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<nettime> Organic Intellectual Work: Interview with Andrew Ross [REVISED
Geert Lovink on Wed, 11 Jul 2007 18:59:19 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Organic Intellectual Work: Interview with Andrew Ross [REVISED]


http://www.networkcultures.org/geert/interview-with-andrew-ross/

Organic Intellectual Work
Interview with Andrew Ross

By Geert Lovink

Does cultural studies scholar and labour activist Andrew Ross need to 
be introduced? I became familiar with the work of U.S. American 
researcher of Scottish decent in the early nineties when his co-edited 
anthology Techno-Cultureand books No Respectand Strange Weatherreached 
wide audiences. His highly readable books deal with a range of topics 
from sweatshop labour, the creative office culture of the dotcoms, 
middle class utopias of the Disney town Celebration to China's economic 
culture as a global player. For outsiders, Andrew Ross might embody the 
'celebrity' persona of academia, but he is someone I experienced as 
modest and open, a prolific writer who is very much on top of the 
issues. To me Andrew Ross has been a role model of how to reconcile the 
world of High Theory with the down-to-earth work within social 
movements, a tension that I have been struggling with since the late 
seventies. Reading Andrew Ross makes you wonder why it is so hard to be 
an organic intellectual after all, as Antonio Gramsci once described 
it, a figure which is light-years away from the abstract universes of 
the Italian autonomous theorists such as Negri, Virno and Lazzarato. No 
esoteric knowledge of Spinoza, Tarde or Deleuze is necessary to enjoy 
Ross. We do not read about exploitation in a moralistic manner but 
instead obtain a deeper understanding of the complex contradictions 
that the global work force has to deal with.

Australian post-doc researcher Melissa Gregg, whose book Affective 
Voicesdeals with the history of (Anglo-Saxon) cultural studies, 
includes a chapter about Andrew Ross. Gregg describes Ross as an 
"intellectual arbiter between the academic politics of cultural studies 
and the activist imperatives of the progressive Left." His "academic 
activism" describes the "human cost of economic growth," thereby 
counterbalancing the "neglect of material labour conditions." Instead 
of fiddling around with concepts and terminologies, Ross describes the 
"human face of economics" much like Barbara Ehrenreich's investigative 
journalism, reaching into the category of airport non-fiction. The 
suspicious attitude towards appropriate payment is the key obstacle to 
an effective labourist politics among Leftist intellectuals. In the 
case of the no collar culture "not only did the culture of willing 
overwork severely haemorrhage any chance of a sustainable industry, but 
investment in the cult of creativity disassociated no collar work from 
the manual labour involved in producing the tools of their craft." In 
the following email exchange with Andrew we focused on the topics of 
research methodology and style of writing, the role of ethnography, the 
question of creative labour and strategies of activism.

GL: Suppose you were to write one of those booklets and we would 
entitle it Letter to a Young Researcher. How would you approach this? 
Could you tell us something about your method? Is it fair enough to say 
that you moved on from General Theory to case studies? Clearly, 
students need to know about both, but I have the feeling that theory is 
a dead end street these days and that your research methodology offers 
an alternative.

AR: Since I came of age, intellectually and politically, in the 1970s, 
I was a paid-up member of the Theory Generation, dutifully 
participating in Lacan and Althusser reading groups, and the like. But 
even then, I was rarely comfortable with the hothouse climate around 
what you call General Theory. Even then, I was learning that theory 
should be approached as simply a way of getting from A to B. It wasn't 
the only way to get from A to B, nor was it always the best way, and it 
was easy to get stuck en route with all your mental wheels spinning in 
the air. Indeed, I saw some of the best minds of my generation--to 
paraphrase Allen Ginsberg--vanish down that path. I'm glad I survived, 
I've been in recovery for two decades now.

When it comes to method--and this is what I tell my graduate 
students--it's more important to know what A and B are. Once you have a 
good sense of your object and the questions you want to answer, then 
you are in a position to choose your methods--i.e. how to get from A to 
B. In most disciplines, the method comes first, and is then applied to 
an object. For us, it's the other way around. The questions and the 
goals determine the methods. So, how will I answer those questions? Do 
I need to do interviews, or conduct surveys? Do I need to visit sites, 
or consult archives? What kind of reading do I need to do, and what is 
the likely audience? In the program where I teach, our students are 
trained in more than one method--ethnography, historical inquiry, 
textual analysis, data analysis--and are encouraged to be flexible in 
their application. They are much more likely to think of themselves as 
investigators, undertaking case-studies, rather than being motivated by 
general theoretical problems.

Approaching research in this manner, it's more likely that they will 
find their own voice, or at least a voice that is uniquely theirs, 
rather than aping the consensus voice of their discipline, or whatever 
influential master thinker they have been weaned on. It took me several 
years to shake off my own academic training and find a voice that I 
felt was my own and I had to go well outside my comfort zone to achieve 
anything. So my advice to young researchers is tailored to the goal of 
getting them to that point much earlier than I did.

GL: Does your move from Cultural Studies to a new form of labour 
sociology also imply a critique of the way in which cultural studies 
has been bogged down in studying popular culture and mainstream 
products and services? In my experience 'cultural studies' has not 
globalized but can increasingly be identified as an Ango-Saxon project 
that has not broadened its reference system outside of the UK, USA and 
Australia. It may have adopted 'French theory' but in France itself 
cultural studies is nowhere to be seen. Now, there is nothing wrong 
with cultural specificity and the political heritage of research 
schools ... knowledge is always embedded in particular generations and 
experiences of a small group of players. I know there are zillion 
debates about the 'future of cultural studies' but could you 
nonetheless say something about this?

AR: To answer that question, I'd have to touch on a debate about why 
labour was not more central to cultural studies during its heyday. 
Indeed, some would say that a conscious effort was made to sideline 
attention to labour. This is quite understandable if you consider how 
the British Left, for example, was dominated by a labourist mentality 
in the 1960s and 1970s. It was necessary to get out from under the 
heavy weight of that mindset to appreciate that other things mattered 
politically. I myself grew up in the industrial belt of Scotland, where 
labourism was the air that you breathed, and so the discovery of 
cultural politics--the fact that you could even think about culture 
politically--came as a revelation. Naturally, there was a certain 
degree of overcompensation involved in the cultural turn. Folks just 
kept going further and further from the labour fold, arguing that this 
or that sector of daily life "mattered" in ever more ingenious 
permutations of the feminist axiom that "the personal is the 
political." The result was that the field of political economy was 
abandoned, to some extent, to the hardliners, who no longer had to 
listen to the feminists, queers, cultural radicals, and ethnic identity 
advocates, and polarization set in between the cultural justice and the 
economic justice camps. The legacy of that split is still with 
us--indeed it has been played out in every US election since the early 
1990s. There's no doubt it has hampered the Left, but the division has 
been exploited much more adroitly by the Right.

While you may be right about the limited geographical footprint of 
Cultural Studies as an academic discipline, I don't think these larger 
political conflicts are confined to the Anglophone countries. They are 
expressed in different ways in other societies--usually through the 
repressive filter of religion or statism or ethnic sectarianism--and 
are sometimes harder to discern, but they are no less relevant.  

In all of the hand wringing about polarization, what's neglected is the 
work that was done--it was never really abandoned--and is still being 
done to reconnect these two wings of social justice. I suppose that's 
where I would place my own energies from the late 80s onwards, in areas 
of research--science and technology, and environmentalism in books like 
Strange Weather, The Chicago Gangster Theory of Life, and Real 
Love--that were not at all central at the time to the main currents of 
cultural studies. By the mid-1990s, I was being drawn into labour and 
urban research, both of which have dictated the bulk of my research and 
activism for the last decade or so. However, I'm not sure I would have 
gone in that direction if it hadn't been for cultural studies. For 
example, it was my interest in fashion consumption that took me into 
the anti-sweatshop movement and led to the publication of No Sweatand 
Low Pay, High Profile, and it was an interest in ecological politics 
that motivated my field work on the New Urbanist movement in The 
Celebration Chronicles.

One area where all these currents re-converge is in the emergent policy 
about the "creative economy." Here is a sector that has received a 
massive amount of attention from government agencies and national 
economic managers desperate for a development paradigm that will allow 
them to compete or play catch-up in the high-skill, knowledge economy. 
And it's all about cultural workers, once seen as completely marginal 
to the forces of production and now increasingly central as a source of 
potential economic value. Now there does exist an extensive body of 
cultural studies scholarship, initiated by Tony Bennett in the 
mid-1990s, that engaged directly with cultural policy-making, but it's 
only recently that this tendency has moved centre-stage, and will, I 
predict, occupy more and more of the field. In many ways, it's an angle 
that was missing from Raymond Williams' distinction between two 
conceptions of culture: one based on the high/low value hierarchy, and 
the other, more anthropological understanding of culture as "way of 
life." Neither made much room for culture as a livelihood, or cultural 
work as labour. In Williams's day, it would have taken a remarkable act 
of social foresight to imagine that artists, writers, and designers 
would come to be seen, in the governmental imagination, as model 
entrepreneurs for the new economy, and yet here we are.

Let me give you an instructive example. Back in the mid-1990s, after 
the leadership of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and 
Congress of Industrial Organizations)changed hands, I became involved 
in a organization called Scholars, Artists, and Writers for Social 
Justice (SAWSJ). It was founded, mostly by labour historians, in 
recognition of the hope that the US labour's movement's era of 
complicity in the Cold War was over, and that a rapprochement with 
intellectuals was now possible. Most of the activities of SAWSJ were 
dedicated to supporting the industrial and service unions. This was 
entirely laudable, but it often meant ignoring the labour issues in our 
own backyard of the knowledge economies. Even at that time, it was 
difficult to get an audience for the view that we were not only in 
denial about this, and that we should be alerting the labour movement 
to the opportunities and dangers posed by the burgeoning 
culture/creative/knowledge industries (I wrote an essay "The Mental 
Labour Problem," which was intended to address this denial). Not long 
after, managers and ideologues of the New Economy dramatically reshaped 
perceptions about how value could be generated, and the labour movement 
was left sucking dust. New media employees helped to glamorize the 24/7 
workweek, design, art, architecture, and custom craft were embraced as 
engines for boosting property values in the real estate boom, the 
amateur (MyCreativity) ethic became the basis for a whole new discount 
mode of production that exploited the cult of attention as a cheap 
labour supply, and much, much, more along these lines.

The only development along these lines that has really attracted trade 
unions is in academic organizing, and largely because it offers a 
fairly traditional opportunity to recruit new members. For sure, there 
are individual unionists, mostly in sectors like telecommunications, 
who are keeping up with changes in the mode of production, but the 
labour movement, as a whole, and not just in the US, may have 
relinquished the short-term opportunity to fight over the terms of the 
knowledge economy. Knowledge and cultural workers are accustomed to 
think of themselves as in the vanguard, and it will probably take a 
generation of "proletarianization" and another big recession to 
persuade them that collective organizing is in their long-term 
interest. But that's no reason not to build a movement of ideas and 
actions that will be serviceable, when that moment comes.

GL: I read your Low Pay, High Profileas a search for new strategies in 
activism. In your 'academic activism' you leave behind the 
disempowering reform-or-revolution choice and try to imagine, being 
part of a movement, where the 'global push for fair labour' can be 
taken. Here in Amsterdam I have seen how the Clean Clothes Campaign is 
doing this. Is it fair to say that you practice a form of 'radical 
pragmatism'? Is there a politics of immersion? Many of us fear deep 
engagement and try to keep the appropriation machines at a safe 
distance. How do you gain the confidence to survive Disney's 
Celebration, the dotcom madness, and Chinese IT culture?

AR: "Intellectual activism" is a term we use among our students. We 
vastly prefer it to "public intellectual" because there are very few 
slots available on the public media spectrum at any one time, and they 
are usually reserved for gatekeepers or single-issue political 
advocates. For sure, activists and intellectuals function in a 
different kind of temporality. The activist needs something to happen 
tomorrow, the intellectual needs a slower germination of ideas. But you 
can't have movement of action without a movement of ideas, and the 
challenge really is to try to synchronize your thought with what's 
happening on the ground. If you work closely, as a scholar, with a 
justice movement, then requests will invariably be made to provide 
tailor-made research to further the activist cause. In some instances, 
that will be straightforward, in others it won't be so easy to provide 
because activists generally don't want complexity, they need black and 
white, and critical scholars are not trained to think in black and 
white. I have certainly encountered this dilemma in my own 
labour-oriented work, in the anti-sweatshop movement, for example, 
where, at times it seems that the only desirable research is that which 
corroborates the existence of corporate atrocities. But I didn't 
experience it as a fear of "deep engagement" as you suggest, nor as a 
fear of indulging in intellectual dishonesty.

Take the work I did in the China field as an example. I had been a 
China-watcher for a long time, but was clearly not a sinologist. 
Nonetheless, I figured that I may be able to produce some useful 
research (that a sinologist, bound by disciplinary convention, perhaps 
could not) by going there. So, too, since the AFL-CIO refuses to have 
any official relationship with the China labour federation, there was a 
real research gap for labour scholars and educators to fill. I was 
familiar with all the literature on the labour-intensive export 
factories of South China, but I could find very little about the 
Yangtze Delta workplaces, where the lion's share of high-tech FDI was 
beginning to flow, and most of it higher up the technology curve than 
in South China. At that time, there was a wave of anxiety about the 
outsourcing of high-wage, high-skill jobs to China and India, but very 
little was known about the conditions, aspirations, and opinions of the 
new offshore workforce employees. So I enrolled in Mandarin classes for 
a year to give me some language mobility and took my family off to 
Shanghai to see what I could find. A trained sinologist would probably 
not have started out interviewing where I did--at the American Chamber 
of Commerce, in the belly of the beast, as it were--but in fact the 
contacts I made there helped open doors to many of the factory and 
office workplaces where I did my research. Nor do I think that a 
sinologist would have followed some of the leads I did since they were 
often about explicitly transnational flows of capital, knowledge, 
technology, personnel, and customs.

In fact, in the year's worth of field work I did in the Yangtze Delta 
industrial parks, I didn't come across a single researcher doing 
anything in any of the areas I myself was pursuing--documenting the 
regional labour market, workplace conditions, the nature and character 
of the investments, the rate of technology transfer and knowledge 
transfer into the industrial parks, the cultural conflicts between 
young Chinese engineers and their foreign managers, etc. Now this is 
the single biggest regional economy in China, and the most high-tech, 
so it was astonishing to find no one else in the field. Even the 
foreign journalists I got to know there rarely left their offices in 
Shanghai--a convention, no doubt, that goes back to pre-Liberation 
days.

So, to get back to the gist of your question, I think the "confidence" 
you refer to has more to do with not being bound by the conventions of 
a discipline or a profession that tends to dictate the conduct of 
scholars, activist, and journalists much more than we imagine. I became 
an agnostic in that regard a long time ago. The downside of this is 
that you have no idea who your audience will be, or that you will 
indeed have an audience. For example, the most detailed early review of 
my China book was by George Gilder, in his newsletter for high-tech 
investors. He mined it for information about the performance of Chinese 
tech companies that would be especially useful to his readers. Not 
exactly the kind of audience I had anticipated!

GL: How important is storytelling in your work and is it something that 
we, cultural theorists, can learn? I find this skill more difficult to 
practice, and teach, compared to the relatively easy act of summarizing 
the theory of canon of the day, now Agamben and Badiou, in the past 
Derrida and Foucault, and Althusser and Gramsci in the early 1980s. I 
see your recent work in the critical anthropology tradition. Action 
research also had a particular mix of observation and active 
participation. Is ethnography something we should look into or do we 
then again run the risk of turning it into a theory religion?

AR: You are right, it is not easy to teach, and largely because it is 
so experiential. I was trained first as a textual analyst, and then as 
a theorist, so I developed skills as a close reader and a conceptual 
thinker. What this meant was that I was a pretty bad listener. I grew 
up in a storytelling, working class culture in Scotland, but my 
academic training had taught me to distrust all of that, in fact, to 
distrust language tout court. Over time, and as I developed my own 
ethnographic techniques, I had to re-learn how to listen to other 
people's stories, and to be accountable to these people when I used 
their stories for my own purposes. So listening was important. As for 
telling the stories, the genre of investigative journalism has probably 
been as useful to me as critical anthropology. When anthropologists are 
in the field, they are often competing with journalists (though not on 
deadlines) but they rarely acknowledge journalistic narrative. In the 
full-length ethnographies I have done--in new media companies, in 
Celebration, and in China--I was competing directly with other 
journalists for stories insofar as my informants were often used to 
talking to journalists. Being a scholar was an advantage in those 
situations because people trust you more with their stories and 
confidence.

As for ethnography becoming a religion, I don't see that happening. To 
go back to what I said at the outset, it's a method for getting from A 
to B, but it's not the only way, nor is it always the best way. You 
have to choose your methods based on your goals. These days, 
ethnography feels more honest to me than the kind of armchair criticism 
that I started out doing in the 1980s, but I still do certain kinds of 
writing that don't entail getting out of my seat.

GL: Activist campaigning is becoming more and more associated with 
'tactical media', social networking and so on. Is this justified? Do 
you think that a better understanding of Web 2.0 and new media would 
alter activism as is often claimed? As you know my work is associated 
with the 'tactical media' term but I have often made clear that (new) 
media cannot create social movements out of nothing. A more effective 
way of using cell phones and the Net is not in itself a guarantee that 
the real existing discontent in global capitalism will flip into 
organized resistance or even protest. 

AR: I agree, these days it is necessary but not sufficient for social 
movements to be tech savvy. The tactics for outwitting the oppressor 
have to be continually updated, and that is the job of movement 
tacticians, but the "sufficient conditions" for change haven't altered 
appreciably. You need a critical mass of popular sentiment, you need a 
significant fraction of elites to break with their class station and 
cross over, and you need an effective formula for capturing media 
attention. These days, most social justice movements have about six or 
seven years to make their mark before a) activists burn out or branch 
off, b) the formula exhausts its efficacy, c) the enemy coopts public 
attention. The anti-sweatshop movement was a good example; the formula 
of shaming the brand was like a narcotic for the media, "Nike 
sweatshops" became a household phrase, and elite guilt was 
appropriately mobilized. It took the lavishly funded efforts of 
"corporate social responsibility" several years to convince the public 
that the big garment companies had somehow "fixed" the problem and that 
it was OK to go out and buy Gap clothing again. In the interim, I think 
we achieved quite a lot. At the very least, the trading rules of the 
global economy are now contested in the public eye, rather than written 
in secret by unelected WTO officials, and consciousness-raising about 
sweatshops contributed, in no small part, to that shift in the rules of 
play.

That said, there is one key area of activism in which tactical media 
has become particularly important, and that is in the copyfight over 
intellectual property. The corporate rush to proprietize knowledge is 
surely one of the biggest acts of theft in centuries, and new media 
activists have a frontline role to play, because the tactical tools 
they use are, more often than not, the technologies at play in the 
property grab. Disciplining rogue users (for the downloading of 
unauthorized content) is just the most highly publicized face of the 
massive effort of capital-owners to administer an effective division of 
labour within the knowledge industries. That effort increasingly 
depends upon control over not only the authorized use of technologies, 
but also the IP inside employee's heads. But it's not just the 
high-tech employees that are suspect. The new property grabbers are in 
a running battle with the ever-proficient hackers of the technocratic 
fraternity, and now they have to contend with a small army of 
legally-minded and tech-savvy advocates of the information commons.

As I see it, this contest is very much an elite "copyfight" between 
capital-owner monopolists and the labour aristocracy of the digitariat 
(a dominated fraction of the dominant class, as Pierre Bourdieu once 
described intellectuals) struggling to preserve and extend their 
high-skill interests. The history of shareware and its maturation into 
free software/open source can be seen as the narrative of a distinctive 
class fraction--a thwarted technocratic elite whose libertarian world 
view butts up against the established proprietary interests of 
capital-owners. While they see their knowledge and expertise generating 
wealth, they chafe at their lack of control over the property assets. 
Their willingness to work against the proprietary IP regime is directly 
linked to their entrepreneurial-artisanal instincts, but, more 
importantly, it is a power-test of their capacity to act upon the 
world. The class traitors in their midst are engineer innovators who go 
over to the dark Gatesian side of IP monopoly enforcement. So, too, the 
mutualist ethos of the FLOSS communities is very much underpinned by 
the confidence of members that their expertise will keep them on the 
upside of the technology curve that protects the best and brightest 
from proletarianization.

What I don't see is all that much attention to those less-skilled who 
are further down the entitlement hierarchy, who are not direct 
participants in this power struggle, and whose prospects in the chain 
of production do not extend to the profile of the master-craftsman 
straining at the corporate leash. They are much more distant from the 
rewards of authorship, and are less likely to feel personally 
disrespected when IP rights are expropriated from above. So how do the 
interests of these below-the-line workers get represented in the 
copyfight? I'd like to see new media tacticians think more about 
sustainable income models for everyone rather than focus primarily on 
the livelihoods of creatives or high-skill knowledge workers.

GL: Surprisingly, in the new media sector, young professionals are 
earning less and less while their working conditions aren't that great 
either. This is one of the outcomes of Rosalind Gill and Daniella van 
Daemon's case study on the Amsterdam web designers. It's important here 
to add another level that sufficiently describes freedom and 
subjectivity of the actors involved. People are passionate about the 
challenges that new media create. In what ways could we describe such a 
paradoxical circumstance?

AR: The Amsterdam study is interesting, though these results don't 
surprise me. The labour market for new media employees was at its 
rosiest at the height of the New Economy years---there was a limited 
labour supply, the new entrants had a monopoly on skills and applied 
knowledge, and demand for them was fierce. Under normal circumstances, 
conditions and pay scales could be expected to deteriorate from that 
high. But the impact of outsourcing, since 2001, has accelerated that 
decline, if not in terms of actual jobs transferred overseas, then as a 
result of the general climate of insecurity that has been ushered into 
white collar and no collar workplaces by the imminent threat of 
"knowledge transfer." The house motto of Razorfish in the boom years 
used to be "Whatever can be digital, will be." It was by no means easy 
to predict what came to pass all too quickly as "whatever can be 
outsourced, will be." For sure, the offshore transfers started out in 
coding and in the more routine sectors, but they moved up into design 
and web development fairly rapidly. As far as jobs in the global North 
goes, there's no reason not to expect that the situation will soon 
resemble the garment industry, with the most specialized, custom work 
remaining onshore, perhaps along with a less formal sector of sweated 
or intern work needed for fast turnaround. Everything else will be done 
overseas.

As for on-the-job passion and enthusiasm, it's an integral part of the 
job profile, attested to through thick and thin. It was this devotion 
that got me interested in studying new media workplaces in the first 
place, since it's quite uncommon, in the history of modern work, to 
hear employees express this kind of zeal around their jobs. My study, 
in No-Collar, turned into an effort to describe and diagnose the 
conditions of "self-exploitation" that resulted. One of my informants 
put it most succinctly when she said she was given "work that you just 
couldn't help doing," and in a workplace from which the very last drops 
of alienation had been squeezed. Nowadays, every knowledge industry 
employer recognizes the benefits of this kind of ideal employee, who is 
turned on by the challenge of risk, accustomed to sacrifice (long 
hours) in pursuit of gratification, and willing to trade his or her 
most free time and free thoughts in return for the gifts of mobility 
and autonomy. Folks in the arts have long lived with this sacrificial 
mentality, and know a thing or two about the insecurity associated with 
it. So, too, gearheads, from the days of ham radio onwards, are 
familiar with the devotional cults that a machine can inspire. But 
neither cohort has been prepared for the consequences wrought by the 
rapid industrialization of their respective crafts and hobbies. The 
effort to industrialize custom creativity is a primary goal of 
capitalist production today, right now.

I suppose I would say the same of the academic sector, with the proviso 
that academics are so fond of their siege mentality that they can only 
see their workplaces being invaded by corporate logic or industrial 
process. They don't see that the traffic goes in both directions, they 
know so little about the corporate world that they can't see how the 
mentality and customs of academic life are being transplanted into 
knowledge firms, whose research is increasingly conducted along similar 
lines. The truth of the matter is we are living through the formative 
stages of a mode of production marked by a quasi-convergence of the 
academy and the knowledge corporation. Neither is what it used to be; 
both are mutating into new species that share and trade many 
characteristics, and these changes are part and parcel of the economic 
environment in which they function.

GL: You touched on the "creative economy." As you know, we've been 
dealing with this in the MyCreativity project that my institute in 
Amsterdam co-initiated. What should the critical research in this field 
look into? There is a call to go beyond the hype bashing and look into 
the labour precarity issue. Still, the consensus-driven hegemony of 
business consultants seems strong and uncontested. What work could be 
done to open the field and make space for other voices and practices? 
Are there ways to obtain cultural hegemony these days?

AR: That's a good question, and should be at the heart of anyone 
interested in a sustainable job economy. It's not all that productive 
to scoff at policy initiatives that might just be capable of generating 
a better deal for creative labour. As I see it, critical research ought 
to be doing what governments are not, and that is coming up with 
qualitative profiles of what a "good" creative job should look like, 
based on ethnographic methods. Currently, all we have are productivity 
and GDP statistics, on the government side, and, on the other side, a 
cumulative pile of scepticism based on the well-known perils of 
precarity that afflict creative work, dating back to the rise of 
culture markets in the late eighteenth century. I have yet to see a 
"mapping" of the creative sector that includes factors relating to the 
quality of work life. It wasn't that long ago, in the 1970s, in 
response to the so-called "revolt against work," that governments 
actively championed "quality of work life." Of course, corporations 
came up with their own versions of "innovative" alternatives to the 
humdrum routines of standard industrial employment, but the hunger for 
mentally challenging work in a secure workplace has undergirded and 
outlived all the management fads that followed.

For those with an appetite for a dialogue with the policy-makers, I'd 
say that the qualitative research about good jobs is a plausible way to 
go (and I'm talking about fully-loaded jobs, not simply work 
opportunities). It wouldn't take all that much to come up with some 
proposals for guidelines, if not outright guarantees, about income and 
security, based on that kind of research. The goal would be to offer a 
sustainable alternative to the IP jackpot economy that currently drives 
the consultants' world-view. I'm not sure if the result would be what 
you would call cultural hegemony, but if the challenge to existing 
hegemony is going to draw on labour power in any way then it's in our 
interest to ensure that there will be a robust employment sector there 
to provide heft and volume to these challenges. Clearly, the strategies 
for organizing have to be re-thought in ever more ingenious ways, but 
there are no good substitutes for organizing, as far as I can see. 
Tactics like culture jamming or brand busting have their uses, and they 
have served as appropriate tools, but you can't give up on the power of 
numbers.

(edited by Ned Rossiter)


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