Creative Control

Creative Control

The Ambivalence of Work in the Culture Industries

Michael L Siciliano
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Workers in cultural industries often say that the best part of their job is the opportunity for creativity. At the same time, profit-minded managers at both traditional firms and digital platforms exhort workers to ? be creative. ? Even as cultural fields hold out the prospect of meaningful employment, they are marked by heightened economic precarity. What does it mean to be creative under contemporary capitalism? And how does the ideology of creativity explain workers' commitment to precarious jobs? Michael L. Siciliano draws on nearly two years of ethnographic research as a participant-observer in a Los Angeles music studio and a multichannel YouTube network to explore the contradictions of creative work. He details how such workplaces feature engaging, dynamic processes that enlist workers in organizational projects and secure their affective investment in ideas of creativity and innovation. Siciliano argues that performing creative labor entails a profound ambivalence: workers experience excitement and aesthetic engagement alongside precarity and alienation. Through close comparative analysis, he presents a theory of creative labor that accounts for the roles of embodiment, power, alienation, and technology in the contemporary workplace. Combining vivid ethnographic detail and keen sociological insight, Creative Control explains why ? cool? jobs help us understand how workers can participate in their own exploitation.
Film and media scholars who study industries must read Creative Control. Siciliano leverages cultural sociology and meticulous ethnography to masterfully unpack the considerable contradictions of media creation in the platform era. His focus on creative routinization exposes film studies' exceptionalism as a strawman, ill-equipped to make sense of online media. -- John T. Caldwell, author of Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film/Television Some scholars argue that creative work enlivens local economies, while others emphasize that it exemplifies the precarious employment spreading across national economies. Siciliano deftly navigates those divergent depictions by turning to the workers themselves-illuminating the attraction that creativity holds for them, as well as the challenges it brings. As a result, he rightfully moves us from abstract notions of creative work to the embodied and everyday activity that it actually entails. -- Timothy J. Dowd, Emory University With Creative Control, Michael Siciliano joins the finest of ethnographic traditions-the study of labor in our times. This fresh perspective on cultural work unpacks the reality behind our algorithmically defined entertainment future, the content treadmill that seduced the emotional and professional repertoire of a generation. -- Melissa Gregg, author of Counterproductive: Time Management in the Knowledge Economy Siciliano' s thoughtful, compelling book deserves to be a major reference point in studies of creative labor and in research on work in an age of digital platforms. It combines careful ethnography with an impressive range of reading to provide fresh perspectives on longstanding problems of alienation, exploitation, and control. -- David Hesmondhalgh, University of Leeds Michael Siciliano' s book is a must-read for anyone interested in the culture industries. This ethnography documents firsthand how various actors within culture-producing firms grapple over power, profits, and final products. What we create and consume, Creative Control convincingly demonstrates, derives as much from collective control as it does individual creativity. -- Jeffrey J. Sallaz, author of Lives on the Line: How the Philippines became the World' s Call Center Capital
Michael L. Siciliano is assistant professor of sociology at Queen' s University.