Creative differences:the performativity of gender in the digital media sector

Proctor-Thomson, Sarah (2009) Creative differences:the performativity of gender in the digital media sector. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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The digital media sector is a site for competing claims about women’s equality in employment. On the one hand, commentators have claimed that the digital media sector is exemplary as an open and egalitarian domain for all workers, including women. On the other hand, feminist researchers have identified persistent inequalities in the quality and quantity of women’s participation in this sector. I use this apparent paradox as a starting point to develop an analysis of the performativity of gender in the digital media sector in the North West of England, during the period 2001–2007. Previous feminist research has addressed this paradox by arguing that gender inequalities in the creative and digital industries are obscured by emancipatory accounts of new forms of work. I take an alternative route. Drawing on the work of Judith Butler, I investigate how positive articulations of work in the digital media sector might ‘perform’ gender inequalities. The theory of gender performativity employed in this study views gender as produced through repetitive discursive practices. In this study I analyse qualitative data from four sites in the ‘discursive field’ of the digital media sector. These data consist of: 1) statements in policy documentation from UK government agencies; 2) textual and visual representations of workers in careers and recruitment literature; 3) field notes from a participant observation of a digital industries training event; and 4) interviews with 23 female and male industry brokers and practitioners working in and around the digital media sector. I distinguish four apparently progressive articulations of work and women’s participation in these sites. These address changing skills requirements, shifting images of work and workers, and increased recognition and valuing of ‘difference’ and ‘diversity’ for creativity in the digital industries. I denaturalise these pervasive articulations by showing the discursive practices involved in their formation. I argue that there are shifts away from the sector’s previous characterisation as an exclusively technical, ‘geeky’ and male domain and that there has recently been a proliferation of possible worker subject positions in this work domain. Moreover, in a context of increasing attention to creativity, women are identified as ‘different’ and thus as potentially valuable creative workers. Yet, despite these shifts, women workers continue to be marginalised through repeated differentiation from some of the most valued subject positions in the sector. While women are seen to bring ‘difference’ and ‘diversity’ into the digital media sector, they also bring gender. Differences attributed to women are consistently devalued and are seldom recognised as ‘creative differences’. My thesis contributes an analysis of gender to debates about work in the creative economy. It also contributes to the development of feminist investigations of gender, work and organisation by providing a case study of the discursive construction of ideal and normalised workers in the creative work domain of the digital media sector.

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Thesis (PhD)
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11 Jan 2013 09:17
Last Modified:
12 Sep 2023 00:14