Studying Creative Workers

[We’re pleased to welcome author Dr. Holly Patrick of Edinburgh Napier University. She recently published an article in Management Learning entitled “Nested tensions and smoothing tactics: An ethnographic examination of ambidexterity in a theatre,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Patrick briefly describes her motivations for this research and her findings:]

What motivated you to pursue this research?

The Creative Industries, and the theatre industry in particular, is a thrilling and extremely rewarding arena for research. The content of the work is inherently fascinating to me, and most employees (from the artists on stage to the box office staff) are driven by a love of the art form, and by a commitment to one another. Aside from the pleasure of researching such a vibrant community, there are a couple of reasons why research in this area is particularly worthy. First, the production of art is in many ways the production of society, as it generates new ideas and new understandings of culture, identity and society which diffuse through high and popular creative forms to influence all areas of life. Second, creative workers and organisations are becoming increasingly important to the economy of developed countries as the manufacturing industry shrinks and certain areas of service work become automated.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

My research is ethnographic – based on observation, participant observation and interviews. It is a lot to ask that anyone allows another person to follow them around and take notes on a regular basis for an extended period of time. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I was a PhD student adopting an inductive methodology – so I didn’t walk into the theatre with a research question. Participants often wanted to know ‘what are you trying to find out?’ and ‘I’m not quite sure yet’ never felt like a very satisfactory answer! Despite being open and honest about this, ambiguity breeds insecurity, and sometimes I had to adjust my techniques and my plans to deal with the discomfort participants felt at my presence in their workspace (which in some cases were usually private, such as rehearsals). The findings I present in this paper about the linguistic tactics used to deal with paradox are some of the most interesting in the project, and resulted from me being able to develop a close and sustained relationship with a production team – but it was not without its challenges. I remember an actor who was having a difficult rehearsal legitimately (if a little uncomfortably) asking ‘what the f*** was I writing about in my notebook anyway’. Accounts of methodology are often sanitised in papers, but doing research is all about understanding and responding to participants concerns, which helps build our knowledge of the field and our reflexivity about the impacts of our methods on others.

What advice would you give to new scholar and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

Paradox is a rapidly evolving area so going to conferences in key to keeping up with the field. IF you are considering research the Creative Industries, it is important to bear in mind that much of the foundational literature was written in an era of investment and political hype around the value of creativity to the economy. We do not live in the same world today, and contemporary research in the UK needs to focus on the value of the creative economy in a post-crash, austerity-driven context.

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