Creative Work and Emotional Labour in the Television Industry
In keeping with the focus of this special section, we concentrate initially on some of the problems of autonomist Marxist concepts such as `immaterial labour', `affective labour' and `precarity' for understanding work in the cultural industries. We then briefly review some relevant media theory (John Thompson's notion of mediated quasi-interaction) and some key recent sociological research on cultural labour (especially work by Andrew Ross and Laura Grindstaff, the latter drawing on Hochschild's concept of emotional labour), which we believe may be more useful than autonomist concepts in developing empirically informed critique. The main body of the article then consists of an ethnographic account of working on one particular television programme, an account that aims to build on these theoretical debates. We analyse how the power to provide exposure or not to individuals in the talent show genre in contemporary television (a feature that derives from the symbolic power of producers to make texts that are then circulated to massive numbers of people) and disputes between commissioners and independent producers about how best to go about doing so (an organizational issue) are registered in the form of stress, anxiety and sometimes poor working relations among project teams of young television researchers (a matter of working conditions and experiences). We especially focus on how additional pressures are borne by these workers because of the requirements to undertake emotional labour, involving the handling of strong emotions on the part of talent show contributors, and to maintain good working relations in short-term project work, requirements generated by the need to ensure future employment. Ultimately, then, we support the view that creative work is `precarious' - but we go beyond the generalizations involved in concepts such as immaterial labour and affective labour to show the specific ways in which precariousness is registered and negotiated in the lives of young workers in one industry.
Theory, Culture & Society