Becoming Your Labor: Identity, Production, and the "Affects of Labor"
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“Becoming Your Labor: Identity, Production, and the’ Affects of Labor’,” analyzes the role work plays in our lives by focusing on how Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPoC) and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Queer (LGBTQ+) trades workers navigate their identity in the workplace and beyond. This project draws on autoethnographic and ethnographic research with LGBTQ+ identified trades workers over a span of six years plus select historical evidence. Bringing together feminist and queer of color critique, affect theory, and theories of work, this dissertation considers what I call the ‘affects of labor’ – the visceral and active consequences of our working environments that metabolize through our bodies and produce our identities, relationships, and communities. “Becoming Your Labor” focuses on the experiences of LGBTQ trades workers in the Pacific Northwest. While focusing on LGBTQ+ and QTBIPoC trades workers, this research emphasizes how the experiences and lessons of a precise group of workers has much to teach us about larger systems of power shape labor, identity, and community. Individual chapters address how workplace culture is created through history, affects, and bodies; how workers implement various strategies for survival; and how these strategies have consequences for workers, their families, and communities. Chapter one delves into the racist and patriarchal foundation of the trades and the culture of abuse, violence, and toxic masculinity, these foundations have fostered. Here I define the ‘affects of labor.’ In chapter 2 my co-creators speak about how they navigate the affects of their labor at work, specifically harassment, bullying, and fear, and the strategies they enact such as ‘wearing a mask,’ changing their physical appearance, and trying to hang with ‘the boys.’ Chapter three addresses what happens when the “affects of labor” that come home with us. In this chapter trades workers describe how their work has had impacts on their home lives due to depression, violence, and addiction. Chapter four pivots from a focus on the “negative” ‘affects of labor’ to their liberatory potential centering on the experiences of workers employed at Repair Revolution, an LGBTQ+ owned and operated automotive repair shop. The project makes two critical interventions: it traces an alternate genealogy for affect theory through feminist and women of color critique; and it offers the ‘affects of labor’ as a new framework to think through how affects do more than stick to, move, or push, but actually produce and reproduce bodies and identities. In an era in which discussions of workplace power and culture have entered the mainstream – from the “Me Too” movement to the popular claim that the problem of police violence rests on “a few bad apples” – this dissertation aims to offer new understandings of the consequences of work and urges us to think more critically about the dialectical process in which workers, their families, and communities are produced by labor.