My first career was as a professional actor and singer. As an academic I have explored how social characteristics – principally gender, age and ethnicity – affect performers’ access to work, pay and career longevity. Performers in theatre, film, and television are paid to represent us to ourselves and, despite doing the same work using the same skills, employment is based on allocation to highly segmented labour markets based on wider society’s conceptions of these social characteristics. This necessitates focus on cultural products: why and how they are produced and what shapes the choices of writers, casting directors, producers, commissioning executives and performers themselves. Performers are society’s proxies and why particular meanings and values are attributed to them as workers helps our understanding of advantage and disadvantage in society in general. ‘Culture’ in its artistic sense is not a sideshow. It can tell us who we are through the choices that we make.
Deborah Dean is Associate Professor in Industrial Relations in the Warwick Business School. Her research interests include equality issues in employment; contingent work in the entertainment industry; the interrelation of legal, social and cultural regulation of work.