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Hope labour and the psychic life of cultural work

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



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© The Author(s) 2020. How do we understand the psychic life of cultural workers under neoliberalism? ‘Hope labour’ is a defining quality of a cultural worker’s experience, practice and identity. Hope labour is unpaid or under-compensated labour undertaken in the present, usually for exposure or experience, with the hope that future work may follow. Hope labour is naturalised by neoliberal discourses but not fully determined by them. Drawing upon empirical research investigating the ‘creative industries’ in the North East of England, we ask how hope labour is made meaningful and worthwhile for cultural workers positioned as entrepreneurial subjects, despite its legitimisation of power asymmetries. We develop Foucauldian studies of governmentality by addressing how cultural work is lived through neoliberal categories, demonstrating the conflicting discourses and relations to self involved in the constitution of entrepreneurial subjectivity. We make a novel contribution to an understanding of hope and precarity by illustrating how cultural workers begin to occupy the site of the entrepreneurial subject amidst conflicting configurations of hope, desire, anxiety and uncertainty.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mackenzie E, McKinlay A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Human Relations

Year: 2021

Volume: 74

Issue: 11

Pages: 1841-1863

Print publication date: 01/11/2021

Online publication date: 15/07/2020

Acceptance date: 10/06/2020

Date deposited: 11/06/2020

ISSN (print): 0018-7267

ISSN (electronic): 1741-282X

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd


DOI: 10.1177/0018726720940777


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Funder referenceFunder name
AH/P005160/1Arts & Humanities Research Council-AHRC (formerly AHRB)