Making Space for Mothering: Collaboration as Feminist Practice

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Our collaborative practice spans nearly a decade working together on data collection, writing, presentations, and publications as we’ve explored the intimate care that doulas provide to women in labor. In this essay, we use intimate labor as both a practice and a theoretical frame to think of collaboration as a feminist project that recognizes the expertise gathered from mothering and makes space for it in academia. Eileen Boris and Rhacel Salazar Parreñas (2010, 7) define intimate labor as “work that involves embodied and affective interactions in the service of social reproduction,” and suggest that it requires “bodily or emotional closeness, close observations of another and personal knowledge or information” (2). In our work on doulas, we found that this concept of intimate labor helps us articulate how doula work happens in particular social, political, and economic contexts. Intimate labor also considers how these contexts structure expectations and relationships between those involved in intimate care (Boris and Parreñas 2010). Intimate labor is often invisible or marginalized because of its historic connection to women, people of color, and private spaces. Interrogating the way intimate labor is structured and performed thus allows for insight about class, gender, race, and other power relations. At the heart of our work on mothers, mothering, and the intimate labor of doulas is an understanding of collaborative work as another form of intimate labor.