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The Creativity Hoax

The Creativity Hoax

George Morgan | Pariece Nelligan


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Politicians, educators and business leaders often tell young people they will need to develop their creative skills to be ready for the new economy. Vast numbers of school leavers enrol in courses in media, communications, creative and performing arts, yet few will ever achieve the creative careers they aspire to. The big cities are filled with performers, designers, producers and writers who cannot make a living from their art/craft. They are told their creative skills are transferable but there is little available work outside retail, service and hospitality jobs. Actors can use their skills selling phone plans, insurance or advertising space from call centres, but usually do so reluctantly. Most people in the ‘creative industries’ work as low-paid employees or freelancers, or as unpaid interns. They put up with exploitation so that they can do what they love. The Creativity Hoax argues that in this individualistic and competitive environment, creative aspirants from poor and minority backgrounds are most vulnerable and precarious. Although governments in the West stress the importance of culture and knowledge in economic renewal, few invest in the support and infrastructure that would allow creative aspirants to make best use of their skills.

George Morgan is associate professor at the Institute for Culture and Society and the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at Western Sydney University, Australia.

Pariece Nelligan is adjunct fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University, Australia.

We often hear that creative and intellectual innovation is the key to western economic renewal, that cognitive capitalism has succeeded in globalizing the mental-manual division of labour, and that old work – blue-collar, repetitive, de-skilled – is now consigned to the factories of the developing world. At the other end of the long production chains, the West relies increasingly on immaterial labour. From this perspective no rustbelt city can hope to regenerate, no developing nation can ascend to first-world status, without the ‘new oil’ of intellectual property. Workers in general are told to adapt to this transition, to remake themselves for the new economy. Rapid shifts in patterns of consumption, taste and technology can render jobs and skills obsolete in ways that defy the planning and foreclosures of Fordism.

Vocational fortunes depend not only on intellect and creativity but also on entrepreneurial acumen and vocational agility. New capitalism seeks to make a virtue of transience. It has taken up the counter-culture’s critique of the Fordist job-for-life, in order to persuade young people in particular that working life is (and should be) episodic and project-based. The precariat (Standing 2009) must embrace the idea of the improvised post-modern career - a wild vocational ride that unfolds like the levels of a video game. They must become labile labour: opportunistic, excitable, flexible, mobile and ready to flow without protest or friction into the spaces opened up by Post-Fordism. Those who resist or ignore this turbulence and cling to the goal of security are in effect sleepwalking towards redundancy.

‘The Creativity Hoax’ argues that creativity, the leitmotif of new capitalism, has become a key neo-liberal idiom for reorganizing work and working life in ways that erode communal bonds, loyalties and values and blur the boundaries between work and play, public and private. However, the creative economy remains a largely unrealized project, a fantasy of regeneration. Despite the inflated rhetoric of vocational fulfilment, much work performed in the West remains low-skilled and low-paid. Very few make a living exclusively from creative labour whether as employees, freelancers, or entrepreneurs. For the most part it is transnational cultural corporations that reap the patentable or copyrightable bounty, belying the egalitarian myths of the new economy. [NP] The challenge for capital has been to habituate the precariat to the condition of abeyance. In order to tolerate un/underemployment or jobs where skills and talents are underutilized (retail, hospitality or on the edges of creative industries), young workers need to be persuaded that vocational fulfilment and financial security are attainable. ‘The Creativity Hoax’ draws on extensive interview and observation research with creative aspirants – from technical, production and performance fields – who wrestle with the prospect and reality of poverty and unfulfilled ambition.

‘This is a wonderful and important book in the best tradition of cultural studies. It explores what “autobiographies of uncertainty” feel like in contemporary capitalism. Morgan and Nelligan’s notions of “just-in-time workers”, “labile labour” and “promiscuous aspiration” look set to become key points of reference for future analyses.’
—Rosalind Gill, Professor of Cultural and Social Analysis, City, University of London, UK

‘A great blend of the personal, the political and the empirical – this is an essential volume for anyone who wants to understand work and the problems of work in our society.’
—Kate Oakley, Professor of Cultural Policy, School of Media and Communication, University of Leeds, UK

‘In The Creativity Hoax, George Morgan and Pariece Nelligan unleash a scathing, and timely, critique of the promises and fantasies of the “gig economy”. Most poignant are the book's diverse voices, drawn from interviews with those at the coalface of new forms of precarious work.’
—Chris Gibson, Professor of Human Geography, University of Wollongong, Australia

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Cover Cover 1
Front Matter iii
Half title i
Title page iii
Copyright information iv
Table of Contents v
Preface vii
Factory Lad – George Morgan vii
Dancing on Hot Coals – Pariece Nelligan viii
Acknowledgments xi
Chapter Int-ch7 1
Introduction 1
Measuring Creativity 3
Research: Location and Method 7
Autobiographies of Uncertainty 9
Chapter Outline 12
Chapter 1 The Creative Imperative: Remaking Capital/Remaking Labour 15
Genealogy of Culture and Creativity 16
Conscripting Creativity: The Digital Bonanza 18
The Creativity Contract – Remaking Labour 21
Conclusion 23
Chapter 2 Post-Industrial Pedagogy 25
Schooldays Creativity 28
Nonconformist Neil 28
Guitar John 29
Music-made Matt 30
Tripwire Tony 32
Henry Hundreds 33
Amanda’s destiny 34
Jai in the sky 35
Post-School Creative Training 36
Conclusion: All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go? 39
Chapter 3 Leaving Covers-Land: The Metropolitan Journey and The Creative Network 41
The Self-Assembled Creative Career 43
Rites of Passage 46
The devil wears Nada 47
Tanja’s tribulations 48
Locked Out of the Social Factory: The Network and the Postmodern Career 51
The Film-makers’ Network 54
Come Help Out. No, Don’t Bother … 59
Conclusion 62
Chapter 4 Do Give Up Your Day Job 65
Introduction 65
Day-Job Case Studies 68
Hardworn Roger 68
Neil on the rebound 69
Jerome wasn’t built in a day 70
Adam’s apples 72
Day job for David? 73
Zero-hour Henry 74
Leonie’s life chances 75
Corporate Conscription 77
Conclusion 80
Chapter 5 Labile Labour 83
Gender and the Gig Economy 85
Designer Douglas 87
Maker Mahmoud 89
Tony’s artisanal calling 91
Jake and the lost community of practice 92
Matt’s craft values 94
Hayley and the main chance 96
Theresa’s magical realism 98
Amanda’s diffuse ambitions 99
Conclusion 102
Chapter 6 The Just-In-Time Self? 105
Promiscuous Ambition? Creativity and the Challenge of Reinvention 106
John at the junction 107
Nada on the rebound 111
Temping Tanja 113
Conclusion 115
Chapter 7 Beyond The Social Factory: Reclaiming The Commons 117
Herding Cats –‘Value-Capture’ in the Social Factory 118
Feral Enterprise 121
Case Study: Rebel8 124
Digital Insurgents 127
Social Factory or Sweatshop? 129
Stuart: matrimonial auteur 132
Mid-life Mike 133
Beyond the Social Factory? Priming Creative Renewal 135
The Creative University 139
Conclusion 142
Conclusion: Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You 145
End Matter 151
Bibliography 151
Index 161