In this exciting new book Angela McRobbie charts the'euphoric' moment of the new creative economy, as itrose to prominence in the UK during the Blair years, and considersit from the perspective of contemporary experience of economicausterity and uncertainty about work and employment.
McRobbie makes some bold arguments about the staging of creativeeconomy as a mode of 'labour reform'; she proposes thatthe dispositif of creativity is a fine-tuned instrument foracclimatising the expanded, youthful urban middle classes to afuture of work without the raft of entitlements and security whichprevious generations had struggled to win through the post-warperiod of social democratic government.
Adopting a cultural studies perspective, McRobbie re-considersresistance as 'line of flight' and shows what is atstake in the new politics of culture and creativity. She incisivelyanalyses 'project working' as the embodiment of thefuture of work and poses the question as to how people who cometogether on this basis can envisage developing stronger and moreprotective organisations and associations. Scattered throughout thebook are excerpts from interviews with artists, stylists, fashiondesigners, policy-makers, and social entrepreneurs.
Angela McRobbie is Professor of Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Introduction: From The Social Network to The 'FlexibleFrau', Visions of Creative Economy
Chapter One: Unpacking the Politics of Creative Labour: The Rise ofthe Urban Hipster Economy
Chapter Two: The Artist as Human Capital: Looking Back at London,New Labour and the 'Modernisation of Culture'.
Chapter Three: Club to Company
Chapter Four: Gender and Work in the New Creative Economy
Chapter Five: The Time and Space of Creative Labour: A response tothe writing of Richard Sennett
Chapter Six: Fashion Matters Berlin: Start Ups Scenes and FemaleSocial Enterprise
Chapter Seven: Conclusion; Concepts for Project Working in aEuropean Frame
Introduction: Pedagogical Encounters and Creative Economy
For more than a decade now I am generally, on Wednesday afternoons through the Spring term, sitting in my office from midday onwards, seeing the Master's students to discuss their research dissertations. What I have seen unfolding in front of my eyes during these supervisions is a microcosm of the new creative labour market, taking into account also the impact of the Euro-crisis and the global financial recession since 2008. The lives and times of these young people reflect many of the themes in this book. In my university department and across the institution we offer a whole assortment of one-year Master's courses. These include Media and Communications, Brand Development, Transnational Media, Culture Industries, Cultural and Creative Entrepreneurship, Gender, Media and Culture and so on. Students have to pay fees and there are only a handful of bursaries, but this does not mean our constituency is from the international wealthy classes; but rather they are the children of the middle classes from various countries across the world. The parents are, as far as I can surmise, teachers, civil servants, small publishers, doctors, sometimes themselves from the arts and creative worlds. The students come from Brazil and from Portugal, from Bulgaria and Lithuania, from Russia, Germany, Italy and Spain, from Greece and Turkey, from Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia, from Poland and from the Middle East. They also come from China, Korea and from southeast Asia. To enter the courses they must reach a high level of competence in English to ensure they are able to write four 6,000-word essays and a 12,000-word dissertation in line with the Bologna regulations for Master's courses across EU countries. We also have a sprinkling of UK students and some from other countries, including those above, but who have been resident in the UK for many years and have already completed a BA in a UK university.
Typically the students are in their twenties - often their mid to late twenties. They are very dedicated, exceptionally hard working. Many have done a few years work at least following their first degree. From southeast Asia, Japan and Korea it is more common that they have actually held down a job as a journalist or brand manager or fashion stylist and, having saved up enough money, and with some help from their parents, are taking a year off to improve and update their academic skills. This entire cohort has a good deal of work experience behind them, which can range from events management in Athens, to working behind the counter in a fashion chain like Zara in Madrid, to having an internship on a women's magazine, to working in a gallery in Istanbul. Of the thirty or so whom I usually get to know well, there are usually two or three planning an academic career and hoping for success in gaining a place to study for a PhD and funding to go with it. So, with this as a backdrop, part and parcel of my own working life, what are the sociological themes that can be extrapolated from these actual pedagogic encounters?
The students are disproportionately female and child-free. They are part of a global demographic of young women determined to live a 'life of one's own' as Ulrich Beck in his treatises on individualization processes, put it. What is not on their minds at all is the question of motherhood and the idea of grappling with a career and children. And given the adverse circumstances of the labour market for well-qualified young women like these, they are stretching out the training period even longer than might have been the case in the past, for the reason that nowadays training can itself be considered a job of sorts. It is anticipative of gainful employment or risk-laden self-employment. There is both the need constantly to enhance their CVs in order to have any chance in the job market, as well as the long-term need to find a decently paid job. Many will consider the idea of self-employment or of setting up some sort of small creative business as a realistic option, not because young people like this are natural-born entrepreneurs, but because, when weighing up their options, this emerges as a hope for a more productive and perhaps exciting future (Neff 2012). There is a time-space stretch mechanism in place that in effect disallows consideration of motherhood as anything other than a very future prospect for the reason that mobility is also a defining feature of the career pathway. These young women envisage moving city and country even if the job contract is only for a year or two. This also militates against the idea of having children, since maternity means having a more fixed abode, usually in proximity to extended family for help with childcare. On the one hand, being able to travel and fund themselves for a Master's course in London is of course a privileged position to occupy; on the other hand, there is also pressure to make good use of the expenditure and the students feel obligated to pay back to parents what has been borrowed; for this reason work takes precedence, and relationships occupy the second place in the agenda of 'life planning'. Work becomes akin to a romantic relationship. Feminism is relevant insofar as it analyses the gender inequities in the precarious career pathways into which these young women find themselves locked. But the immediate socio-economic environment militates against an ethos of solidarity and collectivity. Across several chapters of this book I ruminate on these issues, reflecting on the creative economy options for those who have children and need to stay put in a city like Berlin (the same could apply to other European cities), which is child-friendly, but with such a weak labour market that highly qualified mothers, now in their forties, have the hard choice of looking for a job, perhaps in London and commuting, or remaining in situ and opting for some form of creative entrepreneurship. On the one hand there is a sheer determination to make something of a working life and to come up with a viable business plan; on the other hand such conditions as these also precipitate a sense of acute crisis of identity for a generation of young women who sought gender equality through acquiring what once were the risk-proof kind of qualifications linked with degrees and post-graduate training. Unfailingly the spreadsheet mindset of the life-plan, such a recurrent feature of neoliberal everyday life, shows itself to be implausible. The feature film by the feminist director Tatjana Turanskyj titled Eine Flexible Frau (2010) reflects on this crisis condition from the viewpoint of an unemployed architect and single mother job-seeking in Berlin. The film shows vividly what is more often a hidden or deeply privatized dimension of creative labour anxiety, that is a spiral into alcoholism and despair. The woman who had, as the film's narrative suggests, been one of the rising talents of her profession, finds herself being scolded by friends for not using her unemployment time to devote herself more to her young son. One female friend, a fellow architect who has given up her job to stay home with the children, appears to have the upper hand since she has embraced the neoliberal ethos of what she calls 'team-work' with her husband who is, perhaps temporarily, now the breadwinner.1 At the same time Greta's pain is offset by a deep love of the urban space, and an anger about its rapid gentrification and the selling off of plots of land for private gated-communities. The figure of Greta re-plays debates about the female flâneuse as she adamantly inhabits the city's open-spaces such as the Tempelhof airport, or at the city limits where fields take over the landscape at Schoenefeld. Turanskyj is also re-telling the history of previous Berlin-based feminist and queer film-makers such as Ulrike Ottinger who deliberately put female pleasures of the urban gaze at the heart of her cinematic practice. Eine Flexible Frau re-iterates some of the key moments in Ottinger's Bildnis Einer Trinkerin from 1980 but in this case by 2010 'the sky is not so blue'.2
What I observe during my Wednesday supervisions is something like a euphoria of imagined success, relatively untainted by a reality of impediments and obstacles in the creative labour market. The options are seen as either full-time employment or freelance self-employment, or indeed short-term jobs that entail moving from one project to the next. This new kind of working life introduces some dilemmas for feminist social scientists who must re-think the sociology of employment to engage more fully with entrepreneurial culture and with the self-employment ethos now a necessity for survival. It is hardly a choice in countries like Greece and Italy and Spain and for this reason I make the case later in the book that the current debate about cultural and creative economy, including the critique of neoliberalism from the perspective of the précarité movements that have sprung up in recent years, needs urgently to spend time on this topic of job creation: how to develop new forms of community and cultural economy, which produce some sort of income streams and which produce livelihoods allowing people to contribute to neighbourhood and locality, including taking care of children, the elderly and the vulnerable. The question will be how to finance activities that in the past were part of the public sector. How might it be possible to make a living from working with unemployed or 'at risk' youths in the community? How can social work be re-invented, aided and supported by the rise of the...