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Hope labour in cultural work: Reflecting on the limits and possibilities for collective action

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ewan MackenzieORCiD, Professor Alan McKinlay


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This paper examines ‘hope labour’ in the context of cultural work and aims to further its empirical exploration and theorisation. Understood as un- or under-compensated work undertaken in the present, usually for exposure or experience, and with the hope that future work opportunities may follow (Kuehn and Corrigan, 2013), hope labour is naturalised through neoliberal discourses. Reinforced by technologies of the self such as the career (Grey, 1994), hope labour is made distinct from other forms of free labour insofar as it stresses the relationship between present and future work, shifting the onus onto individuals as socially engaged and future orientated productive subjects. Drawing on recent empirical research undertaken as part of an AHRC funded project investigating the cultural industries in the North East of England, the paper examines in-depth interviews, informal ethnographic conversations and qualitative survey responses with self-employed and employed cultural workers. Insight is then gained into the particular practices of the self that rationalise hope labour as meaningful and worthwhile, despite its individualising effects and its legitimisation of power asymmetries. The paper concludes by reflecting on the limits and possibilities for collective action in response to the insecurities of contemporary cultural work.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mackenzie E, McKinlay A

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: BSA Annual Conference 2018: Identity, Community and Social Solidarity

Year of Conference: 2018

Online publication date: 11/04/2018

Acceptance date: 25/03/2018

Publisher: British Sociological Association