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Contingent proletarianization of creative labor: Deskilling in the Xianyou classical furniture cluster

Chen, WK; Sonn, JW; (2019) Contingent proletarianization of creative labor: Deskilling in the Xianyou classical furniture cluster. Geoforum , 99 pp. 248-256. 10.1016/j.geoforum.2017.11.008. Green open access

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Abstract

Champions of creative economy maintain that, unlike labor in manufacturing, labor in the creative industries is independent and innovative. They also claim that we are witnessing a linear transition from a manual to a creative labor-based economy. We argue against this idea of a sweeping, historical transition and instead posit that the labor process can easily switch from one to the other, depending on market conditions. We illustrate this theoretical point through an empirical study of the classic furniture industry cluster in Xianyou, China. Until around 2005, the region housed a typical low-skill, low-value added manufacturing cluster of small size. Since then it quickly transformed into a creative industry cluster where a small number of craftsmen performed both creative and manual work. However, the recent growth in the demand for classic furniture has enabled firms to mechanize the production process thereby creating new divisions of labor and turning the majority of the workforce into simple manual workers. At the same time, those who specialize in what remains creative in the production process are now liberated from manual work and enjoy greater creative freedom and higher status. Based on these findings, we conclude that, the transformation between creative and non-creative labor is reversible, industry-specific, and contingent upon the market rather than irreversible and economy-wide.

Type: Article
Title: Contingent proletarianization of creative labor: Deskilling in the Xianyou classical furniture cluster
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2017.11.008
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2017.11.008
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Labor process, Deskilling, Creative labor, Creative industry cluster, New economy, China, Chinese classical furniture, Harry Braverman
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > The Bartlett School of Planning
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10037768
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