Creative industries in flux: A critical investigation into cultural and creative workers in Hong Kong
What is it like to work in the creative industries in Hong Kong, that is one of the city’s key emerging sectors? In light of the sustained public interest in the creative industries over the past 15 years, new Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s proposal to set up a Culture Bureau, and often less sanguine reports of creative labour conditions locally and abroad, these raise the question that is working in Hong Kong’s creative industries as promising or gloomy as it may seem? And importantly, what are creative workers’ actual experiences?
Since June 2016, we have been working on an ethnographic research on the seemingly booming cultural and creative industries in Hong Kong. Central to this project is the aim to inform government’s and industry’s response with workers’ experiences and conditions and to theorise new forms of precariousness and resistance within the creative workforce. Subsidised by the Central Policy Unit, this 18-month Public Policy Research offers a timely analysis of the realistic working conditions in Hong Kong’s creative industries.
Focusing on three sectors – public relations and advertising, television, and print media – we have conducted interviews and field visits with over 50 practitioners of different profiles, for a more comprehensive exploration of creative labour conditions. The interviews have revealed workers’ subjective experiences and formal aspects of work, while on-site observations in workspaces like offices, production studios, smoking areas, restaurants, and recruitment events have helped contextualise their narratives and advance our understanding of their dynamics in- and outside the office. We also photographed and video-taped the interviews and observations for more in-depth analysis, upon informants’ consent.
For an overview of the study, we chose and edited eight video segments of workers of different industries and backgrounds in a short thematic documentary.
Public Policy Forum
The preliminary analysis was presented to the public on 31 March in the Public Policy Forum, co-convened by the Faculty of Social Sciences and Department of Sociology, bringing together researchers, practitioners, and students to reflect on the role of public policies in the wellbeing and development of the creative industries and workers in Hong Kong and abroad.
Particularly we are grateful to discussants Dr Chow Yiu Fai (Hong Kong Baptist University), Professor Anthony Fung (Chinese University of Hong Kong), Dr Sylvia J Martin (University of Hong Kong), and keynote speaker Professor David Hesmondhalgh (University of Leeds) for the dialogues and provocations on policies and research of different creative sectors. The feedback from the audience was also very valuable to our analysis, which will be shared with industry practitioners, academics, the government and the general public in the future.
Through its humanistic approach, we hope this study of creative labour has accomplished more than offering outsiders a glimpse of workers’ professional lives, but through listening and observation given workers (especially those non-unionised) a means to channel and make their voices heard in the conversation, alongside public and corporate rhetorics in Hong Kong.
This study is co-conducted with Dr Anne Peirson-Smith (City University of Hong Kong), Grey Liu, Joey Chan (research assistants), Vanessa Ma and Sice Wu (documentary editors).
This research project (Project Number: 2015.A8.035.16A) is funded by the Public Policy Research Funding Scheme from the Central Policy Unit of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, and is partly funded through “Good Work, Bad Life? Demystifying the Glamour of Creative Labor in Advertising Industry” (Project code: 201511159032) by the HKU Seed Funding Programme for Basic Research.