Internships, Workfare, and the Cultural Industries: A British Perspective

  • David Lee University of Leeds
Keywords: internships, workfare, precarity, cultural industries, neoliberalism, inequality


While media work has long been characterized as being structurally dependent on internships, “work experience,” and other forms of free labour (Banks 2007; Hesmondhalgh and Baker 2010), the recent shift towards internships has served to normalize what has become known as the media industries “dirty little secret” (Silver 2005). This article contextualizes internship culture within the British cultural industries against a wider political and social frame. Internships and other modes of “apprenticeship” across the British economy reflect a continuation and transformation of national workfare policies, which seek to avert inflationary pressures by coercing people to work or risk losing their welfare benefits. Internship culture has been highly pronounced in the cultural industries and other attractive white-collar sectors such as law and finance (Perlin 2012). Yet, the provision of internships to young people in previously unimaginable contexts such as fast food, retail, and other low-pay service sectors represents a significant shift in policy, compounded by increasingly draconian demands on young people to comply in order to receive state benefits. Discursively, unpaid media work is now seen as an opportunity for the lucky few, rather than a mode of exploitation servicing corporate gain. This has particular relevance for battles over equality and exploitation which have been fought in these sectors, which this discursive shift makes appear increasingly archaic.

Author Biography

David Lee, University of Leeds

David Lee is a Lecturer in Cultural Industries and Communication in the School of Media and Commu- nication at the University of Leeds. He is the author of a number of articles and chapters on creative work, cultural policy, copyright, and television studies in international journals including the Interna- tional Journal of Cultural Policy; Cultural Trends; Media, Culture & Society; and Television and New Media. Before working in academia, David worked in documentary production, on series such as Newsnight, Panorama, and The Money Programme.

Interrogating Internships: Internships and Creative Industries