Unveiling the subject behind diversity: Exploring the micro-politics of representation in ethnic minority creatives’ identity work

P. Zanoni, Annelies Thoelen, S.B. Ybema

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Much literature on the cultural industries celebrates ethnicity as a source of creativity. Despite its positive connotation, this discourse reduces ethnic minority creatives to manifestations of a collective ethnic identity automatically leading to creativity, creating a paradox of creativity without a creative subject. Approaching creatives with an ethnic minority background as agents, this article investigates how they self-reflectively and purposely discursively construct ethnicity as a source of creativity in their identity work. Empirically, we analyze interviews with well-established creatives with an ethnic minority background active in Belgium. Most respondents construct their ethnic background as ‘hybrid’, ‘exotic’, or ‘liminal’ to craft an identity as creatives and claim creativity for their work. Only few refuse to discursively deploy ethnicity as a source of creativity, crafting more individualized identities as creatives. Our study contributes to the literature on power and ethnicity in the creative industries by documenting ethnic minority creatives’ discursive micro-struggle over what is creative work and who qualifies as a creative. Specifically, we show their counterpolitics of representation of ethnicity in the creative industries through the re-signification of the relation between the 'west' and the 'other' in less disadvantageous terms. Despite such re-signification, the continued relevance of the discourse of ethnicity as a key marker of difference suggests that ethnicity remains a principle of unequal organization of the creative industries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)330-354
Number of pages25
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017



  • Creative industries, discourse, ethnic minorities, identity, power, subjectivity

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