Cultural Work as a Site of Struggle: Freelancers and Exploitation

Nicole S. Cohen


This paper argues that Marxist political economy is a useful framework for understanding contemporary conditions of cultural work. Drawing on Karl Marx’s foundational concepts, labour process theory, and a case study of freelance writers, I argue that the debate over autonomy and control in cultural work ignores exploitation in labour-capital relationships, which is a crucial process shaping cultural work. To demonstrate the benefits of this approach, I discuss two methods media firms use to extract surplus value from freelance writers: exploitation of unpaid labour time and exploitation of intellectual property through aggressive copyright regimes. I argue that a Marxist perspective can uncover the dynamics that are transforming cultural industries and workers’ experiences. From this perspective, cultural work is understood as a site of struggle.


Cultural work, Marx, political economy, freelancers, exploitation, labour process, copyright, precarity

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