labour, migration, creative industries

By Brett Neilson

While debates on migration often focus on culture and identity, there is a need to supplement these perspectives with an attention to changing labour regimes and the political meaning of controls on labour mobility. Research on the creative industries brings these fields of investigation into contact. The processes of production in this sector undoubtedly involve the deployment of cultural intelligence in the service of profit making activities. They also signal a number of important transitions in the organisation of work: the growth of cognitive or immaterial labour regimes, the growing reliance on service labour, the increasing insecurity of employment, job creation through unpaid work, friendships, social networking, etc. A focus on labour conditions cuts through much of the hype that surrounds creative industries discourse by turning attention to one of its most crucial conditions of possibility.

In the case of China, the cost of labour is often cited as a key contributing factor to a thriving cultural entrepreneurialism. As regards migratory movements, there are two important developments. First, the renewal of urban districts as creative clusters has led to the displacement of populations and threatened their established cultures. Second, the workforce has become more cosmopolitan with an influx of young people from Europe and North America seeking economic opportunity, adventure or just the chance to build and partake in a hip scene. What are the connections between these two forms of migration and what do they tell us about the political and economic constitution of the creative industries?

Furthermore, what do the labour transformations within this sector tell us about the constitution of subjectivity within a generally depoliticised environment? If the productive power of subjectivity in the creative industries is reduced to the power to produce wealth, what are the terms of this reduction? Asking these questions provides an opportunity to further one of the most important tasks of contemporary political thought: the need to reassess and redefine the concept of exploitation under current global conditions.