Black, Brown and Asian cultural workers, creativity and activism: The ambivalence of digital self-branding practices

Francesca Sobande, David Hesmondhalgh and Anamik Saha (2023), The Sociological Review

How do cultural and creative workers respond to racism and the politics of representation and respectability in the digital age? In what ways do they engage in forms of community-building and solidarity-making, while managing pressures to build digital presence and personal brands? This article seeks to address these questions via 30 in-depth interviews with Black, Brown and Asian (BBA) workers in the UK cultural and creative industries (CCIs). Focusing on the ambivalence of digital self-branding practices, our work builds on scholarship on inequalities in the CCIs, and on platformization and race. We organize our findings regarding the experiences and values of these workers into three main themes: the positive potential these workers find in the capacity of digital media technologies for forging community and solidarity; the benefits and limitations of using digital media technologies to communicate counternarratives, including exposure of discrimination in CCIs, and adapting and ‘gaming’ features such as recommendation algorithms; and how they experience and navigate felt pressures to self-brand in contemporary digital contexts. We find a marked ambivalence in the reported experiences of these workers, which generatively complicates existing accounts of digital technology, algorithmic struggles and the UK’s CCIs.

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