Call for Papers: ‘You Better Work’: Queer Labour, Queer Liberation’

Please see below for the Call for Papers for the upcoming conference, ‘You Better Work’: Queer Labour, Queer Liberation‘, which will run online on the 8th-9th April 2022.

Proposals are due Monday, 14 February 2022. Keynote speakers and performers TBA.


Please see our complete CfP below (and also see our website for Spanish and Italian translations):


Queer and the Classical (QATC)

You Better Work’: Queer Labour, Queer Liberation

Friday & Saturday, 8-9 April 2022

In the early 90s, RuPaul released a song that would become the unofficial soundtrack for decades of drag competition reality television. The song’s refrain — You better work, cover girl, work it girl, give us a twirl — frames labour under capitalism as a method of queer empowerment. Indeed, drudgery is not the song’s defining feeling: rather, pleasure and opulence shape its affective contours. Work, supermodel, you better work it, girl of the world. Yet labour connotes pain, as the etymology of the word itself shows, from the Latin labor, meaning hardship, pain, fatigue, illness. These disturbing connotations are inextricable from RuPaul’s own career — namely, his extraction, commodification, and exploitation of queer people on Drag Race, as well as of environmental resources as part of his private fracking enterprise. His persona exemplifies a persistent problem: how once-radical philosophies of LGBTQ+ acceptance, care, and mutual aid can all too easily risk incorporation into capitalist, queerphobic epistemologies. The concept of queer labour, therefore, can only exist today in a state of tension.

Taking this tension as a point of departure, this year’s QATC conference will explore the relationship between queer labour and queer liberation. We want to probe the future of work (or werk) in projects of queer care, scholarship, and col(labor)ative strivings against capitalism and precarity in antiquity and modernity. As queer classicists broadly construed, we write primarily in relation to higher education, where precarious forms of work fester, and in relation to the classical discipline(s), where queerphobia runs rampant. In both institutional contexts, queer and marginalized students are often expected to do the work of educating their educators for free. In humanistic disciplines especially, labour and joy are conflated by the myth of a vocational ‘labour of love’: but we know ‘work won’t love us back’ (Jaffe 2021). We accordingly ask: How have labour and hardship been constructed as something natural, necessary, and even inspirational? Whose bodies does labour exploit, and whose bodies does it forget? How do these false narratives co-exist within and emerge from global histories, both ancient and modern, of exploitation, enslavement, forced migration, and settler colonialism? How do we work toward queer practices of decolonialism, liberation, and care? What does it mean to ‘not dream of labour’? Can we be joyful not because of, but in spite of, labour?


To address these and related questions, we welcome proposals of up to 250 words for twenty-minute virtual papers, provocations, performance-lectures, and responses of any medium. They may be put forward by individuals, pairs, collectives, and/or organisations. Themes for proposals might consider, but are not limited to, the following:


  • Testimonies of embodied labour and its entanglement with race, gender, and sexuality, in both antiquity and modernity
  • Ancient sex work and the role (or neglect) of modern sex workers and sex work activism in its study
  • Symbiotic, post-capitalist metaphors for classical reception and/or queer care, such as mycelial and fungal metaphors (after Umachandran 2021 and Stovall 2021)
  • The resurgence and reception of classicizing aesthetics within queer pop culture
  • Queer archaeologies, epigraphies, and other material records of resistance
  • Alternatives to classicising narratives of ‘progress’: how do false narratives of Western progress stemming from classicism relate to those stemming from capitalism?
  • Performance as research and/or collective mode of resistance (e.g., choruses, raves)
  • The imbrication of ancient slavery and its receptions with race and sexuality
  • Expressions of time against capitalist, colonialist, and ‘straight’ time
  • Classical theories of reproductive labour, including ideas and metaphors of genealogy and heredity, with a view to family abolition (see Lewis 2019)
  • Academic precarity, ‘poor queer studies’ (Brim 2020), and queer classicists outside/adjacent to the academy


Proposals are due anytime Monday, 14 February 2022 to [email protected]. Please indicate in your submission whether you are interested in a bursary (more details about which will be made available upon acceptance to the conference).


Finally, to get in touch with organisers with any queries or concerns, please write to [email protected], or DM @queerclassical on Twitter. For more information about QATC and to access recordings from our previous conference, see our website.