The International Division of Cultural Labor

All the reviews - both from the publisher, anonymous peers, and media professionals - are in - and extremely encouraging! So the book (Media Work - Polity Press) is moving forward. I will be tweaking and editing until January for a publication date in September 2007.

There remains one major issue for this book and its argument that I am struggling with. Ultimately I find myself working towards a conclusion that emphasizes the unique position of the individual professional culture creator. This position flows from the social structure of media work, as the rapid increase in translocal financing arrangements, marketing and production networks contribute to the increasing individualization and precariousness of labor in the media industries. Sure, this erodes the chances for workers to establish a common ground, to unionize, or to fight for eachother - as working relationships become ever more contingent, temporary, and ultimately disconnected across time and space as workflow (especially on big-budget productions such as Triple-A games or Tentpole movies) goes 'glocal'.

However, the unique position of the individual media worker is also a matter of culture and agency, as that what drives the global cultural economy - in terms of creativity, commercial viability, and aesthetic diversity - is: talent. Without talent there is no content.

Several scholars - foremost among them Toby Miller - have developed a critique of the emerging global production workflow in creative industries, terming this approach The New International Division of Cultural Labor (NICL), which centralizes the importance of 'flexible' cultural labor to the global cultural economy. The NICL approach suggests that one, when trying to understand what issues such as rampant globalization, the rise of the entertainment economy, the triump of popular culture over civil society and the dominance of the neo-liberal discourse of market-driven 'free trade' in fact mean for people, one should focus on the role of governments, international organizations, unions, and civil society in the global cultural infrastructure.

Considering how work in the media is increasingly part of global production networks, and how such established working practices trickle down to other industries, it is important to take up a critical stance - a position that looks beyond the employee and employer to all other roleplayers.

I must admit, I am torn. I realize the importance and validity of the NICL concept, and my own research shows being part of an almost invisible yet omnipotent international network of intertwined creative processes is very much a lived reality for workers in all media industries (perhaps least of all in journalism), including advertising, film and tv, and games.

I also recognize how politics (deregulation, tax incentives), economics (market forces privileging 1st world copyright and IP structures), technology (digital technologies disconnecting work from time or place - and sometimes even skill) allow corporations, production companies and other employers involved to circumvent any kind of collective organization, union influence, or bargaining agreement.

On the other hand, I do see the same forces opening up much more creative freedom for cultural entrepreneurs - both amateur and professional. In fact, there are hardly managers or producers out there that we spoke with that did not acknowledge that most of their time goes into keeping their workers happy. Indeed, the retention problem is one of the crucial issues affecting media work.

I guess I must consider both elements in my analysis - there is ample room for exploitation (on a massive global scale) as well as for agency or resistance. The key is to understand how resistance or agency may work on anything but a collective level, as labor has become truly individualized. There must be an integrated, supranational and hybrid perspective possible here - but I am not seeing it clearly yet. Any thoughts?