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Cultural Labor’s “Democratic Deficits”: Employment, Autonomy and Alienation in US Film Animation
Journal for Cultural Research
  • Matt Stahl, The University of Western Ontario
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Cultural industries’ reliance on streams of novel cultural material requires granting creative employees significant degrees of autonomy within firms. This article expands on these findings by focusing on key moments in the early history of cinematic animation and aspects of contemporary animation production. Drawing on political‐theoretical analyses of employment to limn substantive limits to the autonomy of artists integrated into Hollywood production, it shows that the institution of employment enables cultural industry employers not only to dispossess artists of their creative work(s), but also, when they deem it expedient, to manage artists like other kinds of workers. It is a commonplace that control of intellectual property through copyright law is foundational to the cultural industries; this article argues that employment is similarly foundational and worthy of explicit analysis. The problematization of employment illuminates lines of force in the cultural industry workplace and helps to specify the political dimensions of cultural work’s characteristic autonomy. The article concludes by suggesting that what is conventionally read as an “art–commerce” contradiction in the relations of cultural production can and should also be understood to represent a deeply‐seated “democracy–employment” contradiction central to liberal society.


This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal for Cultural Research on July 22, 2010, available online:

Citation Information
Matt Stahl. "Cultural Labor’s “Democratic Deficits”: Employment, Autonomy and Alienation in US Film Animation" Journal for Cultural Research Vol. 14 Iss. 3 (2010) p. 271 - 293
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