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‘Freelance Isn’t Free.’ Co-working As A Critical Urban Practice To Cope With Informality In Creative Labour Markets

Janet Merkel

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For more than a decade, co-working spaces have proliferated in cities worldwide. The paper discusses co-working as a critical urban practice because these spaces give support to the rising number of freelance workers in culture and creative industries. Freelance workers are an ‘invisible’ workforce whose impact often remains ‘hidden’ (Mould et al., 2014), who are not sufficiently protected through social welfare regulations and do not enjoy the same social entitlements as employed workers. This paper uses the concept of informality to highlight ongoing informalisation processes of employment relationships as well as informal working practices in creative labour markets. It discusses the emergence of co-working as a practice of collective self-help and self-organisation to cope with and to potentially overcome the informality, uncertainty and risks associated with independent work. It argues that co-working can be seen in line with other practices of informal urbanism that become more prevalent in European and North American cities because of the lack of affordable housing, the retrenchment of the social welfare state and the imposed conditions of ‘austerity urbanism’ (Peck, 2012).