Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Patricia Clough

Subject Categories



Affect, Labor, Tarot


Through participant observation and in-depth interviews, this dissertation weaves portraits of urban esoteric practitioners together with contemporary social theories of labor in order to explore the embodied and subjectifying project of becoming a psychic or intuitive practitioner capable of offering emotional and psychological "support" to city dwellers. By placing this project in a larger, contemporary political-economic framework, this dissertation looks to explore how spirituality is "entangled" (Bender 2010) in both social structures and cultural practices, as well as shifting configurations of work and the nature of labor. Here, we meet a network of individuals who are predominantly Tarot card readers (although they also combine practices such as Spiritualism, Paganism, Ceremonial Magical practice, Astrology, Numerology, and Reiki into their work) who have come to study and use the cards not only as a part of a personal "quest" for meaning or experiences but also as an attempt to make Tarot "work" for them. This work is personal and subjective, taking the form of self-management (Rose 1989, 2006) and investing in the self (Fehrer 2007), as well as social, entrepreneurial, and increasingly digital in nature. This dissertation explores this spiritualized entrepreneurial project by tracing the ways in which the shifting nature of work and labor in the United States has been experienced by individuals as both destabilization and opportunity, or what has been called "precarity" (Precarias a la deriva 2004; Beradi 2009; Neilson and Rossiter 2005; Mitropolous 2006; Ettinger 2007; Dowling 2007; Berlant 2007, 2011; Gill and Pratt 2008; Hardt and Negri 2009). In the wake of market demands for increased worker flexibility, as well as the increased privatization of risk, these esoteric practitioners have repurposed "New Age" practices and older American metaphysical traditions as a way of recalibrating both the self and the structure and potential of their work life. Here, links between Tarot card flips, the affectivity of symbols, the desire to articulate or speak one's "truth," and marketing logics are entangled and seen as sites for the possibility of enchantment, as well as sites that invoke both subtle and overt forms of labor.

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