Media Work Book Review

Thrilled I am indeed with the latest issue of the scholarly journal New Media & Society (NMS) (disclaimer: I am on the editorial board, but have no say over content), as it features an extensive review of my Media Work book.

After earlier reviews in the trade press (in The Netherlands by Huub Wijfjes who questions my overreliance on the work and ideas of Zygmunt Bauman, and in the UK by Natalie Fenton), and a short booknote in the European Journal of Communication (EJC), the December 2008 issue of NMS features a review of the book by Cornell's Joshua Braun.

Barring protest from Sage, I reproduce the review below. Of course, I will link to or republish reviews of the book regardless whether these are primarily critical (like Wijfjes and Fenton) or whether the reviewers have been too kind (as in the EJC and NMS). Safe to say, I am excited that the book gets noticed at all!

UPDATE: reviews of Media Work have also appeared online, such as on the Masters of Media grouplog at the University of Amsterdam (link in English), and at the Industrias Culurais weblog of Rogério Santos (link in Portuguese).

Several other places online have used the book (or parts thereof) in evaluative contexts, such as at Dmitry Epstein's ThinkMacro blog, at Mark Hamilton's Notes From A Teacher blog, and elsewhere. I'll update as much as possible.

New Media & Society 10(6): 957 (2008)

Mark Deuze, Media Work. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007. xiii 1 278 pp. ISBN 9780745639253, $22.95 (pbk). Reviewed by Joshua A. Braun, Cornell University, USA.

Mark Deuze's Media Work is an intricate, theoretically informed and invaluable portrait of what it is like to work professionally in today’s media marketplace which, he argues, has begun to change rapidly, tumultuously and constantly. Throughout this excellent book, the author excels at identifying emerging trends within the various 'creative industries' and in bringing an impressive diversity of scholars into conversation with one another, ultimately seeking to use the media professions as examples of larger changes to contemporary life ushered in by globalization and the Information Age.

Deuze begins the book with a general discussion of contemporary life and work in ‘overdeveloped’ (p.48) countries, proceeding first to a discussion of the ‘creative industries’(p.45) generally and then to digitization of the media. He moves on, in several subsequent chapters, to detail the changing work practices in specific media industries: advertising, public relations and marketing communications; journalism;f ilm and television production; and ‘game design and development’(p.107).

Obviously this approach will appeal to a broad variety of audiences, from students planning careers in these changing fields to industry observers and media theorists. No doubt it also encourages a lot of nitpicking on the part of these groups as to which theories or industries warrant discussion and how Deuze characterizes those he examines. However, to focus myopically on his discussion of any one researcher or media company would miss the point of the book, as the author brings a remarkable number of theorists and industry observers into dialogue. No doubt there are a couple of scholars discussed in Media Work who might not have been mentioned previously in the same breath, but Deuze manages to group them in generative ways. Were it not for his skill at organizing this expansive review of the literature, reading a book like this one might be akin to drinking from a fire hose.

But organize it he does, and in describing the changing face of work in the media professions, Deuze pulls from the literature a number of interesting themes, tensions and nuances. A full summary would be difficult here, but a nice example is his discussion of media concentration. While the vertical and horizontal integration of massive media firms is a visible trend, with repercussions for work in the media, Deuze points out how this tendency coexists alongside, and sometimes fuels through outsourcing and other means, an explosion in the number of smaller media firms. Moreover, the purchase by large media conglomerates of other firms does not necessarily lead to the assimilation of the latter. Deuze details the numerous ways in which large corporations are not as monolithic as they may seem and points out that even as the expansion of these firms adds layers of bureaucracy, the need for organizational flexibility in the changing global market increasingly has stripped out hierarchical aspects of media work, with more tasks being completed externally and internally by freelance workers and project teams. The workers involved face a double-edged sword – they have less job security and are forced to learn new skills constantly to stay employable on unfavourable terms. At the same time,even as media workers complain of the precariousness of their lifestyle, many experience excitement and freedom in the opportunity to work for multiple employers over time,on different projects, utilizing different skills.

The book contains a great deal of fine-grained detail, supporting its claims with myriad citations and figures from academic, government and industry studies,b ut it makes relatively little use of the original research that was done in its writing. Deuze and his students conducted interviews with industry professionals and offer quotes from these throughout the work. However, they seem in the main almost superfluous to the book’s well-versed reviews of the existing literature, which make up the bulk of the text. Nonetheless, this is an arguably logical use of the book’s real estate, given that it is intended in part for use as a teaching text.

While a good portion of Media Work has appeared before in the form of individual articles, Deuze has done a superior job of stitching these together into a coherent book. Still,at least one unresolved tension presents itself in the work. Deuze offers the premise that nearly all work is becoming mediated and involved in the production of culture, thus making a discussion of the media industries especially important, insofar as they are a harbinger of changes which have begun to sweep across other work environments in the face of globalization and the onset of the information economy. At the same time, he subsequently focuses on ‘trends that can be considered particular to the professional identity of media work’(p.63). Given the prior premise, it is possible that people in other industries increasingly construct their identities in a manner similar to media professionals. However, there is still a ‘have-your-cake-and-eat-it’ aspect to treating media work simultaneously as a global indicator and a special case that seems too good to be true.

Deuze frames substantial portions of his dialogue using Zygmunt Bauman’s notion of ‘liquid life’ to great effect, painting a picture of societies generally and media professions in particular, undergoing massive alterations in the face of globalization, convergence and digitization. To the individual, he says, this upheaval presents itself as a blurring of the boundaries between work and leisure, public and private, global and local, mediated and direct experience – and it creates a situation in which we view change as the only constant. Some readers may find Deuze’s case for liquid life quite compelling, while I suspect others may see it as overstated or unappealing as a concept. However, even setting aside this particular discussion, there is plenty of value here for a wide variety of audiences.

Like every book, this one may give rise to discontents, but it accomplishes a great deal and opens up fertile ground for future discussions. It succeeds both as a college text and an exercise in theory, capturing not a snapshot of what media work was, but a glimpse of what it will be, while recognizing that change in the creative industries is both constant and uncertain, not static or teleological.