From Unemployment to Retirement. Performing Artists in the French Social Protection System.

Saturday, 4 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
CLM.7.03 (Clement House)
Vincent Cardon, CURAPP-ESS (University of Amiens-CNRS), Amiens, France; Paris, France
Our study focuses on French performing artists’ careers. Artistic careers and professional ageing are analysed as biographical processes starting as soon as the entry on those lowly institutionalized labour market. The study examines in the first place the key determinants of professional success. It deploys a methodological approach of those highly uncertain project-based careers mixing quantitative – longitudinal analysis of 4 statistical datasets – and ethnographic methods (80 biographical interviews). “Intermittent” artists are wage earners, but hyper-flexible ones. They benefit from a derogatory unemployment coverage system and half of their income is constituted of unemployment allowance. That case constitutes a rare opportunity to study what long-term employment flexibility involves in terms of relationship to vocational activities. Ageing requires the implementation of strategies aiming at a reduction of professional uncertainty and at stabilizing the individual position on the labour market but also implies irreversibility effects of professional choices that has not been deeply examined by a literature envisaging those wage-earning workers as “portfolio workers”.

Finally, we carried out an unprecedented study of artistic retirement, grounded on the longitudinal analysis of specific administrative datasets specially built in collaboration with several social institutions of the entertainment industry. What does retirement mean – symbolically and economically – for an artist? We show that the specifically equipped flexibility artists experience (derogatory unemployment system taking into account the discontinuity of their employment agenda) implies tremendous economic inequalities and increasing economic difficulties when the age of retirement comes. Artists keep working as long as they can, not only because of the properties of their relationship to work, but also because they are urged to do so for economic reasons. But this incitation stumbles over the congestion of the labour market for elderly artists. So, the issue of their retirement cannot be envisaged independently from the evolutions of their labour market – which have been described as “unbalanced” (Menger 2005). In this dissertation, artists are considered as a limit case of the contemporary evolutions of work and employment statuses. The study of the way the specific rules of the social protection against unemployment artists benefit from articulate with the common rules of retirement they depend on constitute an invite to think about the implicit categories social protection systems are built on, their ability to adapt to the evolutions of employment statuses, and, more deeply, the case of artists invites us to operate an analytical return on the very notion of social protection “system”.