Carnal Framings: Race, Class and Crisis in a Multi-Ethnic Labor Group

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 9:20 AM
Room: 411
Oral Presentation
Sébastien CHAUVIN , Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
This paper uses in-depth ethnography to investigate the internal emotional effects of frame shift within a multi-ethnic labor-rights organization in the United States. The brief historical window opened by the 2006 national movement of coordinated mass street protests for immigration reform generated a sudden change in the discursive opportunity structure facing the group in this study, a Chicago-based worker center organizing agency day laborers. Whereas the group had previously made the “day labor worker” its central mobilizing figure, it was now enrolling day laborers of multiple backgrounds into the pressing fight for migrant rights. The shift was exacerbated by a political trip to Washington where the group almost exploded along ethno-racial lines. As the giant migrant marches had generated huge hopes among many activists and organizers concerned with reinvigorating progressive movements, a new immigrant-centered discourse threatened to dispossess black members of their implicit but traditional centrality within inner city organizations for which immigration had not previously been a theme of choice. That frame shift rather than job competition, ethnoracial animosity or organizational diversity, primarily accounted for the suddenly exacerbated cleavages within the group. Based on extensive participant observation both in day-labor agencies and in the worker center, this study illustrates the discursive conditions under which emotions can travel from the sphere of employment to that of protest. It emphasizes the multi-scalar layers of material, symbolic, linguistic, emotional and bodily contexts that give frames and frame shifts their political potency and intimate significance for the actors involved. It calls for further recognition of the carnality and multiple embeddedness of collective action frames, which matter to social movements not only for their external performance, but also for their internal cohesion.