Cool but cruel: creative industries' toxic fallout

Society needs to look beyond the images of "cool", "unconventional" creative workers and find better ways for them, and for academics, to lead "liveable lives", a speaker at the British Academy argued last week.

March 1, 2012

Rosalind Gill, professor of social and cultural analysis at King's College London, was taking part in the second of three discussions comprising The Creative Process: A Multidisciplinary Examination. The series was organised in partnership with the Culture Capital Exchange, a network of universities that aims to forge links between higher education and the creative industries.

Beatriz Garcia, head of research at the University of Liverpool's Institute of Cultural Capital, spoke on the "cultural turn" in worldwide policymaking, with creative industries increasingly seen as a replacement for lost manufacturing activity.

She examined such developments by looking at the impact on Glasgow and Liverpool of their being designated the European Capital of Culture in 1990 and 2008 respectively, using both economic indicators and "maps" that track people's changing sense of their own cities.

Professor Gill said she wished to put "heavy scare quotes" around the word "creativity". We are told that creativity is "the oil of the 21st century", she said, but her own research "challenged the myths of the much-vaunted creative industries".

There was a popular notion, Professor Gill continued, that creative people are "cool, diverse and egalitarian", and that creative lifestyles are "open, unconventional and driven by passion".

Yet in reality, these sectors of the economy are notable for precarious, poorly paid work, long hours, lack of holidays and benefits, "compulsory sociality" and "a sacrificial ethos of being called to your art".

Furthermore, gender and other inequalities - "unmanageable" within a system of informal recruitment and decision-making - were getting worse, while a "clubby atmosphere" usually led to dominance by white men.

Her 25 years of study of creative workers indicated that such problems were endemic in the sector, Professor Gill said, but it was only recently that a "sacrificial ethos", accompanied by the intensification and casualisation of work, had become common in the academy.

She ended her presentation with a plea for "liveable lives" based on "more sustainable models of creativity and the university".

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