New International Division of Cultural Labour

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New International Division of Cultural Labour

Concept developed by Toby Miller in his research on 'Global Hollywood'.

Contact Toby Miller at tobym at ucr dot edu


Toby Miller:

"I deploy the concept of the New International Division of Cultural Labour to account for:

· the differentiation of cultural labour

· the globalisation of labour processes

· the means by which Hollywood coordinates and defends its authority over cultural labour markets; and

· the role national governments play in collusion with MNCs

The NICL is adapted from the idea of a New International Division of Labour (NIDL): developing markets for labour and sales, and the shift from the spatial sensitivities of electrics to the spatial insensitivities of electronics, pushed businesses beyond treating Third World countries as suppliers of raw materials, to look on them as shadow-setters of the price of work, competing among themselves and with the First World for employment. As production was split across continents, the prior division of the globe into a small number of IMECs and a majority of underdeveloped countries was compromised. Folker Fröbel and his collaborators (1980) christened this trend the NIDL. Whereas the old IDL kept labour costs down through the formal and informal slavery of colonialism (the trade in people and indentureship) and importation of cheap raw materials with value added in the metropole, this eventually produced successful action by the working class at the centre to redistribute income away from the bourgeoisie. The response from capital was to export production to the Third World, focusing especially on young women workers. As INTEL puts it, 'We hire girls because they have less energy, are more disciplined and are easier to control'. The upshot has been that any decision by a multinational firm to invest in a particular national formation carries the seeds of insecurity, because companies move on when tax incentives or other factors of production beckon – or at least threaten to do so, thereby generating anxiety and obedience in the proletariat. At the same time, they are faced with issues of how to control a displaced workforce.

The implication of the NICL is that rather than technology's putatively inherent freedoms generating a revolution in social relations that empowers citizens, consumers and workers, as per cybertarianism's touching but ultimately pitiable 'New-Economy' mythology, we should regard the 'information society' as one more moment of transformation to secure capital's ongoing domination of labor.

The NICL is designed to cover a variety of workers within the culture industries, whatever their part in the commodity chain. So, it includes janitors, accountants, drivers and tourism commissioners as well as scriptwriters, best boys and radio announcers. Cinema is now rather like the telephone-based systems of banking, marketing and ticketing in its 24-hour 'follow-the-sun' use of regional hubs that service various nations and industrial sectors, be they in otherwise less-developed or highly-developed nations. Advances in communications technology permit electronic off-line editing, synchronised special effects and musical scores across the world through digital networks and special effects, thereby problematising the very need for location shooting. The universal Integrated Services Digital Network permits the instantaneous transfer of digital video and labour is fetishized through its disarticulation from texts in terms of both work and place, while employees are further disempowered through flexible hiring arrangements that are organized on a project-by-project basis – contingent labor as a way of life. In the hope of protecting themselves from this exploitation, workers may aspire to informal connections, links that see the same group re-hired for additional projects. Risk and uncertainty are constitutive and even highly-skilled labor is at its best artisanal." (source: email correspondence with the author)

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