Here’s another podcast episode for you folks. The Coworking Symposium is almost here, and we are introducing one of our speakers, Dr. Carolina Bandinelli.
Dr. Carolina Bandinelli is an assistant Professor in Media and Creative Industries, at the Centre for Media and Cultural Policy Studies in the University of Warwick. She is a cultural theorist concerned with emerging forms of subjectivity and sociality in the media and creative industries.
In this episode, we will be deep-diving about self-branding, authenticity and social relationships. We will also be talking about reinventing and re signifying entrepreneurship and coworking ethos.
What is Self-Branding and what does it have to do with authenticity?
Yeah, well, it’s a controversial term because of course, it means different things in different contexts, I guess. Of course, it can be just the commodification of the self, and what you said about losing touch with your true self.
Now, to be honest, I don’t believe it is that easy to point at the true self anywhere anyway, but these are my, if you like philosophical beliefs. So I think that these distinctions between authenticity and non authenticity, inauthenticity is, is a bit more complicated than one might think of, because it’s not that the one who brands themselves then at one point, comes back home, and then sort of dismisses the brand.
And there’s that Oh, now I’m finally out of person. So I think that with self branding, I mean, this process of acquiring a personality, of acquiring any thoughts, a way of being in the scene and then of course, this can be more, either more extreme or coming across as artificial or this can be more subtle.
But in this society we live in an era in an increasingly over mediatized society, we always engage in practice of self branding, whether we want it or not, like your first question about what are you known for it was a way of branding myself or communicating my personality in like a couple of sentences.
Zeljko Crnjaković 0:15
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Bernie J Mitchel 0:49
Hello ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this week’s episode of the Coworking Values Podcast. I’m over the moon because it’s another one of our Coworking Symposium run up Podcast. I’m here in the virtual studio of the European Coworking Assembly and I have my esteemed academic colleague Carolina. So, Carolina, as I said, what are you known for, and what would you like to be known for?
I’m known for not being very good at self-branding, so I don’t know what to say. I think perhaps somebody knows me for having researched new forms of work in the media and creative industries. And I think I’m actually also known for making silly jokes when I give presentations. And I’d like to be known for my next big project about love.
Bernie J Mitchel 1:46
About love? Before we get into coworking, what’s that about love?
I think I’m interested in how the culture of love is changing with digital media, like dating apps and other stuff, perhaps, for another podcast.
Bernie J Mitchel 2:01
Definitely for another podcast, there’s an app for that. Have you read Brené Brown’s work?
No, but I will.
Bernie J Mitchel 2:10
Brené talks a lot about vulnerability. She’s a researcher from the university of Texas.
Bernie J Mitchel 2:17
And I’ve read all her books. So, this is going to give us a segway into our topic. So, after the success of her TED talk, she accidentally did a TEDx talk, which I think is like the second most viewed TED talk now. And then 10 years later she got her next Netflix special, which is huge. After this success, companies and corporations would ask her to come and talk and they’d say, Oh, hello, can you come and give a talk about stuff because you’re really good. And she says “I talk about vulnerability”, and they said, Oh, we don’t want vulnerability, we want people to be more productive and happy in the workplace, and she’d say, well, when people are inventing things, they’re testing and trying, and that’s when they’re at their most vulnerable, so vulnerability is really important to what you like to call innovation, so, you need to encourage a culture of vulnerability, and freedom, and flow, and everything like that with work, not a culture of like you need to get more done. She explains it much more eloquently than that but that was a huge thing.
I totally get it. I think it’s also the question of how to reinvent and re-signifying entrepreneurship away from the patriarchal, very phallic idea of power and affirmation. Often we think an entrepreneurial modality that takes into account, vulnerability, and ethics. And this is part of also what the coworking movement has tried to do, in a sense.
Bernie J Mitchel 4:04
That’s huge. As a white male wandering through the universe, you don’t notice these things until other human beings point them out to you. I’m part of an all-female team, and I love it, and I’m amazed at how many men say, ” oh we’re part of an all-female team”, it just feels totally okay. There’s a very, I don’t even say nice, it’s a brilliant working environment, because people aren’t trying to outdrink each other and be all macho all the time. And I have a very strong feminine side so, that works for me too.
You don’t necessarily need to be sexually a man, to be feminine. The other way around is also true, I mean there are a lot of women, that kind of re-enact that power structure of patriarchy in which you are bullying and bossy, because this is the only way in which you can make your way up. So, I guess this is about what kind of person you want to be and what kind of values you hold as true, and also the courage that you have to kind of redefine certain modalities of what it means to be successful, and what it means to work with others, and it takes courage, I think. It is a bit daring.
Bernie J Mitchel 5:32
Which is a title of Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly. It is daring. I’m finding that more and more, because I noticed that I’d like to read books about this stuff, and at the end of last year, where I work and who I work for changed dramatically. So, now I’m part of a bigger team, and I laugh at myself of how many things I’ve read, and now I’m actually in a situation where I need to apply them. It is somewhere between exciting and, oh, so that’s what they mean. Do you have children?
No. I have a cat.
Bernie J Mitchel 6:08
Okay, so it’s like, because you are aware of what the concept of being a parent, even though you’re not actually a parent, and because it’s just part of who we are and then suddenly when you’re a parent, it can be applied to when you like the idea of having a cat, and then you suddenly get one and its with you all the time and like, oh, so that’s what it means. So, that’s the space I’m in. So, let’s try an elegantly segway out of this into Sergio.
Bernie J Mitchel 6:48
I’m about halfway through your paper, so, don’t spoil the ending for me. How would you define subjectivity around this because I find that confusing and I’ve got three degrees from Harvard, so how is subjectivity in this case? What’s the story of Sergio?
Well first, congratulations for your three degrees from Harvard, I hope you’ve printed them out and have giant posters all around your room. Well, the subjectivity thing is a bit of the core of what I want to say about coworking spaces and my ways of looking at them. So, we know that coworking spaces are aimed at providing people with a network. So, with a sociality, you go to coworking spaces because you want to hang out with like-minded people. Now, one of the effects of it, so to speak, is that by hanging out with a certain kind of people that believe in certain values, that believe in a certain idea of what work is, of what collaboration is, on what building hairier means. Hanging out with a certain kind of people, so, being part of a theme, then you are exposed to certain ways of thinking and certain perspectives that may change the way in which you think of who you are, and who you are as a worker, and what kind of career you may be.
The story of Sergio is brilliant, I think, in this respect, because Sergio is someone who grew up in Tuscany countryside from a working-class family, and he loved photography, but he had never thought that he could be a photographer. Photography was conceived as a hobby, as a side interest, as something nice, but definitely not something that could earn him a living. So, the ways in which Sergio presented himself is, I am a handyman who loves photography. And then for a series of events in his life, he ended up being part of a coworking space, and there he was exposed to this different approach to work, that you can turn what you love and your passion into a job, into a career.
At the beginning, Sergio was a bit puzzled and sceptical. It was a bit like what the hell are you talking about, and he felt excluded because he had another view of the world. And at the beginning he didn’t buy into this narrative. And then, over time, he actually did it, he started seeing how other people do it, and he started rethinking of himself. And so, he gradually began to identify with the photographer. And it started creating a narrative of his life around photography and around the development of this passion and talent. And he created his unique, if you like, brand, but this is something that he learned being part of the coworking space.
Bernie J Mitchel 11:04
How did he learn it? Because a lot of that I can relate to. Twelve years ago, I was working online and I was at home, and I just didn’t know anything so, I was working at home because every time I went to look for an office, they seemed to be like 1000 pounds a month, and that was way out of my budget. So, I was working at home and then I got involved in coworking in late 2010 and joined a meet-up and works in a coworking space in 2010, and most of my career and identity, part of it is through being involved in the movement. But most of it is just bumping into people and having conversations. It’s like compound interest, from what apps to use, that that is possible, seeing someone else doing the kind of thing I want to do, like running meetups. Is that what shaped it, or did he just see that other people get paid for doing photography, now I can?
Oh, no. Of course, it was not that straightforward. He was more along the lines of what you were saying. So, this is a process that we constantly engage in when we meet a new bunch of people, we are influenced about the way they do things we are inspired by their ways of doing things. For him, it was mostly the stories that people were able to tell about themselves, the ways in which they would talk about what they do. So, at one point during an interview, he told me, I understood that it is not really about or only about what you can do, but the way you tell a story about it, which is what we call self-branding. But what I think self-branding is, is exactly this process of interpretation of yourself and self-fashioning. You start objectifying some part of yourself and your story, and you create a tale that you can communicate. And this also has to do with the values that you have and the ways in which you see the word. We know that this is important in contemporary media and creative industries. It is not just about what you can do, I mean your technical skills and expertise. It is who you are now at work, but it is also, in a sense, who you are, what kind of ethics do you have, what kind of values do you have?
Bernie J Mitchel 14:01
I get a bit moody when people talk about self-branding or that kind of stuff, because there are a lot of people, maybe because I just looked for them, there are a lot of people I know who have very strong values and work ethic, and they’re just very good at what they do, and without having any branding, they have a brand. And then I know other people that put so much effort into their branding but there’s like nothing there when you look underneath, so, I get upset when people get so obsessed with branding that they lose their true self. Do you see what I mean?
Yeah, Well, it’s a controversial term because of course, it means different things in different contexts, I guess. Of course, it can be just the commodification of the self and what you said about losing touch with your true self. Now, to be honest, I don’t believe it is that easy to point at the true self, anywhere. Anyways, but these are my, if you like, philosophical beliefs. So, I think that this distinction between authenticity and no authenticity is a bit more complicated than one might think of, because it’s not that the one who brands themselves then at one point comes back home, and then sort of dismisses the brand, and says, now I’m finally out of person. I think this process of acquiring a personality, of acquiring new thoughts, the way of behaving in the scene. This can be more extreme or coming across as artificial or these can be more subtle, but in the society we live in, in an increasingly over mediatized society, we always engage in the practice of self-branding, whether we want it or not. Your first question about what are you known for was a way of branding myself or communicating my personality in a couple of sentences.
Bernie J Mitchel 16:33
But when you said, I’m really bad at branding myself, that just made it even better. I know from personal experience that a coworking community, or coworking space, or that type of thing, can certainly shape your personality or your career, or your being. But, as you were researching, and just from your own experience, does the way that a coworking space is managed or happens shape that or is it just the natural organic interactions?
Well, I think that part of the whole point of coworking spaces is exactly to support and catalyse forms of socialization and cross-fertilization. That than, naturally, so to speak, leads to the individual being exposed to certain signifiers, to certain values, certain practices. In my understanding, this is what a coworking office is, and one also gets to rehearse this personality, what I call subjectivity, and see what works and what doesn’t work. So, an example, and it is not Sergio, it is another participant of my research whose nickname is Alfredo. So, once, Alfredo brought a supermarket level chicken to a shared salad in a coworking space, and then it was rejected by people who are like, what the hell are you doing? Are you bringing chicken? A chicken is totally against our values, it is not organic chicken, it is not environmentally sustainable, it is just not something that you bring here.
Alfredo didn’t know because he had eaten that chicken up until that point without questioning, and then being rejected, being excluded from that sharing practice, made him realize that he did something wrong, and so, made him question his own values, and his own way of relating to what he eats and what he shares. And, and I think this is just a very good example of how more or less implicitly, a coworking space, as any social environment for that matter, produce and reproduce certain norms and produce and reproducer certain ethos. It communicates what is good and bad, what is true and false. And this is even truer, I think, for coworking spaces, because after all, the coworking movement originated from a strong ethical claim, the Coworking Manifesto.
Bernie J Mitchel 20:12
I’m trying to resist the temptation to make a joke up. We were talking before we came on about how this came about and the idea of Sergio just meeting people and that helping him shape stuff, reminds me of something. The Urban MBA project here in London which is a project for young people to learn how to start their freelance business or start a business. And one of the main connection points is for those young people to be able to get into coworking spaces to build their network. And very often, when I ask people what they think about coworking spaces. They think it’s young white men starting tech companies, even though that’s probably when I researched it, but that’s probably like 5% of what actually happens in reality, but that idea of meeting other people and growing your network is so huge, can you comment on that a little bit?
From a scholarly perspective, so to speak, this is the result of what we call the disorganization of and the institutionalization of work. So, the work of a freelancer, of a knowledge worker, digital nomads, or entrepreneur, you choose your term. If a career does not have a definite workplace, the office, and working schedule. So, it sort of happened in an institutional void, if you may. So, what happens is that the production of a certain self was a whole subjectivity, and the production of relationship, of a social network, becomes the very structure of work, they become the ecosystem. So, if you want. If you are an entrepreneur, if you want to build a career as an entrepreneur in the media and creative industries nowadays, you have to build your own structure, which is made by your own relationships.
But of course, to plug into a network, into a scene, you have to be a certain kind of person. So, the production of a certain self that resonates with the values and norms that regulate that specific network is quite important. And there are spaces that are aimed at supporting the individual in the creation of their own subjectivity, personality, character, and their own social network. Universities perhaps are one of the first kind of places in which this was happening, with all the degrees in creative entrepreneurship, and so on. And then other forms of education and projects like the one you’re talking about. And then I think coworking spaces and creative hubs in general, they really represent the systematization, the formalization of a culture in which work in the media and creative industries is about. It is also about the kind of person that you are, and the kind of social relationships that you have.
Bernie J Mitchel 24:15
I’m dying to ask now, do you think, because, you know this this paper was written in 2019 and everything changed in 2020. How do you think anything, the way we work nowadays where we can commute less and it’s all online, how’s that type of person? I’d like to think that it’s a fairer world now, but is it?
Well, I think it’s a bit early to say. I’m not a futurologist, so I can share some impressions. I think that, of course, we are undergoing a massive change and what work is, what good work is, and what collaboration and communication is has already changed with the acceleration of the digital. So, these may indeed impact on what do we think is a good job, what do we think is the best way to collaborate. So, issues around commuting and the sustainability of transportation, and movements may indeed play a much, much bigger role than they used to play before, so that the prevalence and the prominence of the urban context for the media and creative industries at large, may well be under question. And we may witness a relocalization of coworking into a more sort of community-based ethos.
This perhaps is a good thing. I think this can potentially be a good thing. What is good and bad, of course changes depending on the position that one occupies in society. So, if you think about smart working, smart working may be very good for certain people. And it might be very challenging, and almost impossible for other people. So, it depends on whether you have the space in your house that provides what you need to work, whether you have support with, for instance childcare. So, we’ll see. But I think that perhaps we will see how the coworking movement can become less urban in focus.
I recently had a follow up interview with Sergio, asking him how he has been doing during lockdown. And what he said is that it was good for him, because it lifts away the pressure of having to produce, especially in the first lockdown, there was this impression of okay, everything is still. So, for him this translated into less pressure of being productive, and that allows him the space, he said, to really think about what he wants to do. So, again you see this focus on the self, what I want to do, then is set up his website and he understood. He told me that he can really pursue his own projects and desires. Because what people like is him. So, I think that this focus on the self is kind of here to stay for now. And this is a good thing on the one end, but of course there are also backlashes and potential side effects of creating a very kind of narcissistic individual, that is very much concerned about me, me ,me, what I know, what I’m good at, etc. So, this is the problem of entrepreneurship in my view. I published a book about it, that is a critique of these and other aspects of entrepreneurship.
Bernie J Mitchel 29:03
So, you put me in a position, Carolina, where I’m going to have to bite my tongue because we’re at the end of the podcast, and I’m fuller of questions than I was ,so, we’re going to have to do this again. You can come and hear from Carolina and, I’m not going to read them all out, about 10 other people, almost as good as Carolina on the 15th of April, we’ve got a morning of talks from people who are researching all over Europe and the world, about these topics we covered here today and with a particular lens on post COVID society and how will the future work. Where’s the best place to find you online, Carolina?
I think if you google me, you get my institutional profile on the University of Warwick, and I’ve just updated my LinkedIn profile.
Bernie J Mitchel 30:14
Thanks very much for your time and attention, ladies, and gentlemen, and if you go to coworkingassembly.eu, and wait for a few seconds, this embarrassingly short period of time, a pop up will come up and say, join our email list and that’s where we email you about events and topics, Coworking Library news, and everything going on in the Coworking Europe universe, say goodbye Carlina.
Goodbye. Thank you.
Bernie J Mitchel 30:46