Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Media Studies


Dr. Nick Dyer-Witheford


The works of Karl Marx have been central to the formation of a body of critical communication scholarship in Canada. But as Nicole S. Cohen adeptly shows, the influence of Marx’s thought has been absent, mostly, as it relates to questions involving cultural labourers. Of particular interest to her is Marx’s formulation concerning exploitation and its relationship to the field of journalism as it affects freelance writers.

This dissertation extends the notion of a “missing Marx” by incorporating other concepts from his oeuvre. His writings on alienation help to address one of two major research questions posed in this dissertation. The first being: why is it that freelance writers in Canada are willing to work for such low levels of remuneration?

Historically, a dichotomous rendering has prevailed as to whether exploitation or alienation provides a better explanatory framework for understanding the experiences of workers—in this case, freelance writers. One of the aims of this work is to bring alienation and exploitation into conversation with one another. This requires an analytical investigation of the journalistic labour process. Ideas of craft have helped shape identity and understandings of work in the journalistic field over a few centuries now. This understanding segues into the second research question: at this juncture of deepening capitalist crises, and subsequent renewed interest in craft modes of production, what relevance do these forces have in the lives of contemporary freelance writers?

This dissertation addresses both of the above research questions as well as the aforementioned phenomenon through interviews of Canadian freelance writers in the spirit of Marx’s workers’ inquiry. These 25 interviews in combination with documentary analysis of the historically changing conditions of journalism explore the pertinence of the field’s craft sensibility upon its freelance workforce under circumstances of intensifying alienation. Statements from informants reveal the craft dimensions of the labour process as both a source of domination and of resistance as well as playing a possible future role in the enactment of broader class struggles.