For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Autonomy Guaranteed? Cultural Work and the “Art–Commerce Relation”"

by Banks, Mark (2010)


The aim of this article is to examine synthetically the concept of ?autonomy? in cultural and creative industries work. Following a brief discussion regarding the definition(s) of autonomy, and its historical linkages to discourses of art, the author then rehearses three prominent social science critiques which suggest that the possibilities for autonomy in cultural work have been seriously diminished or compromised. Against these readings, utilising Bill Ryan?s work on the ?art?commerce relation?, the author then discusses how autonomous cultural work is, in fact, impossible to destroy since ensuring its survival is a prerequisite for the production of value in cultural and creative industry production. Finally, the author considers how this provision of freedom may then serve to underwrite autonomous cultural work of a more radical and, crucially, negotiated character than that conventionally conceived of in the orthodox critiques.

Key Passage

As Foucauldians have attested, the provision of autonomy may merely provide the means of ensuring that workers suitably orient themselves to commercial priority. However, I also suggest that this “permission to rebel” has a double-edged character that tends to be underestimated in the orthodox critical views outlined previously, insofar as the closures anticipated by Adorno, the Foucault-derived notion of compulsory freedom, and Bourdieu’s claim that artists are most commonly motivated by status and self-interest fail to fully acknowledge the unstable and transgressive potential of a labour process underpinned by autonomy as its normative principle. (p.260)


Foucault, Autonomy, False Freedom, Creative Industry, Creative Work, Art, Cultural Work, Freedom, Self Determination


On Foucault, Foucault

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