This week’s reading is the chapter on Work from The Informal Media Economy, by Roman Lobato and Julian Thomas. It discusses the debate between formal and informal work/labour in the creative, culture and media industries. Formal labour is work that is structured and paid in a formal way, whereas informal labour is associated with flexibility and freedom, as well as insecurity and precarity.
The chapter starts with an overview of the academic discussions of creative labour. A lot of creative work is informal, but it is important to distinguish between those who choose to work informally, and those who are forced to work informally. For those who choose it, informal work allows mobility and flexibility, which works well for a ‘creative lifestyle’. Small to medium sized new media businesses work informally by thriving on personal networks, using the limited resources that they have, and relying on creativity/imagination/talent/skills. People who thrive in informal creative work cross the lines between worker, artist and entrepreneur. Those who do not choose informal work find themselves in precarious situations, where they can feel a mixture of pleasure, dissatisfaction and self-exploitation. People find pleasure in working in the creative industries, and the long hours and dedication that come from it, but this can lead to self-exploitation in the form of unpaid hours, poor work conditions and underemployment. Businesses and industries can be under-representative of genders and minorities because of informal labour, and the lack of unionization in informal labour is also an issue.
The chapter then moves on to discuss the limitations of these academic debates, noting that they are often eurocentric. An example that is given is the online content farms, where projects are posted for ‘amateur’ writers. Anybody from around the world can write this content, and the content produced is often low quality because of the time constraints and the low wages. Some people think these content farms are diluting the formal traditions of writing and journalism, but the chapter provides an example of a person from Bangladesh who completed a job in a week for $65US, and compared this to the average weekly income in Bangladesh of $16US. This example led the writers to question who we consider when we talk about precarity in the creative industries and whether our discussions are truly global. They also bring up the fact that there has always been job insecurity in history, especially for women, so does that mean that it is only becoming a debate now because white-collar men are being affected by it? The authors compare this ethical dilemma to previous labour debates, where workers were trying to defend their jobs from those on the outside, and that these arguments are often racialized.
I found these points to be very important, because for all the insecurity I feel about getting a job in the future, it is important to think about the bigger picture and see it in a global sense. Work is being dispersed, and to think that a eurocentric education and work is more important or of higher quality that creative work from developing countries is a dismissive mistake. I think that the possible paths of solution that the authors made would be good steps in finding a balance between formal and informal labour in the creative industries. These were: creating a differentiated model of labour that considers the wide variety of work in the creative industries, assess prospects for future regulation, and conducting more measurement which will help push the regulation.