Precarious Economies and Creative Citizens

November 1st, 2013 by Emma Agusita in Creative Networks | no comments

(Author: Jon Dovey)

In this reflection I want to respond to Emma’s post above and reflect briefly on my own ‘first pass’ reflections on our Asset Mapping exercise with South Blessed. My headline takeaway from the session was the extreme fragility of the economy of South Blessed contrasted with the powerful networks of solidarity between the young people that sustain it.

The economic resources in this informal creative economy are negligible. ‘The Mac’ (computer) came up as an important asset for instance, as did the SB video camera. Income comes in the form of street bucket collections, a little bit of O2 sponsorship, and the familiar mix of freelance, higher education, training, internships and job seekers allowance that underpins the informal creative economy. The SB studio building is made available as part of a live and work sustainable regeneration scheme and depends on a great deal of landlord flexibility. This picture is what some readers might recognise as the very pattern of precarity in the creative economy which for McRobbie (2011) ‘has become the distinctively British way of dealing with structural and seemingly irreversible changes to the work society’. In the post Marxist critique of creative economy creative work is characterised by ‘a preponderance of temporary, intermittent and precarious jobs; long hours and bulimic patterns of working; the collapse or erasure of boundaries between work and play; poor pay; high levels of mobility; passionate attachment to the work and identity of the creative labourer (eg web designer, artist, fashion designer); an attitudinal mindset that us a blend of bohemianism and entrepreneurialism; informal work environments and distinctive forms of sociality; and profound experiences of insecurity and anxiety about finding work, earning enough money and ‘keeping up in rapidly changing fields’. (Gill & Pratt 2008:14)

Lets look at these economic resources a bit more.

To stress a single desktop Mac and a halfway decent camera as  a major asset in this day and age was immediately striking to me – we spend much of our time assuming that the media ‘tools of production’ are widely available, that access is not an issue any more. Many of our conversations are predicated on the idea that ‘everyone’ is making media; the attachment here to a single powerful computer is in marked contrast  to the flipping open of Apple laptops that characterises every gathering of the digital commentariat. Each one of our big research  team meetings has massively more tech resource than the entire SB operation.

The video camera was bought for the SB lead by a close member of this family as a personal investment in his future. Other kit has been bought through the income made by street bucket collections- (and frequently managed by another close family member). Young people associated with the network were invited to undertake street collections for “Young People’s Creative and Media” training; their recruitment was based on their affective attachment to the SB brand, however the collections were unlicensed. SB instructs the collectors to tell anyone (including the police) challenging them that they are legal because they are ‘selling’ news, in this case a leaflet with the SB URL on it. News vendors do not need to be licensed by law. It’s the public sphere. The bucketeers take a 50% cut of what’s collected, like other good cause ‘chuggers’. It’s a mutually beneficial income generating operation with a wonderfully inventive challenge to the begging laws based on digital public service provision.

The O2 sponsorship brings the occasional bit of software for testing and opportunities to network with other young digital creatives at showcase and development events. It’s a networking and cultural capital benefit with some serious software learning inside it. The building is another story still, it was built by green minded commercial property developers on the derelict site of a former drug users squat. The studio and above-the-shop residential flat is part of a major ‘live and work’ development to create energy efficient units that create sustainable social infrastructure. SB is understood in this context as a lead brand for the whole development project, a creative, charismatic, digital, social enterprise that is blind to any distinction between creative, commercial and community benefit. This ‘affective’ position cashes in for SB in its more than forgiving flexible relations with its landlord that have helped it survive through its frequently lean times.

We can already see that the economic mesh is sustained by all kinds of different affective dynamics, branding, family ties, mutualism and the generalised positive feelings associated – by some – with the rhetorics and claims of ‘creativity’ and enterprise.

We might also be inclined to read this as evidence of new forms of subjectivity, creativity and resistance that are the paradoxical results of the ‘precarity’ described by Gill & Pratt, ‘This double meaning is central to understanding the idea and politics associated with precarity; the new moment of capitalism that engenders precariousness is seen not only as oppressive but also as offering the potential for new subjectivities, new socialities and new kinds of politics.’ (2008 :3)

Elsewhere in the asset map and the conversation it produced there was lots of emphasis on ‘Bristol Talent’, ‘Bristol Community’, and just ‘Bristol’ as a place. This also attached to ‘Nightlife’ (night time economy), Live Shows, word of mouth, a Young Entrepreneurs group, a business development training agency, political groups and music labels to create a strong sense of this network of young people embedded within a very rich milieu. We also know from their asset mapping talk and from our previous interviews that their descriptions of this milieu are characterised by very powerful bonds of solidarity and mutualism. Their sociality is here understood as a route to personal development, ‘manifestation’ and actualisation of an authentic expressive self, truth telling, mutual support, optimism hope and empowerment.

In the next iteration of this evidence I hope to argue that the ‘creative citizen’  could  mobilise new networks of solidarity, mutualism and collaboration that unleash powerful energies for citizenship benefit.  Precisely in fact the ‘ new subjectivities, new socialities and new kinds of politics.’ Suggested by Rosalind Gill and Andy Pratt above.

McRobbie A. ‘Re-Thinking Creative Economy as Radical Social Enterprise’
Variant, issue 41, Spring 2011

Gill R & Pratt A ‘In the Social Factory ? : Immaterial Labour, Precariousness and Cultural Work’ Theory Culture and Society 2008 25:1 Sage



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