Class and the ‘creative class’

There’s been lots of interest in questions about culture and inequality in the news over the past few months (this from The Observer is a good example). As a result, research work we’ve been doing here at ICCE has generated lots of interest. Along with a paper on inequality across the cultural sector and a paper on inequality and acting (both co-authored with academics from the London School of Economics and the University of Manchester), I’ve been working on a new set of questions about social class and creative work.

Influential academic work has suggested that creative people should be open, tolerant and meritocratic, not really interested in defining themselves by supposedly outdated ideas of social class. Using data drawn from the acting project, I’ve found that class is very important to how creative professionals, in this case actors working in the UK, define themselves. Of all of the people we interviewed, there was only one group, middle-aged men from affluent backgrounds, who really distanced themselves from ideas of social class. This reflected narratives of gentlemanly modesty found in other sociological research with this social group. In contrast, those from less affluent backgrounds who had managed to have a career in acting tended to be more heavily invested in the language of class, with their ‘working class’ roots figuring as an important part of how they told the story of their lives and their careers.

I presented this work at an event on Aesthetics, Morality and Class at the University of Warwick, which was a seminar dedicated to work in progress. The audio and slides should be available in a few weeks time. Although it will be a few months before a final paper has been written up, the initial findings suggest that class is still very important as a frame for those working in creative jobs, in contrast to existing theories of the creative worker as an individual free from the constraints of grand social categories such as class.

Dave O’Brien


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