Hope Labour and the Psychic Life of Cultural Work

Ewan Mackenzie*, Alan McKinlay

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
115 Downloads (Pure)


How do we understand the psychic life of cultural workers under neoliberalism? ‘Hope labour’ is a defining quality of a cultural worker’s experience, practice and identity. Hope labour is unpaid or under-compensated labour undertaken in the present, usually for exposure or experience, with the hope that future work may follow. Hope labour is naturalised by neoliberal discourses but not fully determined by them. Drawing upon empirical research investigating the ‘creative industries’ in the North East of England, we ask how hope labour is made meaningful and worthwhile for cultural workers positioned as entrepreneurial subjects, despite its legitimisation of power asymmetries. We develop Foucauldian studies of governmentality by addressing how cultural work is lived through neoliberal categories, demonstrating the conflicting discourses and relations to self involved in the constitution of entrepreneurial subjectivity. We make a novel contribution to an understanding of hope and precarity by illustrating how cultural workers begin to occupy the site of the entrepreneurial subject amidst conflicting configurations of hope, desire, anxiety and uncertainty.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1841-1863
Number of pages23
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number11
Early online date15 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes


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