (Eds.). (1992). Unequal burden: economic crises, persistent poverty, and women’s work. Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  13. Blandón, M. T., Murguialday, C., & Vásquez, N. (2011). Los Cuerpos del Feminismo Nicaragüense. Managua: Programa Feminista La Corriente.Google Scholar
  14. Charusheela, S. (2003). Empowering work? Bargaining models reconsidered. In D. K. Barker & E. Kuiper (Eds.), Towards a feminist philosophy of economics (pp. 287–303). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Connell, R. W. (1995). Democracies of pleasure: thoughts on the goals of radical sexual politics. In L. J. Nicholson & S. Seidman (Eds.), Social postmodernism: beyond identity politics (pp. 384–397). Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cornwall, A., & Jolly, S. (2009). Sexuality and the development industry. Development, 52(1), 5–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cornwall, A., Corrêa, S., & Jolly, S. (2008). Development with a body: sexuality, human rights & development. In A. Cornwall, S. Corrêa, & S. Jolly (Eds.), Development with a body: sexuality, human rights & development (pp. 1–21). London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  18. Corrêa, S. (2010a). Sexuality, gender and empowerment. Development, 53(2), 183–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Correa, S. (2010b). Comment in Susie Jolly ‘Sexual Pleasure Empowers Women’, Contestations Online Magazine. Pathways of women’s empowerment research programme consortium,
  20. Cupples, J. (1999). Families and feminism: engendering public discourse in Nicaragua. Hemisphere, 9(1), 22–25.Google Scholar
  21. Cupples, J. (2005). Love and money in an age of neoliberalism: gender, work, and single motherhood in postrevolutionary Nicaragua. Environment and Planning, 37, 305–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. D’Emilio, J. (1997). Capitalism and gay identity. In R. Lancaster & M. di Leonardo (Eds.), The gender/sexuality reader: culture, history, political economy. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. de Sousa Santos, B., Arriscado Nunes, J., & Meneses, M. P. (2007). Introduction: opening up the canon of knowledge and recognition of difference. In B. S. Santos (Ed.), Another knowledge is possible (pp. x–xxxix). London: Verso.Google Scholar
  24. Elson, D. (Ed.). (1991). Male bias in the development process. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  25. England, P. (1993). The separative self: androcentric bias in neoclassical assumptions. In M. A. Ferber & J. A. Nelson (Eds.), Beyond economic man (pp. 37–53). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  26. Ertürk, K., & Cagatay, N. (1995). Macroeconomic consequences of cyclical and secular changes in feminization: an experiment at gendered macromodeling. World Development, 23(11), 1969–1977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Espinosa, I. (2004). Perfil de género de la economía nicaragüense en el nuevo contexto de la apertura comercial. Managua: UNIFEM.Google Scholar
  28. Ferber, M. A., & Nelson, J. A. (1993). Introduction: The social construction of economics and the social construction of gender. In M. A. Ferber & J. A. Nelson (Eds.), Beyond economic man (pp. 1–22). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Folbre, N. (2003). Holding hands at midnight. The paradox of caring labour. In D. K. Barker & E. Kuiper (Eds.), Towards a feminist philosophy of economics (pp. 213–230). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Folbre, N., & Hartmann, H. (1988). The rethoric of self-interest: Ideology of gender in economic theory. In A. Klamer, D. N. McCloskey, & R. Solow (Eds.), The consequences of economic rethoric (pp. 184–206). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Foucault, M. (1978). The history of sexuality: volume I: an introduction. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  32. Gibson-Graham, J. K. (2006). The end of capitalism (as we knew it): a feminist critique of political economy. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  33. Goldsmith, M. (2007). Disputando Fronteras: La Movilización de las Trabajadoras del Hogar en América Latina. Amérique Latine: Histoire & Mémoire (14). Accessed July 1st, 2012,
  34. Grosfoguel, R. (2008). Decolonizing political economy and postcolonial studies: transmodernity, border thinking, and global community. In R. Grosfoguel, J. D. Saldivar, & N. Maldonado (Eds.), Unsettling postcoloniality: coloniality, transmodernity and border thinking. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Grupo Venancia (n.d.). Quiénes Somos. Accessed June 10, 2012
  36. Hennessy, R. (2000). Profit and pleasure. Sexual identities in late capitalism. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Heumann, S. (2010). Sexual politics and regime transition: Understanding the struggle around gender and sexuality in post-revolutionary Nicaragua. Amsterdam: Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam (AISSR-UvA).Google Scholar
  38. Hochschild, A. R. (2003). Love and gold. In B. Ehrenreich & A. R. Hochschild (Eds.), Global woman. Nannies, maids and sex workers in the new economy (pp. 15–30). New York: Metropolitan Books.Google Scholar
  39. Hondagneu-Sotelo, P. (2001). Doméstica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadows of Affluence. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  40. Isbester, K. (1998). The economic implications of the Nicaraguan state’s ideology about women, 1990–5. Contemporary Politics, 4(4), 375–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Jiménez Tostón, G. (2001). Servicio Doméstico y Desigualdad. CIMAC. Accessed June 20, 2012
  42. Jolly, S. (2010a). Pleasure and empowerment: connections and disconnections. Development, 53(2), 227–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Jolly, S. (2010b). Poverty and sexuality: what are the connections? Stockholm: Sida.Google Scholar
  44. Jonásdóttir, A. (1991). Love Power and Political Interests: Towards a Theory of Patriarchy in Contemporary Western Societies. Örebro: University of Örebro.Google Scholar
  45. Kampwirth, K. (1996). The mother of the Nicaraguans: Dona Violeta and the UNO’s gender agenda. Latin American Perspectives, 23(1), 67–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kampwirth, K. (1998). Feminism, antifeminism, and electoral politics in postwar Nicaragua and El Salvador. Political Science Quarterly, 113(2), 259–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Katz, J. (1990). The invention of heterosexuality. Socialist Review, 20(1), 8–34.Google Scholar
  48. Lagarde, M. (1990). Los Cautiverios de las Mujeres: Madresposas, Monjas, Putas, Presas y Locas. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.Google Scholar
  49. Lagarde, M. (2003). La Sexualidad. Accessed July 20, 2010.
  50. MacPherson, C. B. (1962). The political theory of possessive individualism: Hobbes to Locke. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Mahmood, S. (2001). Feminist theory, embodiment, and the docile agent: some reflections on the Egyptian Islamic revival. Cultural Anthropology, 16(2), 202–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Mattingly, D. (2001). The home and world: domestic service and international networks of caring labour. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 91(2), 370–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Metoyer, C. (2001). Hurricane Mitch, Alemán, and other disasters for women in Nicaragua. International Studies Perspectives, 2, 401–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Mignolo, W. (2000). Local histories/global designs: essays on the coloniality of power, subaltern knowledges and border thinking. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Moser, C. (1993). Gender planning and development: theory, practice and training. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Movimiento Feminista de Nicaragua (2009). Programa Feminista Centroamericano La Corriente. Accessed June 10, 2012
  57. Nelson, D. (1995). Feminism, objectivity and economics. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Pereira, C. (2003). Where angels fear to tread? Some thoughts on Patricia McFadden’s ‘sexual pleasure as feminist choice’. Feminist Africa, 2, 61–65.Google Scholar
  59. Portocarrero, A.V. (2010). Lived sexualities: understanding sexuality and power relations from the life experiences of young women in Nicaragua. The Hague: Institute of Social Studies. Accessed July 10, 2012
  60. Pyle, J. L. (2006). Globalisation and the increase in transnational care-work. The flip side. Globalisations, 3(3), 297–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Reddy, V. (2005). Subversive pleasures, spaces of agency: some reflections on lesbian and gay service-delivery work in eThekwini. Feminist Africa, 5.Google Scholar
  62. Renzi, M. R., & Agurto, S. (1997). La esperanza tiene nombre de mujer. La economía nicaragüense desde una perspectiva de género. Managua: FIDEG.Google Scholar
  63. Rubin, G. (1984). Thinking sex: notes for a radical theory of the politics of sex. In C. Vance (Ed.), Pleasure and danger: exploring female sexuality (pp. 267–319). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Interdisciplinary Programme on Gender StudiesUniversidad Centroamericana UCAManaguaNicaragua

Personalised recommendations