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‘Everyone is Creative’. Artists as Pioneers of the New Economy?
Angela McRobbie

To begin with I offer a critical commentary on the recent Green Paper (April 2001) titled Culture and Creativity The Next Ten Years (DCMS 2001a) and on the Creative Industries Mapping Document 2001 (DCMS 2001b). The attention to these papers is due to the new direction for policy drafted in the Green Paper, the informational material collated in Mapping Document and overall for government’s role in the process of ‘cultural individualisation’. This commentary also allows me to set the scene for the provisional arguments stated below. The issues engaged with are first the new phenomena of the arts and culture becoming a model for how economic growth is to be pursued and with this the patterns of freelance work and self employment associated with being an artist. Second there is an account of how the intensification of individualisation in this sector and the rolling back of the state has consequences for the very nature of arts and culture, and how the ‘talent-led’ economy leads to the emergence of new inequities. Finally I consider the prospects for ‘post-individualist’ practices in arts and culture as a requirement for democracy. Maybe this is the right moment to take note of a symptomatic inversion. In the past the arts and culture were in a sense overlooked by government and of relatively little interest to big business. They were consequently under-funded but possessing degrees of autonomy. In the post war years these realms came to be increasingly associated with social and political critique. But nowadays culture is of the utmost concern to commercial organisations and art seemingly ‘no longer questions the social’.

As the entrepreneurialisation of arts and culture becomes more normative there is also a decline and marginalisation of the sociological accounts of the world of arts and of cultural studies, both of which had hitherto flourished. Now they are even further removed from the realms of policy and legislation (despite a centre left government). In contrast the writer with the greatest impact on government who has been consistently dealing with the transition to the ‘new economy’ is Charles Leadbeater. Leadbeater is a journalist and policy advisor to New Labour and author of Living on Thin Air The New Economy a book which carried an enthusiastic blurb written by Tony Blair himself (Leadbeater 1999a). He is typically cast by sociologists as irresponsible in his enthusiasm for the successes and failures of the new entrepreneurial culture which he champions. His new right thinking is disguised by the breezy, youthful and characteristically modern tone of his writing. There is a tendency however on the part of both old left and mainstream social scientists to fail to confront the scale of the transition to more individualised cultural work, often of a freelance or self employed nature as a critical feature of UK labour markets. Instead old left critics bemoan a mantra of losses (the decline of trade unionism, the lack of interest in political culture among the young people who flood into these areas of employment, the loss of rights and regulations in employment from the period of the Thatcher government onwards) and fail to actually look at what is happening. This means they are unable to detach individualisation from capitulation to neo-liberal values. The individualised careers which are characteristic of work in this sector also are problematic to social scientists who traditionally have been interested in the ‘mass worker’ or whose workplace studies have had the advantage of fixed location, duration of employment and visible hierarchies of power and responsibility. But these fast moving and precarious careers have a great deal to tell us about the dynamics of change, they can also provide a kind of concrete grounding for what social theorists have variously described as the shift from structures to flows, or the transition to ‘reflexive modernisation’. Thus as a starting point I want to propose that individualisation as manifest in the working practices of the cultural sector must be separated from neo-liberalisation. It is only by investigating individualisation-as-lived that we can recognise the possible spaces it opens up for critique of neo-liberalisation of arts and culture.

Individualisation is a strategy of government which in the context of the culture industries breathes fresh life into what had become a redundant modernist conception of individual creativity as an inner force waiting to be unleashed. Thus sweeping aside writing and scholarship on the social and collective processes of creative production (Becker 1982, Bourdieu 1993, Wolff 1981, Negus 1992) the current Green Paper seeks instead to resurrect a traditional notion of tapping into talent. The source of such talent is of course ‘the individual’ who if provided with the right kind of support can then be best left alone to his or her own devices to explore personal creativity unhindered by bureaucracy and red tape. Interestingly in the Green Paper it is children and young people, indeed babies, who are the focus of attention (1). This indicates how the workforce of the future is to be envisaged. The paper opens with the words ‘Everyone is creative’ and quite quickly the impact of Leadbeater’s ideas can be traced across the pages. The thinking expressed in this Paper is to further extend access to the arts and culture for producers and consumers alike with particular emphasis on those who in the past considered these fields as ‘not for them’. Thus the encouragement to the socially disadvantaged to develop their own creative capacities has a double purpose, to increase the employability of future generations including those from low income backgrounds by channelling creative talent in the direction of economic activity and at the same time to effect the transition from the mass worker to the individual freelance. Referring in passing to the range of new employability schemes from the New Deal to the Sure Start programme for pre school children the report sums these policies as being about ‘excellence’, ‘access’, ‘education’ and ‘economy’. The rhetoric is libertarian as the mission of government is to ‘free the creative potential of individuals’. To achieve this goal of ‘freeing excellence’ a number of initiatives are proposed including a Cultural Pledge which will involve finding creative partners for individual children in school by bringing in creative artists performers and others to work with children, setting up Culture Online an access the arts website and also the provision of ‘books for babies’.a gift from government in the form of library cards , babybooks and invitations to free story telling sessions. Alongside these are plans for Centres of Excellence, Specialist Arts Colleges and University Innovation Centres. Apart from the acknowledged socially valuable role of the arts and culture it is the possible contribution to economic growth which underpins these proposals for the reason that the culture industries are, the paper claims, ‘expanding at a rate of 16% per annum’.

This Green Paper brings together three elements , the individual, creativity (now extended to mean ‘having ideas’) and freedom. Bureaucracy and institutions stifle the creative process, the funding councils need to be able to make awards direct to individuals rather than to organisations, and the universities and art colleges receive little credit for the long tradition of ‘excellence’ in training artists and cultural producers instead they are berated for often failing to produce the right kind of cultural workforce. No role at all is envisaged for cultural studies, instead the aim is to bring together practitioners with pupils. To sum up the Green Paper looks forward to a future generation of socially diverse creative workers who are brimming with ideas and whose skills need not only be channelled into the fields of art and culture but will also be good for business. Most importantly these will be self standing or self sufficient individuals whose efforts will not be hindered by the administrations of the state. These features mirror almost all the themes in Leadbeater’s Living on Thin Air, and indeed when we turn to the recent DCMS Mapping Document we find a phrase from the book quoted in the foreword. This is a report on the culture industries in the UK and inevitably perhaps the tone is upbeat with only a sprinkling of euphemisms every now and then indicative of difficulties faced by the sector. The various comments about the importance of the creative industries to the UK economy and in particular the potential for growth (reporting 16% growth from 1998/1999) marks a glossing over of less hopeful features. The growth referred to was almost entirely the result of the expansion in software and computer services, which was also the location for the rise of almost 135,000 jobs from 1998. However the small print reveals this figure to include ‘ employees, the self employed unpaid family workers and people on government training schemes’). Looking at the fashion sector (which is well within my own expertise) we find that 75% of companies have turnovers of less £1m. (Which according to my own study means that designers themselves are often surviving on less than £20,000 a year (McRobbie 1998)). And that the 200 or so companies in existence at any one time might well not exist in 5 years time, but despite this the headlines to the section announce that UK fashion designer sector is the fourth biggest in the world. (There is a huge disparity between revenues for fashion in Italy, France and the US and those in the UK). Experts in other sectors could likewise go through the figures and the prose and what would emerge I would argue is a conclusion that no matter how important the culture industries are for growth, this is a sector with low capital returns and while employment, in particular self employment, may be buoyant it is also a low pay sector (‘poor in work’). Finally it is also as volatile and as vulnerable to the moves of multi-national capital as many more traditional fields eg garment manufacturing. I would argue that what the culture industries in the UK comprise of are personnel, not so much the quick thinkers and ideas people celebrated by Leadbeater as the products of a long historical traditional of training in fields of expertise (in the public funded UK art schools and colleges) of which there are no equivalents elsewhere in the world. They are valuable commodities. The asset is the art school system, under-funded with crumbling over- crowded buildings which as the Rector of the RCA recently commented were more like Social Security offices in appearance. The industries themselves, from film and TV to design and publishing are more thoroughly part of the global economy. Those which are UK owned tend to be small micro-economies of culture, otherwise it’s a matter of the UK feeding the bigger companies and corporations with highly trained graduates. This then is a further source of individualisation. The career pathways are unlike other more traditional occupations, they make their own way, they are always on the move, they have to get their names known, they are their own brands, they have to look after their own self interest ,they are ‘artistic individuals’.
Having said that we are currently presented with the full accomplishment of the neo-liberalisation of the UK cultural economy, the question is what does this mean? There is another question. How can the relentless process of individualisation in the world of cultural work be kept apart from the seeming inevitability of local and global neo-liberalism and be re-directed as a force for re-vitalising the democratising process? Can it put these anti-social forces into retreat? It is in the field of the cultural and creative industries that we find the fullest expression of an ‘ideal local labour market’ from the viewpoint of a New Labour government committed to full employment, to freeing individuals from dependency on state subsidies, to creating a thriving entrepreneurial culture and to a new work ethic of self responsibility. This requires not a labour market as such, more a network of creative persons for whom jobs or projects are negotiated like actors going to audition for a ‘part’. Thus we find a curious scenario of a centre-left government whose priority it is to perform a double act of neo-liberalisation, first to minimise social welfare support for those unable to earn a living wage (so that earnings now become multi-sourced, with creatives holding down two or three jobs at once), and second to set individuals to their own devices in terms of job creation so that the large corporations are less burdened by the responsibilities of a workforce. ‘Paid employees’ and ‘welfare recipients’ and ‘labour market’ become what Beck might call ‘zombie categories’ both dead and alive, and in this case what is least wanted by key players in the new economy (Beck 2000). The answer to so many problems across a wide spectrum of the population eg mothers at home and not quite ready to go back to work full time on the part of New Labour is, ‘self employment’, set up your own business, be free to do your own thing. Live and work like an artist. And creative work is particularly appealing to youth because of the emphasis on uncovering talent, because of their proximity to the kinds of fields flagged up as already successful ie popular music, film, art, writing, acting, fashion, graphic design and so on.

This sector provides Britain with the possibility of re-invigorating a distinctive national economy in the light of global competition by drawing on an indigenous and migrant tradition of popular ( working class, and subsequently youth ) culture which emerges more forcefully in the early 1960s (2). Forty years later this warrants a rhetoric of ‘we’re good at this sort of thing, the UK record industry accounts for 16% of trade worldwide, our fashion designers are internationally well known, our ‘young British artists’ have re-invigorated the art world and our writers and columnists are providing Hollywood with some of their best scripts’ . But, with hundreds of fine art graduates leaving the many art departments up and down the country we might reasonably ask, how many creatives can the economy accommodate? Or, is it that individuals must become their own labour market? The labour market melts away, in Bauman’s phrase, it liquidifies (Bauman 2000). In a talent led economy the individual only has him or herself to blame if the next script, film, book or show is not up to scratch. Or as Giddens puts it individuals must now ‘be’ their own structures. How can we think both with and beyond individualisation to avert the timebomb of a fully freelance economy? Will network sociality (Lash) create new lasting social bonds in the light of the decline of ‘narrative sociality’? Will reflexivity extend to the social analysis and critique of new work?

The Decline of the Indies, The Question of Value

My current research points to a shift from first wave producers for whom the lines of distinction between working autonomously or independently and working in a more overtly commercial or corporate environment were clear, and who were more or less left to their own devices, relying on the dole to allow them the time to set up in art or design, to second wave de-specialised cultural entrepreneurs (or entrepreneurs of the self) for whom an even more aggressively free market cultural environment now shapes the opportunities and possibilities for how they work in the cultural sector. If the first wave is embodied in the figure of the artist/designer, the second wave gives rise to the incubator, the cultural strategist. What this means is that the distinct categories outlined by the DCMS as marks of training or professional identity or sector are now increasingly diffuse, blurred and merging in and out of each other in a more speeded up, corporatised and globalised market for cultural goods and services. Architects double up as online editors, arts administrators are employed on a freelance basis by government funded bodies on one off projects, which keep them going for 2/3 days a week, which means looking round for projects to fill the remainder of the 7 day working week. The groups of young cultural workers dubbed by Leadbeater and Oakley as the new ‘independents’ are nothing of the sort, in fact they are sub-contracted creative workers wholly dependent on bigger companies for the services they provide which are now outsourced rather than produced in house (Leadbeater and Oakley 1999b).

This work in progress shows the first wave to have lasted from 1985-1995, the time of the ‘indies’. The second wave has the effect of interrupting careers and imposing multi-skilling on creative individuals. It comprises of de-specialisation, adapting to the growth of new media and its opportunities, and it sees the birth of the ‘cultural entrepreneur’. Creative activities of this sort are self driven, but culture is also big business. Capital which in the past has allowed the indies (or non commercial) cultural sector to be looked after largely by the state now designates this terrain as a site ripe for investment and expansion alongside its extensive media and communications interests. From 1997 onwards the New Labour government has shifted to a more entrepreneurial model for the arts and culture. But even when the state tries to make it easy for capital or propitious for investment there is no mutual responsibility on the part of capital. Thus the government potentially loses political ground by undoing provisions of social security while capital speeds up and moves on, having created conditions beneficial only to itself. Let me illustrate. In fashion design the period which saw the emergence of a distinctive sector which was neither haute couture (as in France or Italy) nor corporate (as in the US) but was what I would label ‘independent’, art school trained, and connected with associated forms of cultural activity eg music, magazine production, graphic design, came into being out of a combination of unemployment (with some benefits in the form of housing subsidies and the EAS) and the ‘do it yourself’ ethos which was the product of the punk generation (so many of whom also had an art school training) (McRobbie 1998). The fashion designers in my study were specialists in their fields, and they gained their reputations by working in the first instance as independents, setting up as small scale entrepreneurs or as semi-self employed (in the informal economy ). They were able to do this with access to cheap spaces in the form of urban street markets or tiny outlets in busy city locations. However by the late 1990s the big brands from Europe and the US including both the high street chains like Gap and Diesal and the designer labels like DKNY or Prada moved determinedly into the fashion market, pricing the indies out of the retail property market, employing a handful on very short contracts, employing their associates in the fields of styling, graphic design, image making to re brand their own images to fit with the diverse worlds of young consumers and the whole field of UK independent fashion design virtually disappears to be replaced by a series of internationally branded products. Fashion designers (of whom there are 4000 graduating each year) are then forced from first to second wave. They must diversify/dilute their skills, set up in other related activities, work for dot.com companies, downgrade their expectations about seeing their ‘own work’ in shop windows, relinquish the time for creative thinking and research, move into the mainstream of the high street chains as ‘freelance fashion consultant’ if lucky and perhaps return to teach for a couple of days a week. The fashion and style trends magazine iD reports uncritically on this phenomenon (3). ‘Fashion multi-taskers: suddenly they’re everywhere . But its not easy to do two, three or more things at once: there’s never enough time, it doesn’t earn them any more money than having one job and they cant always count on being respected for what they do’. And its addictive. Once you’ve tried doing four jobs you’ll never want anything less’. …Its no longer necessary to be a full time anything to be successful and respected …One fashion multi-tasker says she is also trying out being a DJ ‘It could be a budding new career. It doesn’t feel like extra work’ (Rushton 2001) An additional profile comments on Joanne Koller ‘Koller’s multiple roles give her a seven day week . ‘Its like a drug’. (The underlying and never upfront question here is how much do these busy people earn and what are the conditions that propel them to take on so much work?)

The shift to the second wave sees the dilution of talent, the dispersal of cohorts of designers working alongside each other sharing premises like the Hyper Hyper Units (now also disappeared) which I reported on in my study and thus totally disaggregating and de-socialising what we might even call a collectivity or movement, to a rootless collection of individuals unrepresented, unorganised, and highly mobile. The first wave thus comprised of an innovation milieu or hub ..small shops, retail outlets, market stall spaces, magazines and their workforce as culture intermediaries, art schools and colleges as reference points for advice, support and student interns, clubs, pubs and the street for venues and networking. The second wave is less site specific, more mobile, more located in non –places (Auge 1995), with a faster turnover of ‘jobs’. , and consequently less accessible to policy makers and researchers. London as a fashion design centre in effect no longer exists, the moment of there being hundreds of small companies is over. Instead there are corporate fashion companies and individuals moving from one project to the next and being dropped at short notice when buying in young designers fails to restore profits as in Marks and Spencer.

The second wave cultural practitioners also come to fruition in the UK through the ‘young British artists’. Here we can see the results of investments of corporate capital in sponsorship and promotion, in the arts and business unashamedly working alongside each other so that for example property dealers willingly offer two derelict schools due for refurbishment as lofts and penthouses to over 130 artists from Goldsmiths and the RCA as free spaces for a major exhibition of student work (Assembly November 2000). They do this for the publicity the show will bring to the locations, and for the cultural capital of being a company with a demonstrable track record in the arts, plus then the sky high prices they can ask for the properties. The second wavers who no longer can live and work cheaply as artists used to do now must find venture capitalists to help them out, they must re invent themselves as ‘incubators’ or else they are artists and curators and DJs and events organisers and entrepreneurs. The business of art takes off through the new media, eg companies like ‘art to go’ and ‘eyestorm’. There is a proliferation of categories of art work drawing on the language of business, for example visual support consultant, and there is a flurry of business cards being exchanged in the members only clubs which now provide a businesslike environment for those on the guest list. The commercialisation of art finds reflection in cultural policy, the new Film Council will only support projects aimed at a popular market, and artists themselves are celebrated for their strenuous self promotional efforts, Tracey Emin for example is described as ‘not really an artist, but important as a phenomenon’ (BBC Late Review Friday 27th April).

The business ethos as it pervades the cultural world imposes its own brand of ‘fast capitalism’. Art and culture have traditionally been spaces for thinking and reflection. But if as Aggers argues the time and space of the new economy ‘undermines the power of the book’ (quoted in Lash and Urry 1994) then the time of reading, arguing and intellectual activity becomes compressed. (Tracey Emin says in interview that she went through a period of reading a lot but then nothing at all, now preferring to watch soap opera). The culture which is produced is increasingly populist, easy, thin or ‘flattened out’ (Lash). If as Bauman suggests capitalism now ‘travels light’, then what is produced is as I and others have suggested, ‘art lite’(McRobbie 1999). Artists increasingly create works which are merely extensions of what is all around them in popular culture, in the tabloids and talk shows. In cultural worlds we find an endless flow of what Beck describes as ‘biographical solutions to systemic contradictions’(Beck 1997). Emin is a prime example of this, having elevated her own biography to the subject matter of her art. Its certainly not the first time its been done in art, but in this case the work is reduced of complexity, it refuses to think or reflect beyond the confines of a cliched vocabulary of personal experience, pop song lyrics and female pain. Thus at the very moment that the government sees fit to free up the creativity within us all, especially young people, the UK cultural economy is being rapidly transformed into an arena of good ideas (and also bad ideas), of gimmicks, of essayistic formulations and of formulaic literal art (for example Tracey Emin’s recent Helter Skelter piece).

There are problems in introducing questions of value into a discussion like this. The sheer scale of cultural production, the vast numbers of art works being created and exhibited at any one time, the proliferation of visual images, the novels, films, TV programmes, the way in which the flow of television comes to stand as a norm for the flow of culture, and the mode of its consumption creates a crisis in judgement. So often looking at an art work demands little more than the distracted glance of the TV audience. There is also the danger of reading off too easily a judgement about art and culture from an analysis of its political economy. To avoid this we might consider Spivak’s suggestion that culture is ‘comparable to Foucault’s use of ‘power’. It is a name which lends itself to a complex strategic situation in a particular society’ (Spivak 1999 p 353). Thus so far I have attempted to outline the arrangement of forces which embody a strategy of re-defining the terrain for cultural practice. The extension of training and skills to disadvantaged groups is merely one part of an attempt to create a new kind of cultural or artistic subject, highly individualised but also more likely to draw on a business vocabulary to plan and execute a successful career. This is quite at odds with the conventional image of the artist who has turned his or her back on money and materialism in favour of alternative values. In the past the idea of an artist with a business plan in which he or she believed would be ridiculous, now it is unremarkable. But the point I also want to make here is that there is a danger again that sociologists or cultural studies academics merely note this transition and equate it unanimously with the ‘full accomplishment’ of a neo liberal order in the field of arts. What we really need to know is how this business model works out in practice? To what extent is it a fully effective (or merely half baked) entrepreneurialism? How exactly are artistic careers conducted as small businesses?

The Inequities of the Informal, The Cruelties of Cool

Mass youth culture also creates the model for new careers in culture. The club is the hub, in Castell’s terms the ‘innovation milieu’ (Castells 1996). Or in the German case ‘Love Parade als arbeitsamt’. The energy and investment of time in these cultural forms of job creation mark a rupture with older notions of ‘work’, ‘job’ ‘career’. Early in the 1990s this gave me reason to argue that youth cultures marked a strong investment in the social, they were deeply engaged, they were spaces of critique. But now less than ten years later so heavily capitalised are they and so disconnected are the under 30s from political debate that this social investment which was at the heart of youth culture goes into suspended animation. Too uncool. There is meantime a kind of taken for granted anti-racism, a ‘gay is also cool’ assumption. Combine this with a love of money and love of consumer culture and we have another flattening out process, youth culture capitalism emerges. You can make it if you really want. About those outside the loop, no questions are asked. Over the hill in age terms? Too unconfident to manage the presentation of self? There are only privatised and therapeutic solutions as Giddens has pointed out (Giddens 1991). Too miserable to party? Only OK once established and then able to behave badly. In London this is the ‘Shoreditch effect’ where artists effect a working class style while retaining the services of public school educated agents who are from the deeply conservative middle classes and who have great connections for both publicity and sales (the Notting Hill effect’). This then is a New Labour classless dream, a hi energy band of young people driving the cultural economy ahead but in a totally privatised and non subsidy oriented direction. Using their knowledge of culture to expand into related areas, employing their friends and others in an informal capacity, and then by the late 1990s moving into the dot com world and showing themselves to be willing risk takers who will put in very long hours, entertain all kinds of venture capitalists to drive this new sector forward. In London the Cultural Entrepreneur Club marks the convergence of art, business, new media, new jobs and the presence of the venture capitalists. Exclusive, by invite only, but organised in a club setting with DJs, free vodka all night thanks to Smirnoff and hosted by C4, accountants Cap Gemini, ICA Goldsmiths and the Arts Council, and overseen by Leadbeater himself (McRobbie 2001).

This field of activity poses real difficulties for sociological research. The speed and the flows deter those researchers working with traditional methodologies. Without the fixed locations of workplace it appears to comprise of freefloating individuals brought together according only to the requirements of this or that short term project. The sociology of individualisation finds itself challenged by the reality of non-groups, non labour markets, non- institutions as well as non places. Let me therefore first propose that new social inequities emerge within this informal youth cultural economy. As a series of studies carried out in Glasgow have shown these fields of work and other associated areas including the new bar and restaurant business are also fields of ‘aesthetic labour’, employing according to the right look, the right body shape, even the right accent (Warhurst et al 2000). Age constraints are in operation. Hidden variable of class and cultural capital also have an effect the young single mother for example is less likely to be able to invest in her own appearance than her well educated and childless counterpart, who once again will have three or four jobs going at once. (A new divide opens up between young women, the childfree and the young mothers?) Project work picked up on the grapevine appears to be exactly ‘good luck’ (4). Or the disappearing-structures are replaced by a ‘scene’ where the buzz of ‘talent’ and the blurring of the interface between work and leisure conceal the material obstacles which limit the mobility and the self discovery of ‘talent’ on the grounds of poor location, poor education, poor access to the social capital of the network, and lack of access to funds to fall back on between jobs or while working for nothing in the hope of it being turned into a paid job. Needless to say these are risks which older people cannot afford to take. There is an unthinkable indignity of older people ‘working for nothing’ in the hope of it turning into a real job. What my current research on this sector shows are a) totally de-regulated often inter-secting spheres of activities and services which are cultural but which have no accountability structures, where problems at work are not systemic but merely time to move on, where an incredibly amount of time must be invested in social contacts and networking because to be out of the loop could mean being out of a job, b) the recognised need for new points of support, the time and space of the public sector often providing a 2 day a week haven where there are employment laws in operation even for temporary or part time workers c) incredible investment in self and image, endless self monitoring, the ethos of success creating a mentality of as Bauman puts it ‘must try harder and harder’ d) self reliance but falling back on parental support without that many wouldn’t be able to carry on these experimental careers e) motivated by the ‘chaos of reward ‘ (Young 1999), by the hope of making it as the next Stella McCartney, the next Alexander McQueen ie the star and celebrity system. These dreams merge with the new meritocracy of the Blair government which with the power of the visual media further bury the social democratic vocabularies of workplace protection, job security, sickness pay and so on.

There are two ways of seeing this inequitous situation. On the one hand we could argue that young people are being designated agents of the neo-liberal order, expected to see it through into fruition, relying only on their own talents, lonely, mobile, over- worked individuals for whom socialising and leisure are only more opportunities to do a deal. The Green Paper produces the categories of talent and creativity as disciplinary regimes, whose subjects are taught and told (apparently from birth onwards through primary, secondary and tertiary education,) to inspect themselves, look deep inside themselves for capacities which will then serve them well in the future. If culture is thought of as a ‘complex strategic situation’ then the brilliant additional move in this new discursive formation is that it simultaneously appears to do away with older forms of reliance on labour markets, on the dull compulsion of labour, on routine, mindless activities. There is now scope for ‘pleasure in work’ and as Donzelot argued appealing to the authentic self, has the incredible advantage of turning the individual into a willing work-horse, self flagellating when the inspiration doesn’t flow out onto the page. The Green Paper celebrates the importance of creativity and its encouragement in schools, nurseries, at home, and in other cultural institutions. Children and young people will have to do more than routine tasks, they will now be expected to be creative. Even if they don’t go on the earn a living in the cultural sector thinking creatively is now at the heart of the new knowledge economy. But most important is the disconnect feature, the aim is to be individually successful. But success here means self reliant, self employed and successfully independent of state, welfare and subsidy. This is a way of transforming the future world of work. As older categories of social division seem to fade (class and gender) generational divisions become more marked and in turn give rise to their own ripple of internal differenciation processes. Thus there is a social rupture as the political order conforms with economic global rationalities to tax the young with being its new subjects, they are being charged with bearing the brunt of unforeseen circumstances. Thus they are being done to in an inegalitarian way. We might call this the ‘domination’ model.

The alternative scenario is to recognise the utopian dynamics in the novel ways of working which as I have described happened first in the indies and then in the underground of dance and club culture and then latterly have been taken up by government whose strenuous attempts thanks to Leadbeater’s enthusiasm for the ‘cultural entrepreneurs’ have resulted in policy. By utopian I refer to socially transformative action which carries within it and on a seemingly individualistic basis some desire for a better way of living, a better kind of work. This for example was definitely the case with the young women fashion designers and there may indeed be a gender element in the determination to make work ‘work for you’. After all is work is now for life, it is hardly surprising that attempts are made to make it pleasant and enjoyable. (Both my own and Ursells study of TV producers describe the ‘passion for work’) (Ursell 2000). Such unpatterned and disorganised working lives could produce a diversity of outcomes. New inequities of age might well produce age related identity politics as pressure groups form out of modes of self reflexivity which in turn produces social bonding in what Beck and Giddens call sub politics or life politics but which I prefer to designate as pressure groups politics reliant on sophisticated knowing (or reflexive) use of media to push towards legislation, accountability, change. Given the proliferation of life politics, protest and environmental politics it is perhaps surprising that ‘new work’ politics has been so slow to emerge. There is a good deal more action and mobilisation at the consumption end (the anti Gap campaign for example) than at the production end for the reason that the artists and cultural workers at present do not sufficiently analyse their own working conditions. This might change and form the basis of new and as yet unimaginable campaigns and action groups. .

Post-Individualist Cultural and Artistic Practice

The sociologists (Marxist and non Marxist alike) have got well established arguments to deal with this sector. They are a Metropolitan elite, highly educated and with sufficient cultural capital to take risks and test the ground of the new cultural economy with enough resources material or symbolic to fall back on if things go wrong. They are also able to be individualistic by virtue of their assets and are thus ‘in waiting’ to have rewards come their way and meanwhile are presiding over and in effect complicit with an economy characterised by ever increasing divides between wealth and poverty. They are well placed as agents of the new anti-egalitarian meritocracy. Alternately they are part of a new middle class strata currently being proletarianised. Granted they may be more diverse than in the past, certainly there are women and people from ethnic minorities but this degree of enforced entrepreneurialism with the traditional middle class search for status in work permits extraordinary degrees of self exploitation in what is a de-regulated unprotected sector. Granted, by virtue of being well educated this strata of young people will bring to bear progressive elements in regard to identity politics into their cultural practice. But hyper-individualisation, the decline of the politics of the workplace (where there is no workplace) and the access to ‘private solutions’ means that only the try harder and harder mentality will prevail.

Against this I would propose the need to apply some of the insights of recent work on re-thinking the political to new cultural work. This is needed for the very reason that without more forward thinking on these issues the bold and imaginative ideas of Leadbeater in the UK feed directly into government and policy without facing any serious argument. The left and feminists seem unable to invent a new vocabulary for engaging with individualisation other than that neo-liberalism is winning every battle. We need to be alert to the possibilities for critique and change from strange and interstitial spaces, as part of a chain of connection from one nodal point to another, from one city space to another, from the flows of movement of labour. Its not enough however to gesture to the existence of for example the flattening of hierarchies in the new media economy (Lash 2000) the existence of network sociality (also Lash 2000) or the wilful optimism which suggests that meritocracy and talent in the context of non bureaucratic workplaces make them ‘open minded spaces’. At the same time the self flagellating model of Bauman (‘must try harder and harder’) can only interpret pleasurable immersion in ‘the project’ as ultimately self delusion.

This leaves us with ‘reflexivity’ as a tool for forward thinking, however those sociologists who have most developed this concept have done so without a full theory of media, art, culture or communication. Recently Scott Lash extends Beck’s account of reflexive individualisation to argue that choice is predicated on the requirement on the part of the denuded individual without the taken for granted support of visible structures (the dole office or job centre) to investigate and find the rules of the new social (dis) order for him or herself. (‘This chaos becomes totally normal’ (Lash 2001). If the institutions (or non institutions) of the new culture are ‘almost unrecognisable’ then it follows that whatever political sociality which will appear will take a different shape. If indeed even the notion of the new social movement now seems incapable to tracking the flows of ‘labour power’ (see Hardt and Negri 2000) and harnessing its potential into something more stable and concrete then perhaps we are thinking about post-individual political formations. If once again there are across the whole social terrain many instances of ‘trans-national life politics’ or what Beck calls ‘sub politics’ and what I prefer to label global pressure politics or simply campaigns then might it not be possible to look forward to alliances emerging of ‘new labour’ (what an irony!). on a fluid, international basis, connecting somehow the self exploiter at home sweating over her sewing machine in the hope of becoming the next Stella McCartney and the Gap seamstress in the South East Asia, who is now the object of attention from the anti-capitalist protest movement.

A key element in the chain of equivalence by which means alliances and partnerships in this field of youthful cultural economic activity might be formed is through the interventionist role of intellectuals of perhaps an ‘older generation’. We have to confront the embeddedness of business studies and enterprise culture in a population who have not grown up as subjects of ‘welfare regime’, ‘public mindedness’ and public sector employment. If the categories no longer exist then neither do the subjects (this is the logic of Foucault). Thus as Hardt and Negri propose we are witnessing, with the rise of the informational economy and its associated categories, a ‘a new mode of becoming human’. Beck argues that reflexive modernisation gives rise to both self critique and social critique. The self monitoring subjects of the second modernity /late modernity / late capitalism must have access to information and analysis in order to be reflexive. Where are such resources to be found? Are they wholly reliant on the findings of the neo-liberal think tanks? Or are their pathways to the information and communicative technologies not also littered with ‘cultural studies’, sociology, commentary and critique by Naomi Klein, the work of Richard Sennett, the websites of Tony Giddens and so on? Thus access to an earlier critical tradition is within the orbit of the hyper individualists. But it is of course contingent, difficult to perceive patterns or the appearance of regular variables. We need more ethnographies of such critical reflexivities. We need to be able to describe the diversity of cultural entrepreneurial practice to assess the social mix of those working in this capacity. If Leadbeater harnesses talent and creativity for the purposes of simple growth and wealth creation, cannot the sociologists more forcefully rehearse the various critiques of these categories which have been central to the discipline, from Bourdieu and the sociology of art to most of those working in educational sociology and pedagogics. It should also be possible to re-vitalise creativity in education for critical pedagogy nor should it be forgotten that the most influential of Marxist thinkers from Adorno himself to most recently Jameson have argued for the redemptionist, utopian and pedagogic functions of art. Gilroy has his own version of the same argument. The individual might be or perceive him or herself to be alone or ‘singular’ but reflexivity requires engagement with texts, images, musics, communicative networks and books and writing. Yes, for a ‘creative’ in a big ad agency this means ‘ransacking’ film noir for the right look, but does it necessarily stop at that? Is the freelance subject of this media world only to be understood in this capacity or are there other points of identification within his/her own differenciated subjectivity, ie s/he is also black or Asian, also connected to a strand of ‘life politics’ through some biographical feature eg health, family, children, neighbourhood etc. Bauman describes such phenomena as ‘non additive’ ie they do not add up to anything properly political. I disagree. These can be seen as ‘productive singularities’ (Hardt and Negri) which come into being despite the attempts by power to ‘block community and co-operation’.

This is not to posit art and culture as essentially critical, or human beings as essentially co-operative. Rather that as Hardt and Negri once again put it ‘exhausting powerlessness’ forces us to overlook the ‘productivity of being’. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari they argue that the current co-mingling of politics, economics and social (and I would add the cultural) produces unprecedented energy and desire which are generative (as human labour is ) and that ‘enriched’ with the new informational and knowledge structures, pathways or highways they are able to confront the forces of ‘corruption’. This is in fact an argument about how individualisation can give way to ‘new productive singularities’. These in turn would challenge neo-liberalism by showing it to be productive only of truncated, flat or emptied out narratives of being. By drawing on Foucault’s concept of bio-power by which means regulation and discipline is inculcated through individual bodies so that the individual must inspect himself or self monitor, and self regulate, and combining this with Deleuze and Guattari’s desiring machines as flows of power the working body becomes a point of intersection with other working bodies and if desire is productive of attachments and identifications why not also desire or ‘energy’ in work? Thus work (and here creative work) becomes a site for re-socialisation, since it is better done with or for ‘others’.


1)18/6/01 Gordon brown Chancellor of the Exchequer makes a speech stressing the importance of building a more successful entrepreneurial culture with children and school pupils being more actively encouraged to consider the future in terms of self employment (precise ref to come).

2) The convergence of working class youth in the UK art schools from the late 1950s onwards, the increasing visibility of ‘race’ following the riots of 1958 in London’s Notting Hill and indeed the emergence of Cultural Studies are strands variously addressed by Frith and Horne 1987, and Ang 1996.

3) This article appeared following a public lecture I gave at the V and A in London Nov 2000 on ‘Prada-Isation, Decline of Fashion Design and the Rise of the Multi-tasker’. Since the audience was mostly fashion professionsla including journalists I cannot help but see Rushton as a reply.

4) Good luck jobs. Good looking young guy sitting in bar in Soho, has dropped out of Goldsmiths College and is working as a DJ but not earning more than a pittance. Girl chats him up, asks him if he is interested in sound production for films, next day he drops by the studio, gets a job, six months later he is fully skilled, highly trained working in the film industry based in London but travelling regularly to LA. Many other examples will appear in forthcoming volume McRobbie 2002.


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10/2003 - Labor k3000