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Disappearing into the Object: Aesthetic Subjectivities and Organizational Control in Routine Cultural Work


Taking a labor process approach to organizations in cultural industries, this article compares expressive and routine workers (audio engineers and studio attendants) within a US music-recording organization. I describe a practical control strategy that aims to reproduce the pleasurable feel of expressive work among routine cultural workers. Because this strategy depends upon workers’ aesthetic experiences of technological objects, I term this strategy aesthetic enrollment. Drawing upon theories of aesthetic experience and Callon and Law’s enrollment processes, I theorize this strategy as a form of control. Engineers come to love their ability to express creativity at work and appear captivated by the organization’s aesthetically compelling technical artifacts (music equipment or “gear”). Among rehearsal hall attendants, management provides similar aesthetically appealing, expressive technologies. These objects afford experiences among routine staff that resemble those found in more expressive occupations, providing opportunities for creativity in the context of routine, task-oriented work. This strategy manages the “feel” of work and thus incorporates employees by way of their relationship with technical artifacts – part of the organization’s aesthetic landscape.

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