The DLAC Network has recently undergone an expansion. This post is part of a series of posts in which new DLAC members introduce themselves and their research interests in digital culture. First up is Rachel Randall (currently Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in Portuguese and Spanish, Oxford; taking up Lecturership in Hispanic Media and Digital Cultures at Bristol in 2018).
My interest in digital culture in Latin America was sparked while undertaking preliminary research for my current project, which examines cultural representations of domestic workers in the region, with a focus on Brazil and Chile. It became clear that debates surrounding changes to ‘traditional’ domestic labour relationships, which have fuelled class tensions, are being performed online, on a variety of different platforms. In Brazil and Chile, these changes are a product of a combination of factors, including the relatively recent introduction of improved legal protections for domestic workers. In addition, the expansion of the middle class in Brazil under the Worker’s Party governments led some to abandon domestic work (a trend that has been reversed since the country’s entry into recession).
In Brazil, photographs and memes related to maids have circulated widely online, illustrating the way in which domestic workers have been converted into figures of socio-cultural contention. One particularly polemical photograph of the vice-president of a Rio de Janeiro football club and his wife taken in March 2016 on an anti-government demonstration provoked a virtual uproar when it was shared on social media. It shows the couple’s ‘Sunday maid’ following them on the protest as she pushes their children in a stroller, and was held up as evidence of the privileged socio-economic provenance of many of those who called for the end of the Worker’s Party government at that time. According to the newspaper Correio Braziliense, the image, which was shared on their Facebook page, received over 12,600 likes and was visualised more than 788,000 times in a series of two posts. The poem ‘Caia Fora, Presidenta Desgraçada’ [Go Away, Disgraceful President] by Herton Gustavo Gratto – shared on Facebook and performed by Fernanda Brandão in a YouTube video – even intimates a possible link between former president Dilma Rousseff’s support for domestic workers’ rights and her subsequent impeachment.
On the one hand, these digital outbursts made me consider the need to expand the focus of my research beyond film and literature made about domestic workers. A Facebook page entitled ‘Eu Empregada Doméstica’, established by Joyce Fernandes (also known as ‘Preta Rara’), has enabled maids (and occasionally their friends, families and employers) to share their testimonies online. It represents a valuable, digital resource for reflecting on domestic workers’ experiences and depictions.
On the other hand, this increase in scope has also made me begin to think about the ‘difference’ the digital can make to more ‘traditional’ cultural productions. Experimental documentaries and shorts on the topic of domestic work, such as Gabriel Mascaro’s Doméstica/Housemaids (2012), which may struggle for conventional distribution, have benefitted from sites such as Vimeo and YouTube, which enable them both to be commented on by audiences, and viewed more widely.
In sum, I am interested in exploring the ways in which notions of labour and subalternity can be explored via digital platforms, testimonies and cultural production from Latin America. I am very pleased to join the DLAC network, which will certainly enrich these elements of my research!
— Rachel Randall