Beyond the Model Worker: Surveying a Creative Precariat

Greig de Peuter (2014) “Beyond the Model Worker: Surveying a Creative Precariat”, Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research 6, 263-284.

The figure of the self-reliant, risk-bearing, non-unionized, self-exploiting, always-on, flexibly employed worker in the creative industries has been positioned as a role model of contemporary capitalism. Although the notion of the model worker is a compelling critical diagnostic of the self-management of precarity in post-Fordist times, I argue that it provides an insufficient perspective on labour and the so-called creative economy to the extent that it occludes the capacity to contest among the workforces it represents. Informed by a larger research project, this article thematizes salient features of select collective responses to precarity that are emerging from workers in nonstandard employment in the arts, the media, and cultural industries. The discussion is structured in three main parts: the first, aggregation, identifies initiatives in which employment status – rather than a specific profession or sector – is the basis of assembly and advocacy; the second, compensation, highlights unpaid work as a growing point of contention across sectors; and the third, occupation, describes cases in which precarious cultural workers are voicing their grievances and engaging in direct action in the context of wider social movements. These dimensions of the contemporary response to precarization in the creative industries are at risk of being overlooked if the research optic on workers’ strategies is focused upon a single sector or a particular profession. In conclusion, I emphasize that the organizations, campaigns, and proposals that are surveyed in this article are marked by tensions between and among accommodative adaption, incremental improvements, and radical reformism vis-à-vis precarity.

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