Kassandra Sparks

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

California, Berkeley, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10453

Approve Date

October 11, 2022

Project Title

Sparks, Kassandra (Berkeley, U of California) "The Fantasy Exchange: Intimacy, Multiplicity, and Ritual in Commercial BDSM"

In unmarked dungeons scattered across New York City, Professional Dominatrixes (Pro-Dommes) and their clients enact ritual scenes that dramatize the contradictions of late capitalism. In their sessions – themselves liminal, ephemeral sites of fantasy – Pro-Dommes create worlds in which clients’ otherwise unresolvable symbolic crises and providers’ own gendered and racialized fetishizations can become the foundation for reimaginations of forms of subjecthood and intimacy. Despite its long history and considerable presence in most major urban centers, the BDSM (Bondage Discipline/Dominance Submission/Sadism Masochism) subset of the sex industry has been largely ignored in scholarly discourses on sex economies. My dissertation research studies the ritual worlds, intimacies, and forms of subject that characterize the commercial BDSM industry in New York City. By examining how Dommes and clients mimetically and ritually rework the contradictions present in commercial intimacy, emotional labor, and the gendered nature of reproduction, my project asks how the commodity exchange may be a uniquely generative, if ambivalent, site of symbolization and transformation. My dissertation will focus on fetishization, ritualization, and multiplicities as the techniques for this symbolic production; and ask what these practices reveal about the possibilities of the sacred, intimacy, and multipersonhood under conditions of late capitalism.