Re-visualising creative labour: a labour process perspective

Paul Thompson

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


With publication at ILPC 2009 of Creative Labour: Working in the Creative Industries, Smith and McKinlay signalled the growing interest of labour process analysis (LPA) ‘the production of creative or artistic products, and the labour processes, employment relations and organisation of work that surround the different production processes (2009, 4). Much of this intervention is directed towards a critique of the burgeoning literature on creative and cultural industries that marginalises or misunderstands work and employment relations, focusing on unmanaged creative spaces, collaborative communities, inter-personal networks and mobile, free agents (Florida 2002, Grabher 2002, Pink 2001). But the critical terrain is already occupied by other intellectual projects. At the forefront are the increasingly influential tentacles of autonomist Marxism, for whom creative industries are emblematic both of the new categories of immaterial and affective labour in post-Fordist capitalism. Such perspectives also emphasise the experience for creative workers of ‘precarity: negotiating short –term, insecure, poorly paid, precarious work in conditions of structural uncertainty’ (Gill and Pratt 2008). In a recent article, O’Doherty and Willmott (2009) draw on both mainstream and autonomist literatures to attack so-called neo-orthodox LPA for a failure to produce anything other than ‘monochrome’ pictures of creative work. In the new wired worlds of enterprise and organisation, they argue, the ‘the familiar divisions and classifications of LPA. have not yet congealed’ (943).

In this paper, I seek to build on the contributions in the Creative Labour volume, articulating a critique of the above perspectives and an empirically-grounded account of the work experiences and context of a particular group of creative workers in the visual effects industry. This draws on a wider project examining industry dynamics. Such an emphasis is not accidental. Mainstream and autonomist perspectives tend to dissolve the firm, its value chains and labour processes into insubstantial images of networks or the ‘social factory’. Yet, as Christopherson argues, ‘It is difficult to understand either the nature of a creative worker’s “flexibility” or the degree to which self-expression or economic motives are important in their work lives , without some understanding of the strategies undertaken by the firms to whom they sell their products or services’ (2009, 74-5). A core strength of LPA, hopefully reflected in this paper, is a capacity to connect the transformation of work relations with the broader capitalist political economy.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - Mar 2010
Event28th International Labour Process Conference - Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA, United States
Duration: 15 Mar 201017 Mar 2010


Conference28th International Labour Process Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityRutgers University, New Jersey, USA


  • labour process theory
  • labour process analysis
  • LPA
  • creative industries


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