MyCreativity, Fifth Session (Creative Labour and Precarious Creativity) Part Two

By: Heleen
On: November 19, 2006
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photo of davidCreative labour as the basis for a critique of creative industries policy- David Hesmondhalgh

At this presentation Hesmondhalgh would to like think about how an analysis of creative labour might contribute to critique. Therefore he suggests three critical approaches to creative labour:

1. NICL: This term was created by Toby Miller, who adapted the concept of this theory from the Marxian idea of New International Division of labour (NIDL). This theory of Toby Miller can be found in his book Global Hollywood 2 . In this book Miller explains various ways in which the NICL principle gets translated into the public domain, such as the use of cheaper sites overseas for animation; the harmonizing of copyright law and practice.

But most importantly: shooting Hollywood films overseas. The US government is failing to come up with solutions, which leads to the loss of income of US cultural workers. These cultural workers fear the loss of local US culture, and the massive control of corporations over their destinies. Miller’s book shows how policies that try to boost national creative industries can affect workers in other countries. Hesmondhalgh believes this raises important questions about equality and social justice with regard to culture. He also believes that the NICL works as a rhetorical device that is intended to draw attention to exploitation and injustice, and it may not be a theoretical concept that addresses complex dynamics and contradictions.

Hesmondhalgh believes that NICL is heavy on emperical detail, but light on theory.

2. Autonomist Marxism: Hesmondhalgh bases this section on the books Multitude and Empire from Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Empire deals with theories about the changes in labour, including reflections on the concept of immaterial labour. Immaterial work directs at the production of culture, knowledge and communication. And this concepts of immaterial work offer promising theories for this debate of precarious creativity.Left intellectuals are interested in the work of Hardt and Negri, because it combines optimistic Marxism with a poststructuralist concern with questions of subjectivity and affect. However Hesmondhalgh believes that the article of Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter that involves the concepts of precarity and precariousness. In this article Neilson and Rossiter explain the meaning of the term of precaroty:

The term refers to many different forms of ‘flexible exploitation’, including illegal, seasonal, and temporary employment; homeworking, subcontracting and freelancing; so-called self-employment.

Neilson and Rossiter mention that there are two sides to precarity: on the one hand insecure conditions and an absent of goverment policy and on the other hand the complexity of actual networks of cultural production. Therefore theories on precarity should focus on insecurity and casualisation, but also on aspects of networks that evade top-down policy initiatives.

Hesmondhalgh believes autonomist Marxism’s notion of precarity is heavy on theory, but light on sociological engagement.

3. A sociology of creative labour: In this section Hesmondhalgh focuses on the book Making Capital from Culture from Bill Ryan. This book is also influenced by Karl Marx, because Ryan based his theory on historial understanding of the relations between artistic creativity and capital. He (Ryan) believes that:

Art must always appear as unique, and so artistic workers … cannot be made to appear in the labour process as generalised, undiferentiated artists.

And for capitalists, artists represent an investment that consistently threatens to undermine profitability, Hesmondhalgh adds. Therefore capitalists rationalise cultural production, both at the creative stage as well as the circulation stage.

Hesmondhalgh believes that Ryan’s theory of methods for rationalisation provides a helpful way to explain recurring strategies of capitalists in the cultural sector. Furthermore Ryan give a extensive examination of these strategies across various industries. However, Hesmondhalgh sees some limitations in the theories of Ryan.

Hesmondhalgh’s concluding comments:

  1. Focus empirically on the discourses, actions and biographies of creative workers
  2. Fully recognise the specificity of artistic creative labour as opposed to other forms of creative labour, as well as what such labour shares with other work
  3. Incorporate historical analysis, not only a discursive history along post-structuralist lines
  4. Recognise the complex pleasures of work and the dangers of self-exploitation associated with such pleasures, even for those not so exposed to precarity
  5. Uncover the distinctive forms of the above in each of the various industries that get labelled ‘creative’
  6. Ultimately serve to critique the fate of artistic-cultural expression under contemporary neoliberalism, but in a way that recognised its complex and contradictory nature
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