Event Title

The Specificity of Creative Labour: Problems of Cultural Studies and Political Economy in the Recent Turn to Cultural Work

Start Date

18-10-2009 9:30 AM

End Date

18-10-2009 11:30 AM

Description

This paper was presented at Paper Session 4 – Labour Processes and Subjectivities.

A dominant theme of recent critical analysis of digital media, user-generated content and cultural industries is that they involve unpaid work (‘free labour’) on the part of participants. This theme has been developed alongside other critical studies of labour in the cultural and IT industries, which focuses more on professional and semi-professional work. Critiques of free labour have provided some stimulating and necessary interventions against complacent celebrations of cultural-industry work, and of the relations between production and consumption in the digital era, but some significant conceptual issues concerning capitalism, exploitation, power and freedom remain underexplored. In addition, these critiques potentially serve (unintentionally) to marginalise the political importance of the conditions of professional cultural labour. After locating the critiques of free labour in the context of autonomist Marxist thought, the article a) argues that the frequent pairing of the term ‘free labour’ with the concept of exploitation is unconvincing and rather incoherent, at least as so far developed by the most-cited analysts; b) explores what political demands might and might not coherently be derived from critical accounts of free labour (and argues that the internship system is by far the most significant example of free labour in the contemporary cultural industries; c) assesses a previous critical attempt to address questions of unpaid labour, involving the concept of the ‘audience commodity’, and judges that it takes a much more pessimistic view of populations than that of free labour, but shares a lack of engagement with lived experience and political pragmatics; d) argues for the continuing political importance of the conditions of professional cultural production, against the implicit marginalisation of that importance in some versions of the free labour debates, and summarises conclusions from some recent research on the subject.

 
Oct 18th, 9:30 AM Oct 18th, 11:30 AM

The Specificity of Creative Labour: Problems of Cultural Studies and Political Economy in the Recent Turn to Cultural Work

This paper was presented at Paper Session 4 – Labour Processes and Subjectivities.

A dominant theme of recent critical analysis of digital media, user-generated content and cultural industries is that they involve unpaid work (‘free labour’) on the part of participants. This theme has been developed alongside other critical studies of labour in the cultural and IT industries, which focuses more on professional and semi-professional work. Critiques of free labour have provided some stimulating and necessary interventions against complacent celebrations of cultural-industry work, and of the relations between production and consumption in the digital era, but some significant conceptual issues concerning capitalism, exploitation, power and freedom remain underexplored. In addition, these critiques potentially serve (unintentionally) to marginalise the political importance of the conditions of professional cultural labour. After locating the critiques of free labour in the context of autonomist Marxist thought, the article a) argues that the frequent pairing of the term ‘free labour’ with the concept of exploitation is unconvincing and rather incoherent, at least as so far developed by the most-cited analysts; b) explores what political demands might and might not coherently be derived from critical accounts of free labour (and argues that the internship system is by far the most significant example of free labour in the contemporary cultural industries; c) assesses a previous critical attempt to address questions of unpaid labour, involving the concept of the ‘audience commodity’, and judges that it takes a much more pessimistic view of populations than that of free labour, but shares a lack of engagement with lived experience and political pragmatics; d) argues for the continuing political importance of the conditions of professional cultural production, against the implicit marginalisation of that importance in some versions of the free labour debates, and summarises conclusions from some recent research on the subject.