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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

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April 22, 2008

There are some good reasons to approach Richard Florida's Creative Class with caution, especially when it comes to methodology. Still, even if he did have to make up his own indices, he pretty much nails the importance of knowledge workers in the global economy, whether you think it's post industrial or late capitalism or whatever. This appeared to be the logic behind the laptop for every child idea - that the as yet unknown jobs of the future would be tangled up with the digital world. Better to create a well-prepared nation of digital natives than face global redundancy.

Either our brightest creative types haven't read Florida or they were so suspicious of his methods they chucked the whole thing. Reports emerging from the Creative Australia stream of the summit are disappointing, if not annoying. Stuart Cunningham's piece at New Matilda suggests that our creative types' creativity is limited to imagining what already exists, only better funded. I guess they're stuck in the 'industries' bit of 'creative industries', much like Bill Gates' information superhighway, which was supposed to see us all compiling assortments of our favourites from the Guggenheim collection rather than making anything new.

Ben Eltham extends the argument with reference to reports of the procedings, but the bit that really gets up my nose is the dotpoint section suggesting linking creativity and education.

• Bring art into our schools by introducing ‘practitioners in residence’ via a national mentoring plan funded by philanthropic funds and tax incentives

Eltham doesn't mind this bit, but I do. If by art practitioners they mean people whose imagination stops at digitising museum collections, they'll be laughed out of the classroom. I'm not knocking art for art's sake, more power to it in fact, but the only practitioner in resident the kids I know would pay attention to is the one who can teach them how to better incorporate bits from The Simpsons into the videos they post at YouTube. If the plan is for a resident oil painter at every school they'll successfully engage about 1.5 percent of the student body.

• Mandate creative, visual and performing arts subjects in national curricula with appropriate reporting requirements for schools. Explore new opportunities for extension and development such as Creativity Summer Schools, pre-service and in-service training for teachers

Yep, go for it, as long as the creative, visual and performings arts in question somehow contribute to their knowledge of the technologies that go with those arts. If they come out knowing the minutiae of how Shrek was produced you will have accomplished something.

• Digitise the collections of major national institutions by 2020

And make sure kids look at it? Fab. Will they be allowed to Photoshop our national treasures as well? You could start an interesting annual Archibald Photoshopped competition. Not sufficiently respectful maybe.

• Make creativity a national research priority with funding access to R&D, ARC and similar funding

This is my favourite. You could get high school kids to workshop the ARC funding application process. That could keep them busy through years 9 to 12 at least. And nobody would ever have to worry about truancy or kids dropping out ever again.

'Make creativity a national research priority' is a joke. Ask Richard Florida. Or any of the other contributors to the vast body of already existing literature on creativity. Creativity and autism, creativity and giftedness, creativity and crime recidivism, creativity and mental health, creativity and early learning through play, managing creativity (talk about an oxymoron), collective creativity, creativity and multiple intelligences, creativity and the kitchen sink. It's all sitting around gathering dust while school kids are exploring the possibilities of digital media for themselves in their own time, because why? Perhaps because Cate Blanchett's baby is the only kid these people have ever met?

If this is the best they could do Julia might as well cancel that laptop order and reintroduce the cane. And maybe the slate. Or perhaps the hammer, chisel, and stone tablet.

Now I feel better.

| Posted by Lyn at 5:03 PM | | Comments (20)


Could it be that the baleful shadow of a former PM still haunts creative Australians. That former PM who had a 'big picture' outlook saw our future as a services/tourist economy. Big picture indeed.

I presume you're talking about Keating, who was also keen on turning the nation into some kind of IT hub. If recall rightly, he wanted us all to be brilliant software developers.

I'm tending towards the Mark Davis Ganglands explanation, that the whole shebang is run by a golden oldies mindset.

Lyn, the mere mention of his name acts as an emetic for me.

Maybe you could call him The Musical or something, just so we know.

Rumpole QC
Queenstown, Milford Sound and Lake Wanka--where I'm currently writing thanks to a wirelessed caravan park ---indicate that a lot of New Zealanders are making a lot of money from the tourism/services economy.

The tourism stuff works very well, especially in Queenstown. Very multicultural. I've also learned a lot about digital photography from others on the tourist highway.

What is the hangup about services. The banks do very nicely from this. So does Google.

you say that Florida:

pretty much nails the importance of knowledge workers in the global economy, whether you think it's post industrial or late capitalism or whatever. This appeared to be the logic behind the laptop for every child idea - that the as yet unknown jobs of the future would be tangled up with the digital world. Better to create a well-prepared nation of digital natives than face global redundancy.

Keating, whatever you think of him as a person, could be interpreted as an early exponent of the creative economy.Howard + Co, in contrast, had no idea at all.

That's pretty much how I see it too. Little bits of the country have moved ahead in the creative economy model, but at a national level the best we could do during the Howard decade was agonise over pornography and identity theft. As you say, no idea.

So why, given the chance to put the wheels back on, did our most prominent creatives stick with the old formula?


I am surprised that you think Florida has "nailed" anything. The "knowledge worker" narrative is a generation old. Get ye to Alvin Toffler's "Future Shock" and Robert Reich's "The Work of Nations." Reich's term was "symbolic analysts" of which you, my dear, are one. ;)

I read Future Shock when Mum bought it. I must have been about 13.

I'm not a big fan of Florida for a very big and very boring bunch of reasons, but the main one is reading Harvey's Spaces of Hope straight after it. I refered to Florida because his is the model planners have been using - take a stroll around Brisbane sometime. Florida's greatest talent is self promotion.

Yep, I'm a symbolic analyst alright, and a more useless person you'll never meet.

Spaces of hope? Sydney is an awful mess. The utopian vission--did it ever have one?--has fractured on the crumbling, gritty realism of urban life and been broken by the soulless suburbs that are eating into the countryside and coastal regions.

Where are the spaces of hope there? Newtown?

Harvey uses Baltimore as a case study. The city used to live off the port but shipping moved elsewhere. The local authorities used subsidies to attract global corporations instead and its main business is now hosting conventions. There's very little in the way of traditional blue collar work and the suburbs are a mix of slums and gated communities.

A lot of the people who work at Johns Hopkins can't afford basic medical care. Spaces of Hope refers to the things people do to help one another out. Harvey is into Marx.

why cannot we swap Sydney for Baltimore? True, the former is a global city and Baltimore a provincial one like Adelaide. Baltimore as a city, stands for the
physical and social decline of the American city and the appalling living conditions of poor urban dwellers.

In Sydney there is still the vast gap between the ideals of public space and the crumbling, gritty realism of urban life, decay and ruins and soulless violent suburbs. Can't we work in terms of uneven geographical development and geographical differences under the conditions of globalization?

The globalization talk in Australia is actor-less but unyielding process; a fact of life which – however unfortunate– little can be done about. It just happens to us. There is no alternative. Presumably the references to Marx lead Harvey to challenge this view and give a more dialectical account.

How do we connect the “globalization talk” at the center of contemporary political activism with the “body talk” of postmodern theory (eg., the particularity of the individual body) using Sydney as an example? Presumably the use of Marx means that radical political praxis is the mediating link in the dialectical process of the spatiotemporal reconstruction of the world wrought by global capitalism.

It is radical political praxis that enables us to gain control over urban space and the environment.

I'll swap Sydney for Baltimore if we can swap Phillip Adams and /or Luvvie Marr for Divine!

You could swap Sydney for Baltimore easily enough if you were doing the structure/agency thing in the Marxist tradition. Harvey does write of global capitalism in spatiotemporal terms. But Australian radical political praxis is not American radical political praxis any more than it's European. We have a whole other labour history for one thing, and a different set of expectations, maybe what you've called ideals.

Harvey ends the book with his own version of Utopia which is very much informed by his reading of Marx, but also by the American version of rugged individualism. I think that Australian ideals are different. Although, come to think of the Gold Coast, 'Australian' is probably misleading since we do don't crumbling, gritty or realism around here. Mind you, we are quite good at soulless, violence and suburbs.

The Australian mediating link in the dialectical process would be something a little less dynamic. So if you're going to work in terms of uneven geographical development and geographical differences under the conditions of globalization you're also going to have to work in terms of different ideals feeding into the process. Cultural relativism and all.

So in terms of the original topic, how do you use what people are already doing, and with their ideals, to make something else that is actually achievable, as the ideals inevitably won't be?

I'm more interested in exploring the idea of spaces of hope in a global city, such as Sydney. Does it have any? If so,what are they?

Fatalism has demobilized the labour movement puncturing a century old belief that worker solidarity could challenge capital’s logic. Unions have no mechanism to reverse these decisions and appear impotent in these circumstances

Unions have also been more concerned with maintaining the status quo than with accommodating change. JG mentioned Toffler's Future Shock which was, I think, the only book at the time to anticipate the negative consequences of globalisation and and a knowledge economy. Most were more concerned with the 'degrading' effects of mass consumption of popular culture.

The union movement worked on the assumption of spatiotemporally fixed workers rubbing shoulders and shared experience of exploitation. In a way, the suburbs are the lifestyle equivalent of the old factory floor, only there's nobody to blame or hold accountable.

Thinking about urban decay and public space, and the notion of 'public' in general, I suspect that much of the thinking in urban planning suffers the same problems as unions. Possibilities seem to be still limited to the already existing, rather than ideals.

I'm not sure what Harvey means by the ideals of public space but Baltimore stands for their decline.

Urban planning is in decay everywhere in Australia. The car rules not people. In most of our cities, pedestrians are second-class citizens, while private automobiles fill public streets.

When our cities are dominated by cars few public spaces in the city are piazza's in the proper sense. The public spaces are empty--apart from the sidewalks around shops---as private spaces are deemed safer. Public space has been mostly sold to someone who is trying to sell something.

Christchurch was quite different: its messy central square functioned as a pizza; there was enormous effort and resources spent on city care (Urban streets, public gardens, heritage buildings, as a public good and as a sharing the commons. It was a class act tailored to attract international tourists and tempt them to stay a day or so exploring the city before they moved out to experience the iconic wilderness sites.

re your comment:

When our cities are dominated by cars few public spaces in the city are piazza's in the proper sense. The public spaces are empty.

Federation Square in Melbourne is the notable exception in terms of forums and agoras.

Federation Square as a public space also indicates that virtual space---the big screens--- has rapidly become an equally important place for public appearance and political argumentation as any other media.

Public space wasn't Harvey's thing, that was me responding to your comments about Sydney, although Harvey does write about the way development of Baltimore's waterfront has changed the way public space is used saying pretty much what you've said here, that public space has been mostly sold to people selling something.

He doesn't talk about ideals either, that was also me responding to your comment about a gap between the ideals and realities of public space. Public space has been rebuilt to meet the commercial ideal, rather than the public one.