Beyond the Model Worker: Surveying a Creative Precariat


  • Greig de Peuter Department of Communication Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada



Labour, precarity, creative industries, cultural workers, resistance


The figure of the self-reliant, risk-bearing, non-unionised, self-exploiting, always-on flexibly employed worker in the creative industries has been positioned as a role model of contemporary capitalism. Although the notion of the model-worker is a compelling critical diagnostic of the self-management of precarity in post-Fordist times, I argue that it provides an insufficient perspective on labour and the so-called creative economy to the extent that it occludes the capacity to contest among the workforces it represents. Informed by a larger research project, this article thematises salient features of select collective responses to precarity that are emerging from workers in nonstandard employment in the arts, the media, and cultural industries. The discussion is structured in three main parts: the first, ag-gregation, identifies initiatives in which employment status – rather than a specific profession or sector – is the basis of assembly and advocacy; the second, compensation, highlights unpaid work as a growing point of contention across sectors; and the third, occupation, describes cases in which precarious cultural workers are voicing their grievances and engaging in direct action in the context of wider social movements. These dimensions of the contemporary response to precarisation in the creative industries are at risk of being overlooked if the research optic on workers’ strategies is focused upon a single sector or a particular profession. In conclusion, I emphasise that the organisations, campaigns, and proposals that are surveyed in this article are marked by tensions between and among accommodative adaption, incremental improvements, and radical reformism vis-à-vis precarity.


Abrahamian, Atossa Araxia (2012): ‘The “I” in union’, Dissent (Winter): (accessed 7 March 2012).

Arnold, Dennis & Joseph R. Bongiovi (2013): ‘Precarious, Informalizing, and Flexible Work: Transforming Concepts and Understandings’, American Behavorial Scientist, 57:3, 289-308. DOI: 10.1177/0002764212466239

Arts & Labor (n.d.): ‘About’: (accessed 13 December 2013).

Arvidsson, Adam with Giannino Malossi & Serpica Naro (2010): ‘Passionate Work? Labour Conditions in the Milan Fashion Industry’, Journal for Cultural Research, 14:3, 295-309.

Azzellini, Dario & Immanuel Ness (eds) (2011): Ours to Master and to Own: Workers’ Control from the Commune to the Present, Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Bailey, Saki & Maria Edgarda Marcucci (2013): ‘Legalizing the Occupation: The Teatro Valle as a Cultural Commons’,South Atlantic Quarterly, 112:2, 396-405. DOI: 10.1215/00382876-2020271

Banks, Mark (2010): ‘Autonomy Guaranteed? Cultural Work and the “Art-Commerce” Relation’, Journal for Cultural Research, 14:3, 251-269. DOI: 10.1080/14797581003791487

Banks, Mark & David Hesmondhalgh (2009): ‘Looking for Work in Creative Industries Policy’, International Journal of Cultural Policy, 15:4, 415-430. DOI: 10.1080/10286630902923323

Berardi, Franco “Bifo” (2003): ‘What is the Meaning of Autonomy Today?’ Republicart (September): (accessed 2 December 2013).

Berardi, Franco “Bifo” (2011): ‘Semio-capital and the Problem of Solidarity’: (accessed 21 May 2013).

Bodnar, Christopher (2006): ‘Taking it to the Streets: French Cultural Worker Resistance and the Creation of a Precariat Movement’, Canadian Journal of Communication, 31:3, 675-694.

Boltanski, Luc & Ève Chiapello (2005): The New Spirit of Capitalism, Gregory Elliott (trans.), London: Verso.

Brophy, Enda (2010): ‘The Subterranean Stream: Communicative Capitalism and Call Centre Labour’, ephemera, 10:3/4, 470-483.

Bryan-Wilson, Julia (2012): ‘Occupational Realism’, TDR: The Drama Review, 56:4, 32-48. DOI: 10.1162/DRAM_a_00212

CARFAC (Canadian Artists’ Representation / Le Front des artistes canadiens (2013): Recommendations for an Artist Resale Right in Canada, April. Ottawa, ON: CARFAC: (accessed 2 December 2013).

Cherki, Eddy & Michel Wieviorka (2007): ‘Autoreduction Movements in Turin’, Autonomia: Post-Political Politics, Elizabeth A. Bowman (trans.), New York: Semiotext(e), 72-78.

Cohen, Nicole (2011): ‘Negotiating Writers’ Rights: Freelance Cultural Labour and the Challenge of Organizing’, Just Labour: A Canadian Journal of Work and Society, 17/18, 119-138.

Cohen, Nicole & Greig de Peuter (2013): ‘The Politics of Precarity: Can the Urban Worker Strategy Address Precarious Employment for All?’, Briarpatch, Nov./Dec., 6-9.

Condé, Carole & Karl Beveridge (forthcoming): ‘The Art of Collective Bargaining: An Interview with Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge’, interviewed by Greig de Peuter & Nicole Cohen.

Corsani, Antonella (2007): ‘“What We Defend, We Defend For Everyone”: Traces of History in Motion’, trans. Mary O’Neill, Transversal: (accessed 22 May 2013).

Corsani, Antonella & Maurizio Lazzarato (2008): Intermittents et Précaires, Amsterdam: Editions Amsterdam.

Cosse, Emmanuelle (2008): ‘The Precarious Go Marching’, In the Middle of a Whirlwind: (accessed 10 December 2013).

Cuenca, Alberto López (2012): ‘Artistic Labour, Enclosure, and the New Economy’, Afterall,30 (Summer): (accessed 20 May 2013).

Cultural Workers Organize (2013): ‘“Messages of Rupture”: An Interview with Emanuele Braga on the Macao Occupation in Milan’, Roberta Buiani (trans.), Scapegoat: Architecture, Landscape, Political Economy, 04,179-187.

Davies, Anthony, Stephan Dillemuth & Jakob Jakobson (2006): ‘There is No Alternative: The Future is Self-Organized, Part I’, ‪‪Nina Möntmann (ed.): Art and its Institutions: Current Conflicts, Critique and Collaborations, London: Black Dog Publishing, 176-178.

de Peuter, Greig (2014): ‘Confronting Precarity in the Warhol Economy: Notes from New York City’, Journal of Cultural Economy, 7:1, 31-47.

de Peuter, Greig, Nicole Cohen & Enda Brophy (2012): ‘Interns Unite! (You Have Nothing to Lose – Literally)’, Briarpatch, Nov./Dec., 8-12. DOI: 10.1080/17530350.2013.856337

de Peuter, Greig, Nicole Cohen & Francesca Saraco (2013): ‘Evaluating Coworking as a Response to Precarity in Creative Industries’, Canadian Industrial Relations Association, annual conference, University of Toronto, Toronto, 29 May.

Deuze, Mark (2007): Media Work, Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Dullroy, Joel & Anna Cashman (2013): Independents Unite! Inside the Freelancers’ Rights Movement: (accessed 19 December 2013).

Dyer-Witheford, Nick & Greig de Peuter (2006): ‘“EA Spouse” and the Crisis of Video Game Labour: Exploitation, Exclusion, Enjoyment, Exodus’, Canadian Journal of Communication, 31, 599-617.

Florida, Richard (2012): The Rise of the Creative Class-Revisited: 10th Anniversary Edition, New York City: Basic Books.

Foertsch, Carsten (2013): ‘4.5 New Coworking Spaces Per Workday’, Deskmag: (accessed 28 November 2013).

Foti, Alex (2004): ‘Precarity and n/european Identity: An Interview with Alex Foti (ChainWorkers)’, interviewed by Merijn Oudenampsen and Gavin Sullivan, Mute Magazine, 5 October 2004: (accessed 22 May 2013).

Foti, Alex (2012a): ‘Skyscraper Squatted: The Precarized Cognitariat Rises in Milano’, MilanoX, 9 May: (accessed 20 May 2013).

Foti, Alex (2012b): personal communication.

Frase, Peter (2013): ‘The Precariat: A Class or a Condition?’ New Labor Forum, 22:2, 11-14.

Fraser, Andrea (2006): ‘A museum is not a business: It is run in a businesslike fashion’, ‪‪Nina Möntmann (ed.): Art and its Institutions: Current Conflicts, Critique, and Collaborations, London: Black Dog Publishing, 86-98.

Freelancers Union (2013): ‘Payment Protection’, Freelancers Union: (accessed 19 December 2013).

Fumagalli, Andrea & Stefano Lucarelli (2008): ‘Basic Income and Counter-Power in Cognitive Capitalism’, paper presented at Basic Income Earth Network 2008, Dublin, 20 June.

Gibson-Graham, J.K. (2006): A Postcapitalist Politics, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Gill, Rosalind (2007): Technobohemians or the New Cybertariat? New Media Work in Amsterdam a Decade after the Web, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.

Gillick, Liam (2010): ‘The Good of Work’, Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood & Anton Vidokle (eds): Are You Working Too Much? Post-Fordism, Precarity, and the Labor of Art, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 60-73.

Goldbetter, Larry (2011): personal communication.

Haiven, Max & Alex Khasnabish (2010): ‘What is the Radical Imagination?’ Affinities, 4:2.

Hardt, Michael & Antonio Negri (2000): Empire, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Horowitz, Sara, Stephanie Buchanan, Monica Alexandris, Michel Anteby, Naomi Rothman, Stefanie Syman & Leyla Vural (2005): 2005 Report. The Rise of the Freelance Class: A New Constituency of Workers, Building a Social Safety Net, Brooklyn, New York: Freelancers Union.

Kasper, Chris (2011): ‘Open Letter to Labor Servicing the Culture Industry’, dis magazine: (accessed 15 December 2013).

Kroll, Andy (2011): ‘How Occupy Wall Street Really Got Started’, Mother Jones, 17 Oct.: (accessed 20 May 2013).

Lazzarato, Maurizio (2013): ‘Does Cognitive Capitalism Exist?’ Paper presented at Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism Vol. 2, 7-9 March, ICI Berlin.

Lee, Ching Kwan & Yelizavetta Kofman (2012): ‘The Politics of Precarity: Views Beyond the United States’, Work and Occupations, 39:4, 388-408. DOI: 10.1177/0730888412446710

Lloyd, Richard (2010): Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Post-Industrial City, London: Routledge.

Lorey, Isabell (2006): ‘Governmentality and Self-Precarization: On the Normalization of Cultural Producers’, Transversal: (accessed 20 May 2013).

Lorey, Isabell (2010): ‘Becoming Common: Precarization as Political Constituting’, e-flux,17: (accessed 09 November 2013).

Macao (2012): Press release, 5 May: (accessed 21 May 2013).

Mattei, Ugo(2013): ‘Protecting the Commons: Water, Culture, and Nature: The Commons Movement in the Italian Struggle against Neoliberal Governance’,South Atlantic Quarterly, 112:2, 366-376. DOI: 10.1215/00382876-2020244

Mattoni, Alice (2008): ‘ICTs in National and Transnational Mobilizations’, tripleC, 6:2, 105-124.

Mattoni, Alice (2012): Media Practices and Protest Politics: How Precarious Workers Mobilize, Surrey, England: Ashgate.

McKee, Yates (2012): ‘Occupy Response’, OCTOBER, 142, 51-53. DOI: 10.1162/OCTO_a_00123

McKercher, Catherine & Vincent Mosco (2006): ‘Editorial’, Canadian Journal of Communication 31:3, 493-497.

McRobbie, Angela (2001): ‘“Everyone is Creative”: Artists as Pioneers of the New Economy?’ (accessed 20 May 2013).

McRobbie, Angela (2002): ‘From Holloway to Hollywood: Happiness at Work in the New Cultural Economy?’, Paul du Gay & Michael Pryke (eds): Cultural Economy, London: Sage, 97-114.

Miranda, Michael (2009): Waging Culture: A Report on the Socio-Economic Status of Canadian Visual Artists, Toronto: The Art Gallery of York University.

Mosco, Vincent & Catherine McKercher (2008): The Laboring of Communication: Will Knowledge Workers of the World Unite? Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Moulier Boutang, Yann (2011): Cognitive Capitalism, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Murgia, Annalisa & Giulia Selmi (2012): ‘“Inspire and Conspire”: Italian Precarious Workers Between Self-Organization and Self-Advocacy’, Interface, 4:2, 181-196.

Murray, Catherine & Mirjam Gollmitzer (2012): ‘Escaping the Precarity Trap: A Call for Creative Labour Policy’, International Journal of Cultural Policy, 18:4, 419-438. DOI: 10.1080/10286632.2011.591490

Neff, Gina, Elizabeth Wissinger & Sharon Zukin (2005): ‘Entrepreneurial Labor among Cultural Producers: “Cool” Jobs in “Hot” Industries’, Social Semiotics, 15:3, 307-334. DOI: 10.1080/10350330500310111

Negri, Antonio (2008): Goodbye Mr. Socialism: In Conversation with Raf Valvola Scelsi, New York: Seven Stories Press.

Papadopoulos, Dimitris, Niamh Stephenson & Vassilis Tsianos (2008): Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the 21st Century, London: Pluto.

Perlin, Ross (2013): ‘Unpaid Interns: Silent No More’, The New York Times, 20 July: (accessed 19 December 2013).

Pink, Daniel (2002): Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself, New York: Business Plus.

Raunig, Gerald (2013): Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity, Aileen Derieg (trans.), Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

Raventós, Daniel (2007): Basic Income: The Material Conditions of Freedom, London: Pluto Press.

Retail Action Project (2012): ‘SoHo Retailer Pays $950,000 to Workers in Wage Theft Settlement’, Retail Action Project, Media Advisory, 18 Dec.: (accessed 19 December 2013).

Ruggiero, Vincenzo (2000): ‘New Social Movements and the “Centri Sociali” in Milan’, The Sociological Review, 48, 167-185. DOI: 10.1111/1467-954X.00210

Robertson, Clive (2006): Policy Matters: Administration of Art and Culture, Toronto: YYZ Artists’ Outlet.

Rosler, Martha (2011): ‘Culture Class: Art, Creativity, Urbanism, Part III’,E-flux, 25, May: (accessed 20 May 2013).

Ross, Andrew (2000): ‘The Mental Labor Problem’, Social Text,63: 18.2, 1-31.

Ross, Andrew (2008): ‘The New Geography of Work: Power to the Precarious?’ Theory, Culture & Society, 25:7-8, 31-49. DOI: 10.1177/0263276408097795

Ross, Andrew (2009): Nice Work if You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times, New York: New York University Press.

Rossiter, Ned (2007): Organized Networks: Media Theory, Creative Labour, New Institutions, Amsterdam: NAi Publishers.

Schram, Sanford F. (2013): ‘Occupy Precarity’, Theory & Event, 16.1.

Sholette, Gregory (2011): Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture, London: Pluto Press.

Shorthose, Jim & Gerard Strange (2004): ‘The New Cultural Economy, the Artist, and the Social Configuration of Autonomy’, Capital and Class, 84, 43-59. DOI: 10.1177/030981680408400104

Standing, Guy (2011): The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, London: Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781849664554

Steyerl, Hito (2012): The Wretched of the Screen, Berlin: Sternberg Press.

Smith, Neil (1987): ‘Gentrification and the Rent Gap’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 77:3, 462-465. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8306.1987.tb00171.x

Terranova, Tiziana (2004): Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age, London: Pluto.

Tozzi, Lucia (2012): ‘Macao: Chronicle of an Occupation’, domus, 12 May: (accessed 20 May 2013).

Ursell, Gillian (2000): ‘Television Production: Issues of Exploitation, Commodification, and Subjectivity in UK Television Labour Markets’, Media, Culture & Society, 22:6, 805-825. DOI: 10.1177/016344300022006006

Vercellone, Carlo (2007): ‘Cognitive Capitalism and Models for the Regulation of the Wage Relation: Some Lessons from the Anti-CPE Movement’, posted to edu-factory email list, April 18.

Vecchio, Giovanni (2012): ‘Macao, Milan: Trying to Make Goods Commons’, CoLab Radio, 18 May: (accessed 20 May 2013).

von Osten, Marion (2007a): ‘The Artist: A Model for Innovative Work and Lifestyles - The Creative Imperative’, Goethe Institute, May: (accessed 20 May 2013).

von Osten, Marion (2007b): ‘Unpredictable Outcomes / Unpredictable Outcasts: A Reflection After Some Years of Debates on Creativity and Creative Industries’, Geert Lovink & Ned Rossiter(eds): MyCreativity Reader: A Critique of Creative Industries,Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 49-58.

Vosko, Leah F. (2000): Temporary Work: The Gendered Rise of a Precarious Employment Relationship, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Vosko, Leah (2008): ‘Temporary Work in Transnational Labor Regulation: SER-Centrism and the Risk of Exacerbating Gendered Precariousness’, Social Indicators Research, 88:1, 131-145. DOI: 10.1007/s11205-007-9206-3

W.A.G.E. (n.d. a): W.A.G.E., ‘wo/manifesto’, (accessed 10 November 2013).

W.A.G.E. (n.d. b): W.A.G.E., ‘History’, (accessed 10 November 2013).

W.A.G.E. (n.d. c): W.A.G.E., ‘W.A.G.E. Survey Report Summary’, (accessed 10 November 2013).

Weeks, Kathi (2011): The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries, Durham, NC: Duke University Press. DOI: 10.1215/9780822394723

Wittel, Andreas (2001): ‘Toward a Network Sociality’, Theory, Culture & Society, 18:6, 51-76. DOI: 10.1177/02632760122052048

Ziff, Sara (2012): ‘Modelling Workers’ Rights: An Interview with Sara Ziff’, interviewed by Greig de Peuter, Shameless Magazine: (accessed 22 May 2013).






Theme: Capitalism: Current Crisis and Cultural Critique