LITERATURE AND THE CREATIVE ECONOMY
By Sarah Brouillette
Stanford University Press Copyright © 2014 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
The Creative Class and Cultural Governance
My initial discussion of the creative-economy turn must begin with a reading of an influential social science monograph, popular with policymakers: Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class. To understand The Rise of the Creative Class, we need to consider the book's rise to the status of handbook for creative-industries policymaking and the convergence of the social science research it contains and its author's own working life, as the book describes and is an instance of the merging of work and life. It combines presentation of research findings with autobiographical ruminations, it articulates a theory of creative work that makes it and its author paradigmatic, and it is written to secure its author's elite position as "thought-leader" within the creative class that it defines.
Florida agrees with many scholars that in the United States work in agriculture and industry has declined. Replacing it is work in the service sector, along with a kind of work defined not by the sector in which it might be placed—finance, advertising, or the arts, for example—but instead by those who do it: the new "creative class." Defined as "people who add economic value through their creativity," according to Florida they make up 30 percent of the US workforce, and an increasing amount of power rests with them. Some belong to the creative core, among them "scientists and engineers, university professors, poets and novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers and architects," and some make up a lower order of "creative professionals," including those who support, disseminate, reproduce, and implement the innovations generated by the core—lab technicians and editors, for instance. Those in the core group practice what Florida calls "the highest order of creative work," which is "producing new forms or designs that are readily transferable and widely useful."
Members of the creative class are said to share a set of lifestyle preferences to which governments, human resource departments, and urban developers could and should appeal. They "prefer weak ties to strong," and despite a characteristic reluctance to see themselves as belonging to any collective, they are members of a distinct class formation and share "similar tastes, desires and preferences." A highly educated and mobile group of cultural professionals, they are typically city dwellers who encounter within the urban milieu the cultural and experiential diversity necessary to their self-conceptions. They are attracted not to big sports complexes or opera houses but to authentic bohemian downtowns, peppered with coffee shops, music venues, and a mix of people from diverse races and classes and with different sexual orientations. Cultural policy and urban planning should reflect these preferences. In Florida's work, as in previous attempts to establish a formula for revitalizing brownfield sites and docklands into "cultural quarters" and "enterprise zones," affluent people with high levels of human capital are appealed to as the "bearers of civility [and] good culture" who will make the city safe, clean, and prosperous again. These people are also said to be "anti-establishment, anti-traditionalist and in respects highly individualistic: they prize freedom, autonomy and choice." At work they fear overt forms of corporate or state-based intervention, and they tend to prefer instead the inward-looking "soft control" that operates via "new forms of self-management, peer-recognition and pressure and intrinsic forms of motivation." Primary among these intrinsic drives is the wish to "express [their] identities through work." Florida counsels corporate management to respect these desires.
This argument that a creative elite is at the vanguard of post–World War II socioeconomic transformation likely sounds familiar. As early as 1959 Peter Drucker referred to the "professional specialist" in the "educated society," whose power is innovation and whose job is "to convey knowledge in usable form"; in the 1970s Daniel Bell wrote of the rise of a postindustrial middle-class meritocracy, and Erik Olin Wright, Alvin W. Gouldner, and Barbara and John Ehrenreich debated the existence and power of a "professional-managerial class," sometimes called "the new class" or "the new middle class"; in the 1980s Paul Fussell identified a "Class X"—neo-bohemian people who "belong to no one" and will only do work that they love; and in the early 1990s Robert Reich described "symbolic analysts." Closer still to Florida's work are the proliferating UK creative-industries task force publications of the late 1990s, to which I return later, as well as Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson's The Cultural Creatives and John Howkins's The Creative Economy.
Florida's limited attention to his contemporaries and forebears is significant to his book's form, argument, and success. The fact that The Rise of the Creative Class is not overly burdened by excessive citations, by an extensive review of existing research, or by belabored attempts to distinguish itself from what came before helps to ensure its broad appeal. Unaccompanied by substantial methodological claims or by attempts to position the work within a larger body of scholarship, Florida's approach is instead grounded in the language of direct empirical observation. He and his co-researchers developed and implemented a series of patented measures, such as a "Creativity Index," a "Bohemian Index," and a "Gay Index," designed to quantify the relationship between an urban location's level of lifestyle diversity and its success in attracting creative professionals. The Rise of the Creative Class appeared when Florida was already a well-regarded and established academic, so its data have credentials. He was teaching at Carnegie Mellon University; he had written one book about the international application of Japanese industrial practices and co-edited another about the economic benefits of US- and Japanese-based university research. Presented in a way that was designed for widespread dissemination, the metrics that he and his team devised were a safe and concrete option for planners looking to conceive, implement, and measure practical revitalization strategies. Not long after its publication, supported by a global speaking tour, The Rise of the Creative Class became a bestseller and a "public-policy phenomenon," securing its author's rise to guru status as globetrotting government adviser, corporate consultant, and think-tank founder.
He is now professor of business and creativity in the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, from whence he directs the Martin Prosperity Institute, which studies the role of "location, place and city-regions" in "global economic prosperity," and runs his own consultancy firm, the Creative Class Group, which offers a range of services from corporate advising ("research, strategy and marketing techniques that allow companies to reach the creative class consumer") to tools for creative communities (helping "emerging leaders ... generate greater economic prosperity in their regions"). The group was recently paid $2.2 million by the Ontario government for a study that concludes, not surprisingly, that creative workers will be the key to the province's future economy. He offers his services to corporate clients as well, including Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. His current salary is $346,000, his speaker's fee is $35,000, and his wife is his manager.
The Rise of the Creative Class, the book that made his career, epitomizes its own definition of essential core creativity, for which careful distinction between Florida's own writing and other research is quite unimportant. What matters rather is rendering of "ideas" and "innovations" from any source into material that is "readily transferable and widely useful," a rendering that in this case took the form of empirical measures protected by patent law and described in a straightforward, even aphoristic and anecdotal style. So if for Florida the creative class includes anyone who works to "add economic value through creativity," such that the creative moment is the addition of economic value, this definition exists in supportive accord with his own mode of research articulation. The content of his argument and the form of its presentation are harmonized, and The Rise of the Creative Class trumpets what it is: work designed to cross over readily from an academic context into the public milieu and corporate application.
By its own definition, the object meant for global market circulation—a book, but along with it a set of data and a codified means of collecting the data, and a persona and career—matters to the creative economy insofar as it endeavors to render certain information amenable to market circulation. It is precisely this rendering that is, by its own lights, its originality or creative genius spark; thus, the very definition of innovation becomes inseparable from marketability, which is proven by wide-scale dissemination. Florida's definition of creativity makes the language of the market and the language of individual expressivity inextricable, and it reimagines the original genius of Romantic ideology as one who has found the ideal commercial outlet for a given innovation. It believes that everyone is creative but that only some people—people like him—devote their lives to finding ways to market new ideas and, along with them, the career-selves that emit them.
Many factors matter in achieving such marketability. I have noted that the book is the work of a respected professional backed by a prestigious university, the arguments are presented in an accessible style, and they are supported by what appear to be concrete measures recommended for direct implementation. We might also notice that Florida enjoys the limelight; he is a photogenic and dynamic public speaker who is as comfortable with an audience of CEOs as he is at an academic conference. It helps, too, that his book devotes some pages to chronicling his own life history, an act that attaches his biographical personality to the book from the beginning, as Florida intersperses presentation of data with tales of growing up in Newark, New Jersey, where he witnessed a period of urban decay followed by a revitalization that he attributes to creative professionals. When he talks about what the creative class desires, he often appeals to his own experience as proof; health and fitness is a recurring motif, for instance, as he describes his passion for bicycling and his sense that extreme leisure makes him a better thinker. That its anecdotal evidence about the leisure preferences of the creative elite is based in part in his own self-image and that its publication and dissemination secure his position within the class that it describes make The Rise of the Creative Class at once a partial autobiography and a prop to and end point in its author's own development.
Though his arguments have parallels or precedents in other scholarship and many people were involved in developing and conducting the research he presents as support for his claims, as the cover's lone author and as a biographical presence in the book Florida becomes its embodiment and its spokesperson—both in a relatively untroubled fashion. Florida's take on the creative class's economic importance is not meant to track the history of the various political arrangements and market mechanisms that make it operative, and it does not pretend to account for any social totality that might be said to produce the charismatic "thought-leader" he has himself become. Instead, Florida is content with a book that makes him synonymous with the creative class. He becomes its voice and its paradigmatic figure, so much so that his personal website is www. creativeclass.com/. This collapse of Florida's life into Florida's work is part of what he notices and recommends, as he suggests that the creative class has forsaken distinctions between work and life.
The Rise of the Creative Class, more recent works like The Flight of the Creative Class and Who's Your City?, which largely continue its themes, along with his global travels to talk about his work, and his role as adviser to governments and corporations all work to foster new connections between culture, capitalism, and government. Translation of Florida's message into new policies and practices disseminates and legitimates the biography of this particular member of the creative elite. The extensive circulation of the book is the only real measure of the value of the information and ideas it puts forward. It hardly matters if cities that attempt to apply his ideas to build a more "diverse" downtown are not in fact more likely to attract the creative class, if the creative class is interested in diversity only as a kind of consumer spectacle, if his work never establishes the existence of a coherent class, instead only proving again what Edward Glaeser's work on human capital has already established—the higher the level of educational attainment in a city, the higher the level of growth there—or if attempting to plan and build a "creative quarter" betrays the requirement that an authentically edgy urban milieu develop spontaneously. Florida's words, backed by his guru status, are used to justify new blueprints or policy provisions for development of urban spaces and workplaces, and the lionization of this particular author figure continues to perpetuate the conditions he both recommends and exemplifies.
Though Florida mentions it only briefly, The Rise of the Creative Class is informed by some early British policy research about the creative industries and creative economy; Florida's work in turn accords with and shapes how the creative economy has been posited, defined, and discussed in the UK and globally. The particular vocabulary of creativity he helps foster, highlighting the economic impact of culture and the arts, gained popularity after Tony Blair's government began to promote the idea that creative expertise would secure the postindustrial UK's viability within the global economy. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) was established in 1997, and it soon designated a Creative Industries Task Force to define and measure the creative industries' nature and value. Its early findings estimated that cultural pursuits employed 982,000 across the UK, generating £50 billion in revenue and £6.9 billion in export earnings each year. In 2006 the DCMS reported that the creative industries "contributed 8% of the UK's Gross Value Added" in 2004 and were responsible for one-fifth of the jobs in London. In 2007 it boasted that "creative employment [including jobs in the creative industries and 'creative jobs' in other fields] increased from 1.6m in 1997 to 1.9m in 2006," an average growth of 2 percent per annum, doubling the figure for the economy overall. That same year, then DCMS head Tessa Jowell wrote that the "size of the creative industries is comparable to the financial services sector. They now make up 7.3 per cent of the economy, and are growing at 5 per cent per year (almost twice the rate of the rest of the economy)."
Meanwhile, in 2005 the DCMS initiated and backed an overarching Creative Economy Programme (CEP), designed to ensure that, in the words of the then creative industries minister James Purnell, the UK would become the whole world's "creative hub." The CEP was tasked with formulating a strategy to unite government, schools, think tanks, and the private sector in pursuit of a shared goal: continued production of sufficient labor for the creative economy. Both the DCMS and the CEP consistently describe creativity as an engine to generate new wealth; both Purnell and Jowell stress that the creative economy will be key to ensuring the UK is able to compete in a global marketplace for highly skilled employees. Its flourishing creative industries will ensure that the UK is branded as the place to work in a creative profession and shop in the marketplace for creative goods and services. More than that, though, its creative expertise will expand into the economy as a whole: culture and design trades will make the UK a place to go to "add value" to any product or service; arts education will help the next generation develop the creativity to fend off the "competitive threat" that countries like India and China present to what remains of its hold over high-skill trades. In a speech Blair gave at the Tate Modern in March 2007, he presented the creative economy as a sector peopled by those who appreciate their own human capital: "The more it is developed, the better we are. Modern goods and services require high value added input.... Much of it comes from people—their ability to innovate, to think anew, to be creative." (Continues...)
Excerpted from LITERATURE AND THE CREATIVE ECONOMY by Sarah Brouillette. Copyright © 2014 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press.
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