You don’t have to be white, male and middle class to work in the creative industries but it helps

anchormanGlasgow in Scotland is a wonderful city. If it’s puffed neighbour Edinburgh is a city to visit, Glasgow is a city to live in. Before he died in tragic circumstances Scotland’s first First Minister in its new Parliament, Donald Dewar, described it as a handsome city. Indeed in recent years Glasgow has been named UK City of Architecture and Design, and a few years earlier European Capital of Culture. In 2014 it hosts the Commonwealth Games (think summer Olympics for the countries of the old British Empire). It’s all part of the repositioning of a city that was once an industrial heartland for Scotland and that empire.

In recent years that repositioning embraced Richard Florida’s highly influential creative economy thesis. A key attraction amongst policy-makers was a belief that developing a creative economy would attract new jobs to failing local post-industrial economies and boost urban regeneration in city centres that had become wastelands. Many cities across the advanced economies, including Glasgow, chased this dream.

Now however the hoardings in Glasgow proclaiming its cultural quarter are faded and promotion of the city’s media village is dampened. The dream turned out to be an illusion for most cities interested in reinventing themselves as creative hubs. For many, their ambitions were bigger than their small population sizes allowed, Australia-based Al Rainnie states. In the US, many others were simply seduced by what Jamie Peck calls the ‘hipsterization’ of creativity, without realising what it entailed. In any case the number of jobs created has been much less than anticipated, at least in the UK, as I discovered analysing the government’s own data.

Such criticisms of the creative economy thesis are valid. However I believe that there is a more fundamental promise within Florida’s account of the creative economy that simply hasn’t been realised and it is doubtful that it can ever be realised. Because creativity is the stuff inside workers’ heads, it is irrelevant who these workers are in terms of their sex, race and class, it was argued, and the jobs that were to be created would be open to all. They offered ‘new avenues of advancement’ and ‘unfettered social mobility for all’, according to Florida: ‘rigid caste systems’ will disappear.

It is this promise that has failed to materialise. My colleague Doris Eikhof and I have examined job opportunities in the UK’s audio-visual industries, sometimes called the new media. These industries include TV, film, radio, interactive media, animation, computer games, facilities, photo imaging and publishing, and were an important target of government policy to boost jobs through the UK creative industries.

Analysing industry and other secondary data we found that these industries’ model of production, which is project-based, rested on trust and required existing networks, cliques, even nepotism. Along with an individual’s intellectual capital (i.e. the stuff in their heads), getting and maintaining employment requires particular social and cultural capital. More than three-quarters of workers are hired through these networks and cliques. Breaking into them is difficult. As one ethnic minority filmmaker stated in Keith Randle’s research: “They are closed shop kind of places. These are people who invite each other around to their houses for dinner, they all go out together, they’re in that sort of world, and they don’t let anyone else in.”

The outcome, contrary to Florida’s assertion, is exclusion and discrimination based on sex, race and class. Women and workers from ethnicity minority and working class backgrounds are under-represented in the audio visual industries. If they do manage to break into the industry, women and ethnic minority workers are paid less than white men and have more stunted career development. Ethnic minority workers are more likely to be movie theatre ushers than movie makers. Pay gaps by gender and ethnicity remain when age and occupation are controlled for, indicating the existence of gendered and racial pay discrimination. Unfortunately pay data based on workers’ socio-economic origin – i.e. their social class – is not available. However young wannabes from working class backgrounds too are shunted into low level, lower paid jobs.

Such data raises a big question: are the creative industries dead as an opportunity for progressive employment? It might be that this model of production is specific to the Anglo-Saxon countries. It might be that other countries have different models of production. If these alternatives exist perhaps lessons might be learnt that can and should be applied in the UK, US and Australia.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: