Cultural Work, Convergence, and the Creative Industries

The work of the likes of Bourdieu, Becker, and Peterson are undoubtedly key to the focus of this book, and many of the authors make direct reference to them. However, comics work also draws upon more recent studies in the areas of cultural, or “creative,” work. The creative industries have become an area of intense focus by sociologists and media scholars of late, as work in the creative industries has undergone numerous changes in response to socioeconomic and political factors that govern the lives of creative workers. Mark Deuze’s Media Work (2008), Stephanie Taylor and

Karen Littleton’s Contemporary Identities of Creativity and Creative Work

(2012), Angela McRobbie’s Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries (2014), and David Hesmondhalgh and Sarah Baker’s Creative Labour: Media Work in Three Cultural Industries (2011) are four prominent examples of new and influential studies of the creative industries that have been published in recent years. They focus on industries such as fashion, television production, journalism, music, fine art, advertising, theater, and freelance writing, extrapolating assertions about the wider cultural economy from case studies in these areas that often involve extensive fieldwork, interviews, and firsthand accounts by practitioners and participants in the creative economy. Hesmondhalgh and Baker, in particular, provide useful templates for attempting to define and understand cultural work and its particular qualities. Their definition (2011, 9) of cultural work, driven by symbolic actions of those engaged in creative labor, bears repeating here. They define cultural work as

those jobs, centred on the activity of symbol-making, which are to be found in large numbers in the cultural industries. [These jobs include, but are not limited to,] primary creative personnel such as writers, actors, directors, musicians; craft and technical workers such as camera operators, film editors and sound engineers; creative managers such as television producers, magazine editors and A&R personnel; administrators; executives; and unskilled labour.

Cultural work is thus understood as any work within the creative indus- tries—any work which, to return to Becker’s notion of an art object as the product of cooperation, makes some contribution, however small, to the eventual products and symbols of creativity. By extension, then, comics work is a subset of cultural work as well as a type of cultural work specific to the comics industry.

Also of importance in this context are the radical changes to the production and consumption of all global media by rapid technological change, globalization, and late capitalism. Workers in the creative industries have had to adapt their approaches and working patterns and have in many cases had their working conditions radically altered. As noted by Hesmondhalgh and Baker (2011) and others in their studies of such workers, precarious freelance work on insecure contracts is now rife. Similar working conditions or issues in the comics industry are beginning to be explored (Woo 2015a, b), and comics work seeks to understand these conditions and the nexus of issues raised by them—including not just how, but why, people choose to undertake comics work.

Media convergence (Jenkins 2008) is responsible for a growing participatory culture (Jenkins et al. 2013) and a blurring of the line between fan and creator and between producer and consumer. Henry Jenkins is once again a key figure in the study of creative labor when approached in the context of digital change and the growth of participatory culture and has written extensively on fan culture, literature (specifically Moby Dick), and film franchises. Significantly for this book and for our concept of comics work, Jenkins has also worked with cartoonist and comics theorist Scott McCloud to bring the concepts of convergence and participation into comics criticism. In a recent talk at MIT (Jenkins 2014), McCloud and Jenkins reexamined McCloud’s 2000 book Reinventing Comics, in which he made a number of predictions about the future of comics, such as that comics would move almost entirely online with an enhanced and diversified reading experience for consumers. Reinventing Comics had not, they concluded, accounted for cultural changes resulting in the converging labor of fans and the growth of participation of consumers, nor had it anticipated the proliferation of content becoming free at the point of delivery (examined closely in Lovell 2013). These changes are significant for all forms of cultural work, and comics work as a concept must also account for such convergences; for example, crowdfunding (whether project based through a site such as Kickstarter or on an ongoing basis through a subscription site such as Patreon) offers new opportunities for fans to contribute to the production of a comic. As the majority of the chapters of this book demonstrate in one way or another, convergence is increasingly relevant to comics work and future developments in the field.

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