Graduate Student Work (Sociology)

Document Type

Journal Article

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Publication Source

Poetics: Journal of Empirical Research on Culture, the Media and the Arts





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Cultural industry workers at times compromise the values and tastes that are important parts of their artistic identities to accommodate commercial demands. I argue that workers resolve frustrations that arise from such compromises through identity work, individuals’ active construction of their identities in social contexts. Using ethnographic data from fieldwork at a reality television production company, I describe two identity work strategies, distancing and evaluative tweaking, that workers use to maintain their artistic integrity despite producing work that does not meet their standards of quality. The manner through which these strategies emerged during micro social interaction differed between managers and non-managers. Managers used distancing and evaluative tweaking to simultaneously do identity work and regulate their employees’ identities when justifying decisions that threatened shared values and tastes. On the other hand, employees distanced themselves from managers while venting to colleagues about managers’ decisions that conflicted with their idiosyncratic values and tastes. These dynamics are illustrated through a setting that has received insufficient ethnographic attention, reality television production. Some reality television workers prefer to portray “real” and “authentic” situations. These workers employ identity work strategies to maintain artistic integrity when distorting reality to create the drama and conflict they consider marketable.

Copyright/Permission Statement

© 2012. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license


cultural industries, work, identity, managers, authenticity, reality television



Date Posted: 19 May 2016

This document has been peer reviewed.