WERCREA is a research project on work, security and interest representation in the creative industries. It runs for four years from September 2018 – August 2022 and is funded by Instituut Gak.
The WERCREA project is currently running a survey among architects and graphic designers in the Netherlands and the UK towards work preferences.
For more information see PART 1 in the text. To enter the survey (architects and graphic designers only) click here for Dutch and here for English.
The labour market is changing rapidly. Alongside strong flexibility and diversification of labour relations, there is increasing tension between labour market developments and the social security system, as well as a declining role for traditional collective interest representation through trade unions and employers' organisations.
The project investigates the consequences of these changes for workers in the creative sector. This sector, consisting of market-oriented creative services such as graphic design, gaming, fashion, entertainment and media, is seen as one of the engines of the knowledge economy and is a testing ground in the field of work organisation. It is also a sector where traditional collective interest representatives play only a limited role and where the current social security system offers only limited security.
The project investigates the following questions:
1. What are the preferences of workers in the creative industries with regard to their working conditions?
2. How are these preferences embedded within the wider context of labour market institutions and experiences of precarity?
3. What kinds of collective representation and organisations can sustain the preferences of creative workers?
4. Which dominant career trajectories can be distinguished in the creative industries and to what extent are these trajectories the result of workers following their interest or of a lack of capacity of workers to do so?
Questions 1-3 are investigated in the UK and the Netherlands in the context of PART 1 of the project, which takes the shape of a PhD trajectory.
Question 4 is investigated in the Netherlands in PART 2 of the project.
Research on work in the creative sector or industries has so far largely focused on its exceptionalism, which is seen in both the outstanding motivation, passion and identity of creative workers, and their labour market outcomes, which can often be insecure and precarious. This tension between the promises and realities of the creative sector is what we call the creative paradox. In our research we wish to understand this paradox in the wider context, by looking into how creative workers shape their preferences related to work and how these are embedded, constrained and commodified by labour market institutions and relations. From here we try to understand what kinds of collectivities can sustain these preferences and enable their fulfilment.
The first part of the study deals with two questions. Firstly, what are the preferences of workers in the creative industries with regard to their terms and conditions of work? These conditions are here thought of in the wider sense, encompassing both material conditions (types of contracts, social protection, income) and non-material conditions (self-expressive work, autonomy and prestige). In other words, we want to find out whether a trade-off really exists between meaningful and autonomous work and good material working conditions in the creative industries, as is often assumed. Secondly, we want to investigate how these preferences are embedded within the wider context of labour market institutions, as well as the experience of precarity. Our starting assumption is that labour market institutions and the experiences of employment and income insecurity mediate, and indeed influence, the preferences of creative workers.
The second part of the study deals with the remaining question: what kinds of collective representation and organisations can sustain the preferences of creative workers? The creative industries are less institutionalised and traditional social partners are assumed to bear little importance. However, this does not mean that creative work occurs in a social vacuum – here we wish to investigate the tension between the realities of the organisational landscape in the creative industries, and the interests and preferences of the creative workers themselves.
Methodology: Building on assumptions from different strands of economic sociology, we are approaching these questions in a mixed methods comparative study. In order to capture the importance of the wider labour market context, we are comparatively studying two economies with different labour market institutions and social protection systems: the UK and Netherlands. Furthermore, in order to account for the heterogeneity of the creative sector, we are researching two different sub-sectors: architecture and design.
The first two questions form the basis of the quantitative part of study, conducted using an experimental vignette survey design. The survey comprises two parts. The first uses questions about the subjective experience of precarity and relevance of social protection, as well as the general outlook on creativity and associated narratives on meaningful work. In the second part, the respondents are given fictional job descriptions and are asked to rate their appeal. The descriptions comprise material and non-material job characteristics, deduced from the theoretical framework, and then systematically varied, using an experimental design. By rating these short stories, or vignettes, the respondents reveal their underlying preferences.
The third question forms the qualitative strand and includes semi-structured interviews with creative workers in two countries and sub-sectors as well as experts and representatives of trade unions, creative sector initiatives, government departments and other stakeholders.
The labour market in the Netherlands is one of the frontrunners in Europe when it comes to the flexibility and diversification of labour relations. Within this context the creative sector is often seen as a pioneer or a testing ground when it comes to the organisation of work, as it is characterised by project-based working, many temporary collaborations and an increasing proportion of self-employed workers and small businesses.
In addition to this, the creative sector is a sector in which traditional collective interest representatives (trade unions and employers’ organisations) play only a minor role and in which the present social security system only offers a limited degree of security. It is also a sector where passion or intrinsic artistic motivation plays a hugely important role as motivation for working in this sector, as well as a reason for compromising on certainties and terms and conditions of employment.
From the perspective of the transitional labour market, this raises questions of what the increasing flexibility of the creative industries looks like as a whole, how terms and conditions of employment have developed, what kind of careers are emerging in this context and whether these are characterised by transitions led by necessity or preference. It also raises the question of to what extent and in what way those working in the sector are embedded in collective schemes, such as collective bargaining agreements, and how these deal with the flexible organisation of work within the creative industries.
Methodology: The increasing flexibility of the creative sector, developments in terms and conditions of employment and careers are examined using registration data (microdata) from Statistics Netherlands, and the collective organisation is examined using an analysis of collective bargaining agreements in the sector.
The project has a scientific advisory committee with the following members:
1. Kort & Bondig 6: arbeidsmarktflexibilisering en inkomen in de creatieve industrie
The WERCREA project is funded by Instituut Gak