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Precarious subjectivities are not for sale: the loss of the measurability of labour for performing arts workers

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Contemporary work increasingly presents itself as an immeasurable endeavour. The social and subjective spaces in which it is practiced are no longer easily circumscribed, and the conceptual categories that traditionally described its relationship with value now appear practically unusable. In particular, workers in the ‘creative industries’ are paradigmatic subjects of the ‘work fragmentation’ process of the post-Fordist era. Cutting across divisions between life and work, employment and unemployment, the performing arts are in many ways a laboratory of job flexibility, where innovative contractual arrangements and professional trajectories have been developed.

In this article, we have mapped the multiple forms that work has taken in the last two decades in Italy. The empirical data is derived from a combined method that utilizes both quantitative surveys and in-depth interviews with artists, technicians and organizers working in the fields of theatre, music, dance and video making. A central feature of the new regulative conditions, and therefore the experiences of these professionals, is the new relationship with time and, more specifically, the ‘loss of measurability’ of hired labour. The aim is to provide a multilayered analysis of the interactions between the socio-economic conditions, career pathways and cultural aspects, i.e. the expectations, reputation, self-perception and social recognition of these jobs. Accordingly, these work patterns are studied as self-employment strategies based on the diversification of activities and expertise, and at the same time, attempts to devise new spatial and temporal configurations of labour, epitomized by the hybrid condition of the ‘salaried employer’.

In these cases, precariousness emerges as a generative terrain of ambivalent subjectivities. On the one hand, the workforce is spontaneously mobilized and autonomously organized by the realization of desires, expression and self-fulfilment, beyond mere economic rewards. On the other, the labour itself becomes increasingly intertwined with ones life, as well as becoming immeasurable. Time loses its function as a unit of measure for compensation (i.e. as in work for a flat rate). This situation frequently leads to the spread of labour into other spheres of life and the risk of self-exploitation. To conclude, the new experiences of union organization and social movements, manifesting in the occupations of theatres, are examined as spaces where differing, and even opposing, solidarity and ‘class composition’ practices within the new creative labour(s) are experimented.
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Keywords: cultural industries; independent/freelance workers; labour-value; measurability of labour; performing arts; precariat; precariousness; subjectification; work

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 2013

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  • Global Discourse is an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented journal of applied contemporary thought operating at the intersection of politics, international relations, sociology and social policy. The Journal's scope is broad, encouraging interrogation of current affairs with regard to core questions of distributive justice, wellbeing, cultural diversity, autonomy, sovereignty, security and recognition. All issues are themed and aimed at addressing pressing issues as they emerge. Rejecting the notion that publication is the final stage in the research process, Global Discourse seeks to foster discussion and debate between often artificially isolated disciplines and paradigms, with responses to articles encouraged and conversations continued across issues.

    The Journal features a mix of full-length articles, each accompanied by one or more replies, policy papers commissioned by organizations and institutions and book review symposia, typically consisting of three reviews and a reply by the author(s). With an international advisory editorial board consisting of experienced, highly-cited academics, Global Discourse publishes themed issues on topics as they emerge. Authors are encouraged to explore the international dimensions and implications of their work.

    All research articles in this journal have undergone rigorous peer review, based on initial editor screening and double-blind peer review. All submissions must be in response to a specific call for papers.

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