Performativity and Intimacy in Paid Domestic Work: Negotiating the Reproduction of Difference in Chile

Fernandez Ossandon, Rosario. 2018. Performativity and Intimacy in Paid Domestic Work: Negotiating the Reproduction of Difference in Chile. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The purpose of this thesis is to analyse the performative role of paid domestic work within upper-class families in Santiago, Chile in the reproduction of national narratives and difference. In 2005, Staab and Maher identified the Chilean version of the ‘servant problem’. Old and new middle- and upper-class families were struggling to find good servants; those who knew their subordinate place and performed their duties with a servile attitude. Chilean nanas, a pejorative and reiterative form of naming paid domestic workers, were no longer docile young women from rural areas; now, Staab and Maher (2005) wrote, the perception of employers was that these women knew too much about their rights and were from dangerous urban areas marked by violence and uncivilised forms of living. In addition, as the deceased poet Lemebel noted, workers were starting to behave and look like upper-class women; wearing similar clothes, going to the gym, or dyeing their hair blond. This thesis explores the routinised and repetitive acts of atonement of class and racial difference within employer/worker relations in a neoliberal Chile. It is argued that upper-class families continue to be the national norm lived in modern times through the reproduction of a culture of servitude (Camus and de la O Martinez, 2014), and that today survives and recreates the neoliberal ‘white gendered Chilean dream’ through the figure of the Chilean happy family. It is precisely this continuity of a culture of servitude that paid domestic work maintains, that enables the Chilean State to portray itself as modern and gender-friendly, with upper-class women becoming modern women – seemingly achieving forms of gender equality – while patriarchal and racist arrangements continue within the home and the nation. This thesis draws upon the theoretical work of Gutiérrez (2010) on affective labour, of Butler (1999) on performativity, of Berlant (2011) on intimacy and politics, and of Stoler (2009) on intimacy and coloniality. It uses interviews with upper-class female employers and with domestic workers.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Paid domestic work, intimacy, performativity, Chile, gender

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



31 August 2018

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Date Deposited:

20 Sep 2018 11:51

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:14


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