Toward a Political Economy of Labor in the Media Industries

David Hesmondhalgh and Sarah Baker

Political economy once had a near monopoly on the critical analysis of media production in relation to questions of power and social justice. Now a host of new entrants compete over the same territory, threatening to swallow political economy whole. A field of “media production studies” that draws on cultural studies theory is now thriving (Mayer et al. 2009, Holt and Perren 2009). Political economists’ interventions have been largely marginal in major critical studies of the Internet and new media (e.g., Benkler 2006). Although political economy has had a major impact on studies of media, cultural, and communications policy, an increasing number of publications on these issues (for example, on the “creative industries”) contain barely a reference to core political economic research and concepts. Important and useful work undoubtedly continues to be published from within a set of approaches identifiable as “political economy.” But even the impact of the best work has for some time seemed rather muted. In general, political economy has been in decline since its 1970s and 1980s heyday.

This situation may reflect a failure on the part of those who define themselves principally or in large part as political economists to keep track of changing empirical realities and theoretical developments. Political economy, for example, has had very little to say about the rise of creative industries policies ...

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