A Sensual Economy of Emotions: Commodified connections in Buenos Aires´s international tango scene
Department of Sociology Stockholm University Sweden,
Drawing from an ethnographic study of tango tourism in Buenos Aires this paper explores global flows of emotional consumption. The industry around westerners travelling to Argentina with the specific aim of dancing tango is a recent phenomenon that allows a flourishing of myths, desires and images of exotic places. One objective of the paper is to set eyes on the reconstructions of intimate life in the context of complex intersections of socio-economic orders, gender, ethnicity and sexuality. Looking at tango tourism as a global economy, it appears as a form of "emotion labour" where certain practices and experiences are commercialized (such as the example of dance-escorts, mainly provided by argentine men to European and North-American women). However, what makes this a yet more interesting empirical case is its character of a market in a cross section. I argue that a strict material analysis is insufficient if we want to understand informal sensual economies like that of tango dancing. Money makes up a part of the world, not at least as a consequence of the harsh Argentine economy, but the main values at stake are primarily others. The formation of temporary and steady dance partners is a complicated process where people negotiate dancing skills, "chemistry", physical appearance and social status - and as a consequence of this: a palette of emotional repertoires. When adding the dimension of tourism, follows a spectrum of affect ranging from exotic fantasies and romantic dreams of blending together with the Other (sexually, mentally or dance-wise), to colonial nostalgia, sentimental longings for other worlds and feelings of shame and fears of being another "fooled foreigner". The objective of the paper is to explore such imaginaries and emotional practices as part of a sensual economy, and thereby making a larger claim that the organization of social institutions and markets are always also emotional arrangements.