Creativity, Collaboration and Agency

Creativity, Collaboration and Agency

Hailing today’s MeCSSA 2018 conference on the topic of ‘Creativity and Agency’ at London South Bank University UWP thought it a good moment to extract parts of the introduction from our open access publication on Collaborative Production in the Creative Industries. This open access book edited by James Graham and Alessandro Gandini was released June 2017.  It asks amidst other questions, what kind of agency is emerging from the emphasis on networks, sharing and collaboration in creative work?  The full text of this introduction can downloaded here. The entire book is also available to read and download


… Yet, the tendency within much of the literature that emerged out of these pivotal contributions has been to focus on the extent to which individual action in a networked context has become integral to the enactment of creative work, whilst implicitly taking for granted its highly competitive nature as a natural process in a context of flexible employment relations. Put differently, whilst casting light on the controversial evolution of work in the creative industries, this very same literature has simultaneously overlooked, to a large degree, the extent to which a networked individual has to engage in collaboration with others in order to be a recognised actor in such networked scenes, and how in this currency collaboration is one side of the coin – networking – where competition is the other side.A closer focus on collaborative practices therefore appears to be particularly timely in that it not only addresses an aporia within the literature on creative industries – concerning all the disciplines listed above – but also focuses attention on the rise of ‘collaboration’ as the buzzword of the creative economy. It is notable that, whilst the creative economy was arguably flourishing as a research topic to a greater degree than its much-vaunted role as a catalyst for innovation and prosperity, the term ‘collaboration’ has gained an ever-increasing emphasis. Together with its often sibling buzzword ‘sharing’, the term ‘collaboration’ has become the fashionable shorthand for describing a socio-economic scenario that fosters individualised practices whilst at the same time demands ‘compulsory’ interaction with others in order to complete the individual projects that, ironically, cannot be achieved in isolation (Gandini, 2016). Here one encounters the rise of the terms ‘collaborative consumption’ (Botsman and Rogers, 2010) and ‘sharing economy’ (Slee, 2016) for describing the neoliberal logics of access for consumers of shared services – cab rides, home rentals, etc. – or the increasing relevance of a start-up culture founded on a shared belief in the complementarity of technological advancement and social innovation (Murray, Caulier-Grice and Mulgan, 2010) up to the coterminous rise of ‘making’, envisaged to be no less than a ‘third industrial revolution’ (Anderson, 2013).

This collaborative turn in the creative economy is evidenced by the notable efforts of many funding bodies to finance and support research projects that investigate collaborative practices at various levels (O’Brien, 2015, McGuigan, 2016). The all encompassing role played by digital media, which in what Robin Millar (2016) calls a ‘cybertarian’ discourse is understood as the pre-eminent catalyst for new forms of production practices but also their depoliticisation, makes even more central the necessity to scrutinise how collaborative production takes place in contexts where personal branding melds with socialisation, cooperation with competition. Social media provide platforms that enable these new modes of collaborative production, which vary from typical market-based endeavours, such as apps or social networking sites, to processes which find their roots in the ethos of peer production (Bauwens, 2006; Benkler, 2006) and assume free access to common resources for the creation and distribution of content which escapes the logic of the market. Similarly, the nature of collaborative work is being transformed by the intermediation processes afforded by social media and platforms. For one example, in a context where new forms of untethered work, that may or may not rely on the access to a shared space in order for collaboration to occur, develop (Johns and Gratton, 2013), we witness the rise of Online Labour Markets where conventionally commercial modes of creative production – graphic design, copywriting, illustration, filmmaking, etc. – become algorithmically governed labour transactions with concerning implications (Gandini, Pais and Beraldo, 2016). In response to this fragmented scenario, and with the aim of mapping the more media-based collaborative practices that live within it, this collection plots a course through the multi-disciplinary aspects of collaboration across a range of creative industries.


If we are effectively witnessing a structural transformation in the cultures of work and in the morphology of the workforce in the contemporary cultural economy (see Rifkin 2014, 1996; Moretti 2012), then the key insights offered by this collection are that the role of collaboration in creative and cultural work is key to this transformation, but that the experience and outcomes of such work are contradictory to say the least. Some contributions highlight how platforms and paradigms have emerged in recent years which aim to facilitate creative collaboration, spreading value across individuals and organisations. Yet in these and other contributions there is also evidence that this value is not equally distributed. The buzz around collaborative production also serves to mask exploitation, as cultural and creative workers have little choice but to embrace individualisation and self-exploitation in undertaking work that increasingly revolves around the production of author-brands that function as the primary currency of the cultural economy. This being the case collaborative production in the creative industries looks set to continue to prove as contradictory as it is enabling, enmeshed as it is in politics and policies, practices and publics


Anderson, C. (2013). Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. New York: Crown Books.

Bauwens, M. (2006). The political economy of peer production. Post-autistic Economics Review, 37(28): 33–44.

Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Botsman, R., and Rogers, R. (2010). What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. New York: HarperCollins.

Gandini, A. (2016). The Reputation Economy: Understanding Knowledge Work in Digital Society. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gandini, A., Pais, I., & Beraldo, D. (2016). Reputation and trust on online labour markets: The reputation economy of Elance. Work Organisation, Labour and Globalisation, 10(1), 27–43

Johns, T. and Gratton, L. (2013). The third wave of virtual work. Harvard Business Review, 91.1: 66–73.

McGuigan, J. (2016). Neoliberal Culture. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Millar, R. (2016). Cybertarian flexibility – when prosumers joint the cognitariat, all that is scholarship melts into air. In M. Curtin & K. Sanson (2016), Precarious Creativity: Global Media, Local Labor (p. 336). Oakland, CA: University of California Press, pp. 19–32.

Moretti, E. (2012) The New Geography of Jobs. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Murray, R., Caulier-Grice, J., & Mulgan, G. (2010). The Open Book of Social Innovation. London: National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Art.

O’Brien, D. (2014) Cultural Policy: Management, Value and Modernity in the Creative Industries Abingdon: Routledge.

Rifkin, J. (2014). The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, The Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism. London: Macmillan

Slee, T. (2016). What’s Yours is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy. New York: OR Books.


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