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Creative Control: Labor, Management, and Technology in the U.S. Culture Industries

  • Author(s): Siciliano, Michael Louis
  • Advisor(s): Lee, Ching Kwan
  • et al.
Abstract

Engaging with the sociologies of work and culture along with technology and media studies, this dissertation is a comparative ethnographic study of work in more conventional, project-based media production (e.g., film, television, and music production) and platform-based media production (i.e., YouTube content) in the U.S. I draw upon 20 months of participant observation and 84 interviews conducted within two organizations: an owner-managed music recording studio (project-based) and a multi-channel YouTube network (platform-based). Studying the labor processes of these two organizations, I ask how these workers come to be attached to their precarious conditions of employment. In answering this question, I provide a theory of creative labor akin to theories of manual and emotional labor. In constructing a theory of creative labor, I address key concepts in the sociology of work including social control over work, labor precarity, alienation, and, to a lesser extent, resistance to control. Though these cases may limit the generalization of this theory to the United States, concepts and insights developed along the way may be widely applicable to other forms of work in knowledge or information industries as well as other forms of platform-based employment.

I find that in both cases, managers exert control over work by managing how work feels. This includes managing interpersonal relationships and managing the material, aesthetic dimension of the workplace, which includes technology. Likewise, workers appear alienated from their capacity for judgment, rather than from their bodies or their emotions as in manual or emotional labor. While project-based and platform-based media production bear many similarities, they do differ. I find platform-based work to be more heavily regulated by metrics constructed by the platform. This form of quantified control differs from prior modes of technical control (i.e., the mechanized assembly-line) or simple measures of output insofar as metrics do not reflect the interests of management and management does not control the calculation and formulation of these metrics. Instead, infrastructural technology (i.e., the platform) materializes the interests of its owners (global capital, in this case). The platform thus subordinates both management and labor to global capital’s interests.

This project contributes to the sociologies of work and culture by highlighting the sensual, aesthetic dimension of the workplace as a form of control or power over the labor process and by providing the beginnings of a theory of creative labor. As such this contributes to theories of social control over work, typologies of labor, and research on socio-material structures that produce the felt, sensorial experience of social life. Rather than focus solely on the “stars,” my study insists on recognizing and highlighting the oft-ignored, workers that comprise the majority of employees within the culture industries along with more visible production personnel and onscreen talent.

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