How do freelancers deal with loosely established employment practice? Reflecting on semi-structured interviews with 60 independent professionals from Taiwan and England, this study looks at whether the traditional frameworks of organizational exploitation and self-exploitation are appropriate to understanding unfair employment practices encountered by freelancers. Additionally, I examine the conflicts between freelancers and their clients and how they influence professional identity and payment negotiation. Preliminary analyses result in three findings:
First, inexperienced freelancers are motivated by financial and human capital accumulation, thus inevitably have to undergo a period of self-exploitation before reaching a satisfactory stage of fair negotiation. However, both inexperienced and experienced operate in capitalist and moral economies, such that they consider each clients’ project (e.g. adding value to society) and financial condition to determine appropriate price.
Second, to minimise replaceability and stabilise sources of work, highly skilled freelancers diversify skills and form alliances with other freelancers. Freelancers divide labour in cooperative partnerships, forming complementary alliances to carve out a niche in their profession while escaping the exploitation typically associated with division of labour.
Third, the freelance experience is impacted by social and cultural factors. Some clients don’t necessarily understand or appreciate the investment and skills involved in freelancers’ work. Clients’ skewed judgements of freelance work creates asymmetrical valuations of the work, and such evaluational asymmetry is manifested in different perceptions of the client vs the freelancer regarding the respectability of the profession, which also results in gaps in expected payment.