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Making a living in the Urban Cultural Industries

May 8, 2013

If you tend to think of the creative industries as having a homogenising effect on a city, you might want to think again. Angela McRobbie has outlined a set of characteristics that distinguish the urban cultural industries of London, Berlin and Glasgow, and in so doing encourages us to appreciate the specificity of these industries. London, she describes as aggressive, competitive and hierarchical. Berlin as open, vibrant and critically engaged. Glasgow as having a strong working class ethos, political consciousness and, on occasions, anti-commercial in its approach. These of course are generalisations but they got me thinking: what is the potential character of Belfast as a centre for urban cultural industry?

In the lecture (below) McRobbie references Richard Florida’s outline of the the desirable criteria for the development of a successful creative sector – talent, technology and tolerance. Surely Belfast isn’t short of talent, and technology isn’t beyond the city’s reach but can it boast an atmosphere of tolerance? By tolerance, McRobbie points out, Florida is referring to a strong liberal civic culture that provides a context for diverse lifestyles. By any measure Belfast fails the tolerance test. It has shown that it can attract media corporations that want to use Northern Ireland as a location but whether it can appeal to Florida’s ‘creative class’ in the long term and encourage them to settle in such an illiberal part of the world, is a moot point.

Anyway, you can listen to Angela McRobbie’s lecture in full below. Her main theme is to think through the role young creative graduates play in producing employment in this post-industrial era when work is scarce. Highlighting the importance of subcultural entrepreneurs who grew out of the post-punk, DIY culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s, McRobbie argues that this generation developed a homegrown labour market through creative enterprises such as music and fashion as a response to the high unemployment at that time. Despite its vibrancy and talent, the producers of this subcultural economy couldn’t access sufficient capital and their incomes were paltry. As a consequence they were ripe for exploitation by the corporate world. Eventually the specialist talent of these ‘urban cottage industries’ gave way (or transmorgrified into) a second wave of cultural ‘multi-taskers’. McRobbie sees the ‘creatives’ that graduated into this new environment as being required to be mobile and networked, seeking employment in an informalised labour market. This has lead, she argues, to the crystalisation of new forms of exclusion as there is no protection against nepotism and corruption, and this in turn has given rise to a new urban hierarchy, while depoliticising work.

So our homework for this week is to discuss how we might re-politicise work for those chasing positions in the creative industries.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 8, 2013 11:50 am

    Thanks for posting this. Interesting point about nepotism and corruption in the informalised labour market. I found similar trends in the U.S. advertising industry:

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