Sunday, 2 October 2011

'The creative class is a lie'

Anyone still labouring under the illusion:

The creative class is a lie. The dream of a laptop-powered "knowledge class" is dead. The media is melting. Blame the economy - and the Web
"…But for those who deal with ideas, culture and creativity at street level — the working- or middle-classes within the creative class — things are less cheery. Book editors, journalists, video store clerks, musicians, novelists without tenure — they’re among the many groups struggling through the dreary combination of economic slump and Internet reset. The creative class is melting, and the story is largely untold…"

"…But was this ever true? And who are the creative classes, anyway? The creative class is made up of a ‘creative core’, according to Florida’s classification, which is comprised of scientists, engineers, university professors, poets, novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers and architects, as well as the ‘thought leadership’ of our society, including non-fiction writers, editors, cultural figures, think-tank researchers, analysts and other opinion-makers. The creative-core group is supported by a phalanx of ‘creative professionals’ who work in a diverse range of ‘knowledge intensive’ industries such as high-tech, financial services, the legal and health care professions, and business management. While Marx understood class in terms of conflicting class interests dominated by uneven power relations, Florida, a keen supporter of growth-based free market economics, is keen to stress that the creative classes will work with rather than against the prevailing economic system: “The Creative Class has made certain symbols of non-conformity acceptable – even conformist. It is in this sense that they represent not an alternative group but a new and increasingly norm-setting mainstream of society”[53]. In this sense Florida argues capitalism has pulled off a major coup, ‘capturing’ people who would have been seen as “bizarre mavericks” operating on the fringes of bohemia, and “setting them at the very heart of the process of innovation and growth”[54].
Florida’s claim that the so-called creative class make up the ‘mainstream’ of society is deeply contentious. In Glasgow, for instance, around nine out of ten of the city’s jobs are in the service sector, which as the Glasgow City Council Plan (2008-2011) acknowledges, is characterised by a preponderance of lower paid and lower skilled services. Meanwhile, about a quarter of Glasgow’s working age population are on benefits and outside the workforce altogether. There is no point in arguing either that Glasgow’s benefit claimants and low-paid service sector workers can be rescued by “the leaders of twenty-first-century society”; for beneath Florida’s hyperbole a disturbing acknowledgement is made: “There is a strong correlation between inequality and creativity: the more creative a region is, the more inequality you will find there”[55]. As Florida admits, this inequality has “insidious dimensions”. The service economy ultimately operates as the “support infrastructure” of the creative age: “Members of the Creative Class, because they are well compensated and work long and unpredictable hours, require a growing pool of low end service workers to take care of them and do their chores”[56]. Florida himself suggests that the growth of this burgeoning, increasingly precarious service class must be understood alongside the rise of the creative class. Moreover, another troubling element arises in Florida’s thesis. In his tabulation of the classes (which includes ‘the agricultural class’, ‘the service class’, ‘the working class’, ‘the creative class’, and a subset, ‘the super-creative core’) traditional class actors – the middle and upper classes – are entirely absent. Could it be that their new homes are in the upper echelons of the ‘creative class’ and the ‘super-creative core’? …

Glasgow’s Merchant City: An Artist Led Property Strategy
Neil Gray


PQ at Archer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PQ at Archer said...

The important thing to note is that this is not a theory postulated by Richard Florida. It is what resulted from extensive analysis of the cities “creatives” find attractive. Florida wondered why some cities that had no strategy to do so attracted the cream of creativity and set out to survey people to find the answer. Remember that the whole debate started before this was a fashionable subject. The reader may rail at the outcome, but this is actually what the people who moved to these cities said when asked. They gave the categories of what was attractive, not Richard Florida’s survey team. What Florida has since done is to try to challenge conventional thinking about place-making, about the social infrastructure that is attractive and to ask us to see ourselves honestly against the benchmark of what the creative city survey told us.
As for your comments on the disparity between creativity and its often high-income return and a poorer subset within the same city or area – well, it is a fascinating reality. Creativity does seem to thrive amongst such unfairly distributed economic returns. Rents cheap for people starting out on the creative journey are only a small part of that equation and I don’t think anyone understands it yet. Maybe sanitised and well-ordered boring just doesn’t fit? Think New Orleans. Think Liverpool. As you say: think Glasgow.
I challenged a government minister on just this topic at a presentation in Manchester. Florida was a guest speaker and sought me out in the audience afterwards to tell me my challenge was exactly what he was trying to get across. What I had said was: Had the government invested in giving a vehicle to develop the creativity within this low paid cohort of people who have little opportunity for advancement, instead of providing subsidies for multinationals to locate in a region because they claim temporary workers as “new jobs” – who knows what the outcome would have been.
The Creative Class is not a lie if you study what is meant by the books. They are meant to challenge our thinking. The Creative Class is a reality. What IS a lie is that much of our structure makes claim to giving opportunity by “programmes for unemployed”. If instead we had all sorts of challenges to the intellectual and creative base that lies within our poorer communities – worthwhile things that peaked a person’s curiosity with an “I bet I could solve that” attitude, we could expand our creative class quite fast. There is no lack of creativity within the groups who see no hope for economic advancement outside the tracks on the edge of legality. Harnessing that creativity to be productive in other ways for each of those individuals is our real challenge.
I would like to see thoughtfulness on that subject instead of casting the whole Creative Class discussion into the “It’s a lie” basket.