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<nettime> Re: Report: Creative Labour and the role of Intellectual Prop
Danny Butt on Thu, 9 Oct 2003 19:49:09 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Re: Report: Creative Labour and the role of Intellectual Property

There's a lot to digest in Ned's excellent report on Creative Labour, and
I'll be sifting through the correlations between the multitudes and
disorganised creative labour for some time. Even if Ned's somewhat cavalier
methodological orientation grates a little up against Hall et al's classic
introduction to Culture, Media, Language [1] which I'm just re-reading for
another project. I'd recommend another look at that work for anyone
grappling with the methodological bricolage that seems characteristic of
today's intellectual (and creative) labour.

I just wanted to follow up briefly on my comments as a respondent to Ned's
survey, particularly on the failure of unions to respond adequately to the
lived experience of service workers generally and "creative industries"
workers in particular. This isn't, of course, because useful ways of
organising labour in this sector are impossible or not needed, but more
about to the limitations "actually existing unions" show in understanding
and responding to the distinctive issues facing workers in these fields.

In light of Ned's report, it struck me that many "unions" (in inverted
commas to denote the institutional form rather than organised labour as
such) share with Hardt/Negri some key limitations to the effectiveness of
their project in contemporary capitalism. To put it bluntly, they aren't
prepared to listen to anyone who doesn't share their worldview, while
capital's lackeys are. Ned notes:

> The failure of Negri, Lazzarato and others who gather around the
> concept of immaterial labour is, quite remarkably given their
> respective intensely political life experiences, a failure to
> understand the nature of "the political".  The concept of immaterial
> labour, in its refusal to locate itself in specific
> discourse-networks, communications media and material situations,
> refuses also to address the antagonistic underpinnings of social
> relations.

While the implications of this are not fully played out in Ned's essay,
Hardt and Negri's failure to reflexively account for the discourse-network
they use strikes me a basic failure to respond to the lessons of
structuralism (concepts, codes, languages and aren't neutral) and
post-structuralism (if you think your concepts can account for the
experiences of those in very different race/gender/class situations you're
a: kidding yourself and b: not listening). Someone set me straight if I'm
missing something. But it's not really about a failure of their theory as
much as the average 16 year old kid would recognise that while they
*name-check* feminist, anti-colonial movements etc. their conceptual
framework, modes of address and accountabilities (or bibliography, if you're
short on time) remain obviously untroubled by those movements. At which
point you have to ask whether they're really listening and whether this is
the kind of dialogue you want to be in if your accountabilities aren't to
people like them.

I think anyone connected to various mainstream union movements in
Australasia at least (which are based on the British tradition - I'm aware
of significantly different dynamics in e.g. Latin America) will recognise
similar issues. Capital has transformed, not to become "disorganised" as
Lash and Urry put it, but certainly reflexive, volatile, and protean.
Capital's relationship to social structure is affinitive and sort of
vampiric, it looks for host subjects and structures in its focus groups and
emulates them enough to extract their life force to satisfy its
hunger-without-end. (e.g. we get "viral marketing" - it's constantly

 In this environment, "Unions" are generally reactive and easily
characterised as reactionary (cf. how little a worker will describe the
fantastic new initiative their union is undertaking compared to some
innovative new product or service they're buying). The union that should
represent the interests of my colleagues remains monist, masculinist, and
mired in a basic inability to simply listen and understand the motivations
and experiences of its constituency. Of course, there are numerous
exceptions - Louise Tarrant [2a] of the Liquor, Hospitality and
Miscellaneous Workers' Union in Australia is a good example of what we might
identify as a new breed of organisers who aren't in the "stand by your mates
and don't give an inch" school (her "Miscellaneous" portfolio is also
instructive about where the action is in organised labour - not in the
traditional strongholds that's for sure).

What's the point? The point is that people want to see themselves, their
languages, their experiences and their culture reflected in the
movements/philosophies/dialogues/unions/structures that they take part in.
Or more assertive types can perhaps do without that if they get a clear
indication that their difference will be respected and taken seriously. This
is especially true for creative labourers who are perhaps characterised by
their fundamental, reflexive hawking of their social/cultural identity in
the marketplace, and searching for employment relationships around "shared
values". While both Hardt & Negri's Empire and British-style union
hierarchies will obviously continue to find their adherents - it will
probably be among those more at home in the certainties of well-worn
European social concepts, as opposed to the messy realities, contingencies
and politics of local, personal interactions at the margins where neither
framework seems very effective.

My interest in these creative labour discussions is about the potential
within creative networks to activate an "articulated" critique of capitalist
injustice from a labour perspective. Obviously *Empire* is also looking for
a way out of the "divide and conquer" strategies transnational capital
employs. However as humans (rather than multitudes) we are - like
contemporary capital - heterogeneous, with interests, identities, and ways
of being in the world which are sometimes aligned and sometimes in conflict.
And like Ned suggests - our efforts need to gain purchase in diverse local
situations. It's hard to know where imperial sweeps like those of Empire fit
in. To understand and negotiate our differences (rather than attempt to
"resolve" or sublimate them) requires us to acknowledge where we're coming
from and be prepared to speak from that position, to find our
"turangawaewae" - our place to stand and to represent. Many larger unions
seemed to lose their way from their place to stand, lured perhaps by
policy-level opportunities like Australia's "Federal Wages Accord" [2b]
(already seeming bizarrely antiquated), rather than the local interventions
that were an initial impetus for labour organisation in the first place.

Europe, of course, has been economically exploiting its colonies for
centuries in order to cement its self-identified location at the "centre of
the world". In a postcolonial world, this "self-centrality" gives its
philosophical tradition (which H&N show no interest in stepping out of) a
curious air of abstraction and lack of substance out on the margins. It's
just words on a page if you're not a Europhile, and pretty lacking in
utility from my POV. So where to from there? I guess the emerging global
networks of First Nations peoples give us some methodological and
philosophical leads on simultaneously having a radically local focus on the
life one "inhabits", yet being globally connected to very different groups
for the purposes of refining political action in that local arena. So it's
to those kinds of rapidly developing networks - pushed to the cultural
margins of western philosophy, yet located where we physically are - that
I'll be continuing to look to for clues on how to best organise our
responses to the emerging capitalist environment.


[1] Hall, S. and University of Birmingham. Centre for Contemporary Cultural
Studies. (1980). Culture, media, language : working papers in cultural
studies, 1972-79. London, Hutchinson in association with the Centre for
Contemporary Cultural Studies University of Birmingham.

[2] An interesting discussion on Australian unionism featuring Louise and
others is available on the ABC website at:


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