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New research on creative workers

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Professor Stephanie Taylor introduces a new collection of published research. 

Pathways into Creative Working Lives is a collection of fifteen chapters on new research into the ways that people enter so-called 'creative' work. For more than two decades, policy makers and educationalists have celebrated the ever-expanding range of occupations that make up the global sector of the cultural and creative industries. Over a similar period, the higher education sector has developed more education and training courses for people who aspire to enter creative careers. Some of these courses are presented through art schools, the conventional training places for creative practitioners. Others are linked to new degrees on the creative industries. And in addition to these more formal pathways, many people attempt, with varying success, to turn their personal creative talents and enthusiasms into income-earning jobs. Artists and makers, designers, musicians and performers in different genres and media, writers, curators and many others all attempt monetise their creativity and creative practice, with varied success.

For academic researchers, creative work raises a great many issues, economic, political, ideological and psychological. There is now a substantial literature about the creative industries across several disciplines. The psychology of creativity is a well-established, to some extent separate field, largely concerned with how creativity can be defined, explained and fostered. For social psychologists like me, the focus shifts to the perspective of the workers themselves. Why do they value creativity? What is the shape and nature of a creative working life? indeed, what do its practitioners think that creativity is (Taylor 2019) and why do they persist in the pursuit of creative careers, in the face of well-publicised challenges and difficulties?

The new edited collection addresses these and related issues. The collection developed out of an event for an international research project on creative industries and the digital economy*. Researchers from different countries and disciplines met in Dublin to present their findings on the career pathways and opportunities available to creative workers in different national contexts. We talked about the effects of state-funded projects, old and new expectations, technologies and initiatives to support creative workers, and we considered the barriers to success. The research that was discussed at the event is presented in the thirteen chapters in the body of the new collection.

In the first and final chapters, Susan Luckman and I write as co-editors of the collection. In Chapter 1 'Creative aspiration and the betrayal of promise? The experience of new creative workers', we consider whether higher education offers effective preparation for a creative career. We look at the obstacles encountered by aspiring creative workers and ask what can help or hinder them. In the final Chapter 15, 'New pathways into creative work?' we consider some long-held more general assumptions about how people become workers, and ask what, if anything, makes creative work different. We conclude by turning back to my previous research on the practitioner's own viewpoint (Taylor, 2019), considering how a personal identification as a creative person impacts on the experience of creative work.

* ‘Creative Industries and the Digital Economy as Drivers of EU Integration and Innovation’ (CIDEII) Erasmus+ Jean Monnet Project 2017-2019

References

Taylor, S. (2019). A participant concept of contemporary creativity. Social Psychology Quarterly, 82(4), 453-472.

Pathways into Creative Working Lives is published by Palgrave Macmillan https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-38246-9 Three of the chapters, including Chapter 1 https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-38246-9_1 and Chapter 15 https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-38246-9_15 are available open access so they can be downloaded directly

Read about Stephanie Taylor's work here http://www.open.ac.uk/people/sjt38

 

 


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Picture of Stephanie Taylor

The new normal of working lives

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In this week's blog, Stephanie Taylor introduces a new interdisciplinary collection of research The new normal of working lives: critical studies in contemporary work and employment, co-edited by Stephanie Taylor and Susan Luckman for Palgrave Macmillan (2018). She discusses some of the issues it raises for social psychologists and other social researchers, concerning a contemporary worker subject.

 News about changes to work tend to focus on technological developments, such as the likely effects of robotics. But working lives have already changed greatly in recent decades, and not only because of technology. ‘New work’ is discussed in an academic collection to be published in January 2018,  The new normal of working lives: critical studies in contemporary work and employment, edited by myself and Susan Luckman.

The collection brings together research conducted by academics from different disciplines, including cultural and media studies, sociology and psychology. A number of the papers were originally presented in a conference stream (at the WORK2015 conference http://www.utu.fi/en/units/tcls/sites/work2015/Pages/home.aspx ) entitled ‘Reconceptualising work’. That topic and the title of the collection indicate some of the key questions addressed. What changes have occurred in the way we think about work? What aspects of work that previously might have received more attention have now come to be taken for granted as normal and unremarkable? Following from that, how are people changing themselves to manage this ‘new normal’ and become the kind of worker that's required today?

Although the collection discusses many kinds of new work, some common themes emerge. Most of the workers who were studied have high ambitions. They want to do satisfying and personally meaningful work which pays a good income, and they want to combine this with a rich personal and family life. The privileged, or lucky, can arrange their lives to achieve that. However, for the majority of the workers discussed in the collection, having everything is not attainable, or at least (as they see it) not yet.

The collection suggests that whether people today are employed by an organisation or work for themselves, they operate to a great extent as ‘loners’ rather than as part of a collective. They accept individual responsibility,  for solving problems and meeting deadlines, for acquiring qualifications and updating their technological skills, and often for paying for their workplaces and equipment. Some of them have taken over work that was previously the responsibility of governments and the public sector, such as the provision of care for the elderly. Some of them are making new jobs out of activities often regarded as hobbies, like computer gaming or blogging or vlogging. Many of them bring their personal selves into their work, utilising their enthusiasms (for instance, for the gaming) or their private experiences (in the blogging and vlogging).

They also give up their personal time. They accept very long working days, disciplining themselves to work more hours with less ‘down time’. They work evenings and weekends, and in transit between home and work. They are seldom off duty so accept the breakdown of barriers between work and private life. Many of them use their homes as their workplaces, especially as a way of managing caring responsibilities.

All of this inevitably creates problems. Many of the workers don’t earn much, especially for the effort and the long hours they put in. Yet they apparently accept the difficulties as necessary. In the most extreme situations they manage by hoping for better lives in the future, even when there seems little reason to expect improvement, and sometimes when their current actions (for instance, incurring debts while working unpaid) will almost certainly create extra problems in the future.

Taken together, the collection therefore presents a picture of difficulties but also optimism, of dedication but also great expectations. It suggests that contemporary workers discipline themselves to be extremely hardworking and tolerant of difficulties, to prioritise their jobs over their private lives, to accept disappointment and limited rewards but also remain ambitious and optimistic. Is this a sustainable ideal, or even one that can be achieved? Whose interests does it serve? What is required to make yourself into this new worker? And is this the kind of person we should be aspiring to become?

To learn more about the module DD317 Advancing social psychology, you can watch a video here  https://youtu.be/dbzF4hBeBkk

 


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