News & Events

CFP Organizing the Arts: Ownership and Labour

15 March 2020 , abstract submission deadline. 6-8 July: RC21 2020 conference, Antwerp

Session description:

The important but also contested position of arts and culture in urban spaces is well-known. The arts and cultural industries constitute key sites for the production of critical and public knowledge and are substantive economic sectors in their own right, especially but not only in global cities. At the same time, arts and culture are also part of wider dynamics of gentrification, urban development projects, the cultural branding of cities and city districts and are populated by a polarized mix of high-earning ‘stars’ but also precarious workers. The literature on this is by now well-established and ranges across the disciplines of sociology, cultural policy, human geography, urban studies and cultural studies (see Oakley and O’Connor 2015 for a multidisciplinary overview of the debate). 

In line with the RC21 2020 conference theme, this session proposal raises the question how the arts – as condensed sites of sensory experience – are governed and how this results in unequal access to the arts, but above all how the arts constitute sites for the experimentation with and realization of more democratic and public forms of collective organization. In doing so, the session also engages with the conference’s interest in the intersection of ‘bottom-up’ practices and ‘top-down’ strategies of states, specifically relevant in era of right-wing populist politics with many states pursuing revanchist policies towards a cultural sector deemed too liberal and cosmopolitan (Chan and Lütticken 2011). The session specifically invites papers that tackle this problematic from one of the following two angles.

First, the role of collective modes of labour organization in arts and culture. Much political and research attention has been paid to the precarity of project-based and flexible creative labour (e.g. Gill and Prat 2008), but it’s only recently that researchers have started investigating and theorizing strategies that contest this precarisation and that propose more sustainable modes of labour organization (Sandoval 2016). The session invites papers that for example address labour unions’ engagement with artists and cultural workers or that investigate worker co-operatives in the creative and cultural industries, focusing in particular on the urban dimensions of labour struggle (de Peuter and Cohen 2015). Second, the position of ownership within arts and culture. There is hardly any academic research on this dimension, even though recent policy-oriented work has started addressing ownership questions (e.g. City of Vancouver 2019). Contributions are welcome that analyse the ownership of cultural spaces and infrastructure, focusing on government strategies (subsidies for rentals below market price, lease-to-buy policies, cultural land trust initiatives), private initiatives (philanthropy, tax deduction schemes) or private-public-partnerships.

Submission of abstracts:

Please submit your abstract of max. 250 words via e-mail to AND through the conference website via the following weblink: for abstracts is 15 March 2020.


Chan, Paul, and Sven Lütticken (eds.) (2011) Idiot wind, special issue, e-flux journal 22.

City of Vancouver (2019) Making Space for Arts and Culture: Draft Vancouver Cultural Infrastructure Plan, City of Vancouver.

De Peuter, Greig, and Nicole S. Cohen (2015) Emerging labour politics in the creative industries, in: Oakley, Kate, and Justin O’Connor (2015) The Routledge Companion to the Cultural Industries, Routledge.

Oakley, Kate, and Justin O’Connor (2015) The Routledge Companion to the Cultural Industries, Routledge.

Gill, Rosalind, and Andy Pratt (2008) Immaterial labour, precariousness and cultural work, Theory, Culture & Society25(7-8): 1-30. 

Sandoval, Marisol (2016) Fighting precarity with co-operation? Worker co-operatives in the cultural sector, New Formations 88: 51-68.