Glasgow artist Penny Anderson’s first exhibition in Manchester, in association with the Social Action and Research Foundation, presents work that interrogates the modern fact that we do not remain in a rented home for a life-time, with many tenants having to move house every six months.

‘Let Me Stay’ uses the traditional craft of embroidered labels attached to read-mades such as doll’s furniture and crockery, samplers which are all placed within this installation to explore precarity and insecurity – to contribute to a much needed debate on the condition of houses not being homes for many people in society.

The exhibition will be held at Manchester Creative Studio, 16 Blossom St, Manchester, M4 5AW between Saturday 26th March to Tuesday March 29th.

Opening private view 6-8pm Friday March 25th.

For more information, email

With thanks for the generous support of Creative Scotland’s Open Fund.

Much deserved Guardian coverage of the weird phenomenon that is the internet cat video festival. What grips me about things like this is not the fact that people are trying to make money from their cats, but rather that many others people are trying and failing to make money from their cats. Not unlike the aspiring professional pick up artists, though you’ll have to read this brilliant paper to see what I’m getting at.

I’m increasingly convinced that a tendency to publicize successful outliers to propagate the illusion‘ can be seen across the web, as a few people who make a living within a novel field wilfully co-operate with platform providers to promulgate the notion that other people could do this too. The result is inevitably a rather off-putting stampede of aspirants which must be read against the background of contracting structures of opportunity which can be seen across more established sectors within an increasingly low-wage and precarious economy.

There’s an interesting BBC programme about the rise of Vloggers which has left me thinking about this: It’s very descriptive but it’s interesting to see these people asked about what they’re doing now and how it relates to what they were doing previously.

This looks like a great special issue of tripleC. I’m going to get started on it as soon as I finish this special issue of The Sociological Review on Gender & Creative Labour. I did an interview with the editors of this issue & it left me aware that I’m even more interested in these questions than I thought I was previously.

Interrogating Internships: Unpaid Work, Creative Industries, and Higher Education
Special issue of tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique
Edited by Greig de Peuter, Nicole S. Cohen, Enda Brophy
Vol. 13 (2): pp. 329-602

We are thrilled to announce the publication of “Interrogating Internships: Unpaid Work, Creative Industries, and Higher Education,” a special issue of the journal /tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique/. The issue features 22 articles, 32 contributors, and a mix of academic and activist accounts.

The issue’s publication was preceded by a public forum in Toronto, “Interns, Connect! A Forum on Upsetting Unpaid Work”
A launch event in Vancouver is in the works. As an open-access journal, all of the articles are freely available.

The table of contents is available here:
The complete issue can be downloaded from here:

In a recent monograph published by The Sociological Review, Bridget Conor, Rosalind Gill and Stephanie Taylor edited a collection of papers looking at the significance of gender in the labour relations of the contemporary creative industries. I’m interested in this as part of my Digital Capitalism project because a phenomenon that’s central to my analysis, the intensification of work in which employees are expected to do more with less, finds potent experience in this sphere of economy activity. As the editors observe in their introduction, “gendered patterns of disadvantage and exclusion … complicated by divisions of class, and also disability and race and ethnicity” are “amplified by the precariousness, informality and requirements for flexibility which are widely noted features of contemporary creative employment” (Conor, Gill and Taylor 2015: 1). The self-understandings which circulate within the creative industries (‘cool, creative and egalitarian’ work cultures as Gill previously described it) are belied by the persistent and often worsening inequalities (see Conor, Gill and Taylor 2015: 7-8) which can be identified within them. This is particularly pressing because the valorsation of creative labour isn’t solely a feature of those within the creative industries. As the editors note,

Creativity has become so elevated as a characteristic of individuals and nations in recent years that it has taken on a status almost beyond critique. Banks (2007) talks of ‘the creative fetish’; Osborne (2003) argues that creativity has become a ‘moral imperative’; whilst Ross (2009) contends that creativity is the ‘wonderstuff’ of our time, the ‘oil of the 21st century’. The CCI are hailed in policy documents for their capacity to stimulate national economies, to regenerate depressed urban areas, to aid in attempts to build social inclusion and cohesion, to challenge unem ployment, and even to improve nations’ health (eg Cunningham, 2009; Keane 2009; Power, 2009). There is nothing they cannot do, it seem.

(Conor, Gill and Taylor 2015: 2)

They observe a curious oversight, in which repeated invocations of creativity go hand-in-hand with a wilfulness obliviousness towards creative work. This cultivated disinterest has allowed the mythical figure of the creative to attain a degree of influence far beyond what such a one-dimension character deserve: the creative worker comes to be seen as infinitely flexible, governed by passion rather than profit, constituting a myth that has material effects within the creative industries (by providing standards in terms of which people evaluate themselves and others) and outside them (by reinforcing the sense of the creative industries being a black box for cultural innovation). In this sense, the figure of the creative has “displaced important questions about working conditions and practices within the CCI, let alone issues of equality, diversity and social justice” (Conor, Gill and Taylor 2015: 2). This discursive flattening obscures profoundly gendered inequalities which can be seen through the creative industries:

Despite the myths of the CCI as diverse, open and egalitarian, inequalities remain a depressingly persistent feature of most fields. Whatever indices one considers – relative numbers in employment, pay, contractual status or seniority – women as a group are consistently faring worse than men. This is true in advertising, the arts, architecture, computer games development, design, film, radio and television; it is also true in ‘new’ fields such as web design, app development or multimedia. Of course, caution is needed in making such an assertion, in part because the picture varies transnationally, with some countries (not surprisingly) doing better than others – and the articles presented here provide some insight into that. But care is also needed for a second reason, because of the shortage of
relevant data which, we argue, both reflects and contributes to
enduring inequalities. (Conor, Gill and Taylor 2015: 6)

In their introduction, the editors offer some quite specific analysis of the complex web of influences which have contributed to present day mythology. For my project, I’m less interested in the cultural history than I am in the observation that creative work is no “understood to offer the possibility of personal fulfilment or self-actualization, albeit in return for considerable hard work and an absence of financial security” (Conor, Gill and Taylor 2015: 5). This sense of the deeper meaning of creative work, its connection to something higher and more meaningful, naturalises structural constraints as creative realities: this is what the creative life entails. I’m interested in how this plays out in the internal conversations of particular individuals, as well as the interactions between them. Is this mythology something people draw upon to talk their way through the working day e.g. “I know it’s hard but I’ve just got to continue like this for the rest of the year and then I’ll get a permanent position”. How are doubts managed interpersonally? Do the individualistic connotations of this mythology mitigate against solidarity? I’ve sometimes noticed a sense of this within discussions of academic labour, in which certain people are described as trying to get somewhere without doing the necessary work or ‘paying their dues’.

I’ve been interested for a while in what I increasingly see as the surprisingly rapid destruction of the professions. The remarks the editors make about the distinction between the status of the professions and the creative industries are really interesting in light of this:

education systems have tended to promote academic subjects over supposedly creative ones so that a creative career is often regarded as the less prestigious alternative to the conventional professions (medicine, law and so on) and therefore one more accessible to students who are less successful at school, including of course those who are from less privileged backgrounds. (Conor, Gill and Taylor 2015: 5)

I’d like to understand what the deprofessionalisation processes we can see at work in spheres like the academy (note: I’ve not read the linked paper yet) share with the imposition of flexible labour within the creative differences and how they differ from it. I’ve often been struck by the similarity between self-marketing practices in the creative industries (e.g. everyone having their own portfolio site) and what is becoming common amongst many early career researchers, within institutions that have if anything been suspicious of the idea that junior academics sustain their own independent web presence. My suggestion is that the situational logic of a group like ECRs has converged with that of aspiring creative workers, even if the cultural resources within which their respective situations are conceived remain radically different. Consider the similarities between the conditions faced by many post-docs and those which are now the norm within the creative industries:

One of the shared experiences of growing numbers of people working in the cultural and creative field is of precariousness and job insecurity. Increasingly, cultural and media workers are freelancers or work on extremely short-term contracts that are counted in days or weeks rather than months or years. Zero hours contracts are not unusual. For large numbers of people in the CCI pervasive insecurity and precariousness are therefore the norm, with individuals very often unsure how they will survive beyond the end of the next project, and living in a mode that requires constant attentiveness and vigilance to the possibility of future work. (Conor, Gill and Taylor 2015: 9)

This combination of project-based working, with all the co-ordination costs each new project entails, with future-orientated working, constantly being on the look out for new opportunities, jointly manifests in an intensification of work expressed in the necessity of continually switching between two distinct temporalities. As the editors put it, “the ‘flexibility’ of flexible work is designed around the needs of the job rather than those of the worker and, like risk, is transferred onto individuals” (Conor, Gill and Taylor 2015: 11). This is compounded when material necessity leads to juggling ‘outside’ jobs alongside ‘inside’ commitments, itself made worse when the aforementioned mythology of DOING WHAT YOU LOVE throws up practical obstacles to managing one’s working life effectively.

One of the consequences of this pervasive work insecurity amongst cul-
tural workers is the prevalence of second-jobbing or indeed multi-jobbing –
frequently in teaching or in the hospitality industries. This is necessitated by insecurity and by low pay, as well as by the deeply entrenched culture of ‘working for free’ (eg Figiel, 2012; Hope and Figiel, 2012; Kennedy, 2010), not only in unpaid internships at the start of a career (eg Perlin, 2012) – which represent the most well-documented example – but right across working lives. The ‘privilege’ of working in a particular orchestra, theatre or media production is frequently presented as reward in its own right, and silencing mechanisms include the commonly held view that it would somehow be in ‘bad taste’ to ask about money/pay, implicitly calling into question one’s commitment to the project – whether it be performance, recording, film or a new online publishing venture
(Ross, 2000). (Conor, Gill and Taylor 2015: 9)

Under these circumstances, creative workers must be ‘always on’: undertaking long hours, establishing their commitment, working to other people’s schedules, maintaining a level of commitment that would have once been confined to ‘crunch times’. As the editors note, “vigilant self-monitoring needed to maintain or expand individual professional biographies” and this entails a cognitive cost which, I would argue, inevitably manifests itself in other sectors of the lived life (Conor, Gill and Taylor 2015: 14). I like how they analyse this in terms of the ‘boundary crossing potentialities’ of creative work and I think I can situate my own project as, in part, a theory of such boundary cross (in general) and how it manifests itself over the life course.

This intensification of work sits uneasily with the pervasive sense of informality that characterises the sector: conformity to systemic requirements is expected in the absence of explicit guidance, people accord to the rules of the game while sustaining the appearance of informality. As the editors point out, this informality extends into hiring practices, as the necessity of leveraging weak ties to avoid sinking in a hyper-competitive marketplace requires a plethora of networking activities which further add to the long hours and emotional demands of creative work: “achieved face-to-face at regular drinks and other social occasions, but also in the affective labour of updating profiles, tweeting, blogging and engaging in diverse self-promotion activities” (Conor, Gill and Taylor 2015: 10). This all contributes to an environment in which collective action becomes logistically difficult to contemplate and sustain, if indeed it is consideration at all given a pervasive sense that passion, commitment and talent are sufficient to change one’s circumstances:

people in short-term and informal employment are less likely to form collective organizations, and without such organizations they will have less protection from informal and irregular employment practices. Traditionally, both the professional organizations associated with higher status fields of employment and the unions associated with workers’ ‘trades’ have played an important role in defining and conferring occupational identities. Professional organizations did this, first, by ratifying formal training and entry requirements, conferring professional recognition on entrants to a profession, and second, by policing standards, for example, through the threat of expulsion for non-compliance with regulations or behaviour deemed to discredit the profession as a whole.(Conor, Gill and Taylor 2015: 13)

Professional associations and trade unions served to anchor collective life, such that in their absence “the collective definition of what it means to be a (particular kind of) creative professional or practitioner will be replaced by individual claims” (Conor, Gill and Taylor 2015: 13). This works nicely alongside my analysis of cognitive triage as leading to the contraction of temporal horizons: the withdrawal of collective institutions leads social horizons to become individual ones, while the escalation of situational demands engenders an increasing loss of future orientation beyond the demands of the next project (or finding it).

Not all of the papers in the monograph are relevant to my project. Perhaps my favourite is Stephanie Taylor’s A new mystique? Working for yourself in the neoliberal economy. She argues that the fate of those increasing numbers who are working for themselves (now 1 in 7 workers in the UK) can be understood in terms of the conditions that have long prevailed within the cultural industries, both in terms of “the uncertain incomes, fragile career trajectories and general precarity” but also the familiar mythology in terms of which this uncertainty is understood, as a life lived in accordance with one’s passions is seen to license endemic insecurity and sustained marginality. Taylor identifies a new mystique attached to the freelancer, “who works on a small scale, mostly alone and from home, motivated by the hope of self-fulfilment and freedom as alternative rewards to a steady income and secure employment”. This mystique provides cultural reinforcement for a process in which “increasing numbers of workers, both male and female, are encouraged to accept a marginalized position in the neoliberal economy” (Taylor 2015: 1-2). An important aspect of this mystique is the centrality of home to working for yourself, overburdened by parallel meanings in private opposition to the public sphere of work and also as an expression of the undifferentiated pre-industrial sphere of the workshop. Taylor’s argument is that “the creative promises of the workshop and studio as living/working …. promote a withdrawal from the challenges of paid employment and a return to this more private and personalized site” (Taylor 2015: 10). However as she goes on to note, the available data suggests that “the relevant narrative of working for yourself may be less about career beginnings, prospective expansion, ambition and entrepreneurial success than about sustaining yourself through difficult circumstances, like unemployment, and coping with inadequate pensions, insufficient earnings and the need to raise the next generation” (Taylor 2015: 12). Unfortunately the retreat into the home, with all the concurrent tendencies to individualisation discussed earlier, helps reinforce the retrenchment of social support and solidarity for the risks both motivating it and compounded by it.

Taylor’s paper sits interestingly alongside the analysis of unpaid internships offered by Leslie Regan Shade and Jenna Jacobson in their paper Hungry for the job: gender, unpaid internships, and the creative industries. They identify how unpaid internships have both expanded and been institutionalised, often becoming a formal part of the higher education system. Unpaid internships offer the possibility of achieving “a competitive advantage for scarce paid positions in a contingent job market” (Shade and Jacobson 2015: 190). The obvious problem is a differential capacity to identify them, gain them and support oneself through them. As they observe through the interview study, parental support plays a crucial role in capacity to undertake an unpaid internship and in many cases this support was something that had extended throughout post-secondary education, leaving the intern without the crushing tuition debts accrued by others within their cohort. This allows them to escape being forced into the first job they can find, in order to avoid spiralling debts due to the interest accrued on tuition loans. In many cases, this also entailed living at home with parents, in order to minimise cost of living. As the authors put it, parental support “provides young people with the necessary stability they need during such precarious economic periods” (Shade and Jacobson 2015: 194). It’s also of course the case that these internships frequently lead nowhere, often manifesting in cycles of unpaid work occasionally coupled with the search for paid employment. This is true even of some of those receiving parental support, leaving the interns in question working a number of hours weekly far beyond that notionally required by a full time job, with all this entails for cognitive triage and their temporal horizons.

Since I first encountered the notion of a calling, I’ve found it a difficult category to expunge from my thought. It appeals to me greatly on a personal level: it points to the higher dimension to human experience which I believe tends to be ‘flattened out’ in the culture of liberal democracies. It helps us attend to the possibility of work that is meaningful and non-alienated so as to give shape to a life and provide the qualitative distinctions of worth in relation to which we can orientate ourselves existentially.

However I find myself increasingly troubled by the appeal this has held for me, as well as how notions of this sort might buttress exploitation under contemporary conditions. For instance consider the ‘perils of passion’ in the video game industry, as detailed in this excellent Jacobin article:

Again and again, when you read interviews or watch industry trade shows like E3, “passion” is used as a word to describe the ideal employee. Translated, “passion” means someone willing to buy into the dream of becoming a video game developer so much that sane hours and adequate compensation are willingly turned away. Constant harping on video game workers’ passion becomes the means by which management implicitly justifies extreme worker abuse .

And it works because that sense of passion is very real. The first time that you walk through the door at an industry job, you’re taken with it. You enter knowing that every single person in the building shares a common interest with you and an appreciation for the art of crafting a game. Friendships can be built immediately – to this day, many of my best friends arose from that immediate commonality we all had on the job.

This is an incredibly enticing proposition; no one who goes in is completely immune to it, no matter how far down the totem pole of life’s interests gaming is. And there are few other jobs quite like it.

Geek culture takes such strongly held commonalities of interest and consumption far more seriously than most other subcultures. I recently wrote a piece for this publication which was, in part, about the replacement of traditional class, gender, and racial solidarity with a culture of consumption. Here, in the video game creation business, is the way capital harnesses geek culture to actively harm workers. The exchange is simple: you will work 60-hour weeks for a quarter less than other software fields; in exchange, you have a seat at the table of your primary identifying culture’s ruling class.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Another example can be found in the comics industry, as far back as the early days of the contemporary corporations. With the original creators leaving, having scarcely been rewarded for much of the creative labour underlying the emergence of Marvel Comics, the corporation turned to “a new generation of creators, wide-eyed twenty-somethings who flashed their old Merry Marvel Marching Society badges as though they were licenses for breaking rules”. The grievances of those original creators faded from view as their creations inspired a new generation willing to work under precisely the conditions which had forced their predecessors to leave.

What about higher education? Does a sense of social science as a calling leave people continuing to chase a career which is in reality only available to a fraction of those pursuing it? Does it lead to an acceptance of precarity as a way of life, with the harsh realities of labour relations within the academy being softened by the rewarding ideal of a calling? Part of my political and theoretical problem here is that I don’t want to fall into the trap of denying the reality of passion by reducing it to an instrument of exploitation. Doing so makes it difficult to explain precisely why people persist in these fields in the way that they do. But we must conversely refuse a naive reading of ‘calling’, which I see in terms of a cluster of concepts of which ‘passion’ is just one, in moral terms so as to neglect this pernicious systemic trend.

Another way to frame this question: how seriously should we take latte art? I’ve more than once had a conversation with a barista about this practice who clearly takes great satisfaction from it. However it’s hard not to wonder if this is a cynical attempt to introduce craft and creativity into a job which some would consider the archetype of zero hours employment. I’d love to visit latte art competitions in an ethnographic capacity to explore how seriously the participants take these endeavours and how pervasively such events are permeated by corporate imperatives. Till that day, I’m left to speculate that this is a case of craft being encouraged by owners for reasons that are largely self-serving, even if they understand their motivations in terms of a benign concern for the well-being of their employees.

I’ve included a screen shot below (HT @Andr_Dim) , in case the advert mysteriously vanishes from the internet. What really disgusts me about this is the shamelessness of the mission statement – this is “an exciting time for Edinburgh Napier University” in which they seek to become an “enterprising and innovative community” through expanding their “areas of research excellence across a broad portfolio of both discipline-based and inter-disciplinary research”. By which they mean they want to replace securely employed staff with recently completed PhD students on zero hour  contracts.

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 19.47.03

I feel slightly ridiculous about this fact but I’ve spent the last twenty minutes agonising over how to change my e-mail signature. For a long time I’ve had a pretty simple and self-explanatory e-mail signature:

twitter: @mark_carrigan

But I’m also in the middle of doing lots of e-mailing as a research associate (in the general doer of things sense of the role) in the data sciences team at Warwick Business School. I’m e-mailing lots of people who don’t know me and because I can’t stand outlook I’m e-mailing them from my private (gmail) address which has my personalised domain name. My warwick e-mail automatically forwards to my personal address and, though I’ve been trying to remember to ‘send as’ from my warwick address I keep forgetting to do this because I’ve spent years not doing it. It seems obvious that it would be useful to me, as well as to the people I’m e-mailing, to sign post who I am and what I’m currently doing. How? If I add WBS to my e-mail signature I immediately feel I should also add my post-doc in the sociology department, which is less pressing e-mail wise in the short term but has a much longer duration. Almost immediately, my e-mail signature comes to look very messy.

This is a pointless deliberation which I’ve given up on. I’m leaving the e-mail signature as it stands. But there’s a serious point here: how do you define your institutional identity if you have multiple part-time positions? My solution to this in the past has been to avoid an institutional identity but when I’m doing a lot of logistical work within institutions this becomes trickier. I also feel that if I start adding occupational roles to my e-mail signature I should start including the things that really matter to me (e.g. sociological imagination, discover society) but before I know it my e-mail signature just becomes a mess. Furthermore, there’s the obvious question of how other people interpret this given that the entire chain of thought was provoked by a concern to make myself more easily placeable for people I’m contacting. I’m sure I could rewrite this blog post as a high-brow analysis of Institutional Identity, Precarious Labour and the Semiotics of Academic E-mail Signatures but it seems more honest (and interesting) to record the trivial questions and anxieties which would be subsumed under those concepts. Or I could just delete the text and leave this PhD comic in its place:

(via AyeshaKazmi from the Occupy Boston protest)

There is a name for those under- and precariously employed, but actively working, academics in today’s society: the para-academic.

Para-academics mimic academic practices so they are liberated from the confines of the university. Our work, and our lives, reflect how the idea of a university as a place for knowledge production, discussion and learning, has become distorted by neo-liberal market forces. We create alternative, genuinely open access, learning-thinking-making-acting spaces on the internet, in publications, in exhibitions, discussion groups or other mediums that seem appropriate to the situation. We don’t sit back and worry about our career developments paths. We write for the love of it, we think because we have to, we do it because we care.

We take the prefix para- to illustrate how we work alongside, beside, next to, and rub up against, the all too proper location of the Academy, making the work of higher education a little more irregular, a little more perverse, a little more improper. Our work takes up the potential of the multiple and contradictory resonances of para- as decisive location for change, within the university as much as beyond it.

Specialists in all manner of things, from the humanities to the social and biological sciences, the para-academic works alongside the traditional university, sometimes by necessity, sometimes by choice, usually a mixture of both. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities to research, create learning experiences or make a basic living within the university on our own terms, para-academics don’t seek out alternative careers in the face of an evaporated future, we just continue to do what we’ve always done: write, research, learn, think, and facilitate that process for others.

We do this without prior legitimisation from any one institution. Para-academics do not need to churn out endless outputs  because of the pressures of a heavily assessed research environment. We work towards making ideas because learning, sharing, thinking and creating matter beyond easily quantifiable products. And we know that this is possible, that we are possible, without the constraints of an increasingly hierarchical academy.

As the para-academic community grows there is a real need to build supportive networks, share knowledge, ideas and strategies that can allow these types of interventions to become sustainable and flourish. There is a very real need to create spaces of solace, action and creativity.

The Para-Academic Handbook: A Toolkit for making-learning-creating-acting, edited by Alex Wardrop and Deborah Withers, calls for articles (between 1,000-6,000 words), cartoons, photographs, illustrations, inspirations and other forms of text/graphic communication exploring para-academic practice, and its place within active intellectual cultures of the early 21st century.

It will be published by HammerOn Press in 2014.

Deadline for submissions 1 July 2013.

Precariousness is one of the defining experiences of contemporary academic life — particularly, but not exclusively, for younger or ‘career early’ staff (a designation that can now extend for one’s entire ‘career’, given the few opportunities for development or secure employment.) Statistical data about the employment patterns of academics shows the wholesale transformation of higher education over the last decades, with the systematic casualisation of the workforce. Continuing contracts — understood in the US as tenure-track appointments — now represent only just over half of academic posts, with 38 % of all academics in higher education on fixed term contracts in 2006-7 (Court and Kinman, 2008). While, in the past, short-term contracts were largely limited to research positions and tied to specific, time-limited projects, today they also characterise teaching posts which are frequently offered on a one-year temporary basis at the bottom of the pay scale. However, even these posts constitute the ‘aristocracy of labour’ when compared to the proliferation of short-term, part-time teaching positions, contracted on an hourly paid basis, in which PhD students or new postdocs are charged with delivering mass undergraduate programmes, with little training, inadequate support and rates of pay that — when preparation and marking aretaken into account — frequently fall (de facto) below the minimum wage and make even jobs in cleaning or catering look like attractive pecuniary options. Alongside such jobs is the newly created stratum of ‘teaching fellowships’ in which, as a cost-cutting measure for University management, work once rewarded with a lectureship is repackaged for lower pay, stripped of benefits (eg pension) and any sense of obligation or responsibility to the employee, and offered purely on a term-time basis, frequently leaving teaching fellows without any source of income over the summer.

Gill, R (2009) Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neo-liberal academia in Flood,R. & Gill,R. (Eds.) Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections. London: Routledge