Proposals for Creative Research: Introduction to the MyCreativity Reader

By Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter

We are pleased to present the MyCreativity Reader on international creative industries research. Our interest in MyCreativity has been to assemble a range of expertise and experiences that signal the diversity of creative industries. It’s been clear to us that – within policy and academic circles at least – creative industries operate as a meme that mobilises expectations. The term provokes an interesting range of human responses, from curiosity to outrage and disgust. Creative industries are not simply an empty signifier that grafts on to anything you please. There are contours and forces that guide the creative industries meme in some directions, and not others. We cannot take for granted what ‘creative industries’ means and consists of.

Creative industries are a contested zone in the making. While policy draws on a set of presuppositions around the borderless nature of cultural and economic flows, situated creativity is anything but global. Concepts are always contextual. The MyCreativity project intends to play an active part in shaping critical trajectories in the field by introducing overlooked aspects to creative practice and research. MyCreativity seeks to articulate creative industries as ‘concrete research’ (Tronti). This requires active invention but we also need to reply to the invitation. Pressing delete does nothing to rebuild and transform prevailing agendas. In this case the decision to ignore can lead to ignorance.

Creative industries has an ambition to hardwire its concepts into infrastructure. Policy leads to urban development, employment conditions, flows of economic investment, border movements, and so on. The macro dimension operating here is simply too big to set aside. You will be affected whether you like to not. So press that delete button, but do so at your own peril. Policy as a genre isn’t exactly bedtime reading. It’s all too easy to ignore for that reason. But like any game, rules can always be broken. Where is the cheat-sheet for creative industries policy?

Governments are slowly acknowledging the human dimension to climatic change, but there is still a remarkable indifference by creative workers to connect their own conditions to the shaping effects of ministerial directives. It seems totally bizarre that many seem to have a non-secular version of working life. No matter how alien it appears, policy does not drift down from the heavens.

Yet so often policy seems to have forgotten its own material constitution and reason of existence. Why, for instance, have the experiences and conditions of creative workers been ignored in the policy realm for so long? This is no accident. Policy formation has been notable for its monopoly of expectations. But it’s the view of MyCreativity that a threefold shift is happening within the creative industries:

1) a policy environment is slowly being forced to address the non-deliverables of incubator investment and corporate welfarism;

2) variable, not homologous, conditions of creative work exist within specific locations, values and geopolitical forces;

3) methodologies arise out of a will to collaborate, despite the many cultural, economic, geographic and in some cases technological obstacles.

In our view, such developments should be supported and further accelerated through policy measures, which for too long now have resulted in research that holds little correlation to the actually existing changes going on in the creative industries. The question is how to intervene in a policy debate? This is the predicament of militant research. Who is listening beyond the ghetto? Activist research requires its own 2.0 model of concept distribution. This is how the space of policy can be penetrated from the margins. (And, it must be said, this is also how the unpaid masses might do the work of policy formation – in the same way that gamer-geeks voluntarily engage the pleasure of game modification for industrial beneficiaries. ) The trick, however, is to speed up the percolation of ideas, issues and politics that inform the practice of not just creative producers but also potential funders, clients, government policy-makers and citizen- consumers. We are not talking about the harmonization of interests among ‘stakeholders’. It is a mistake to not recognize conflictual collaboration as the primary means through which ideas and innovation are generated. The challenge is to build relations and points of connection that enable a plurality of research platforms and small business initiatives that can survive beyond the initial consensus model of three month incubators.

Zero Standards and the Policy Parade
The greatest struggle of policy-making within the creative industries has been to address the crisis of old structures associated with the industrial age. While Marx’s poetic maxim ‘all that is solid melts into air’ described a certain power of Modernity, it is not the case that modern institutions and industries rise phoenix like from the ashes of industrial collapse brought about by just-in-time production associated with the global division of labour and the informatisation of social relations. Who, we might ask, are the stakeholders of creative industries? In the Richard Florida approach it all becomes a question of engineering the right bottom-up climate, infrastructure or conditions for revitalising collapsed cities and regions. In this paradigm, creative industries policy is about creating circumstances conducive to the sign of the knowledge or information economy. In the end, the creative industries formula serves to maintain an artificial stability around a workable definition. In this monopoly of the sign we find a great disjuncture with the actual conditions and needs of the real existing creativity.

What if you do not fit into the statistical regime of governance that determines productivity and conformity to policy within the creative industries? Even if you do fit in, are you aware of this? Do hairdressers in Rotterdam know they are included as a creative sector, but if they are in The Hague they are not? This not only brings any sense of a national creative industries policy into disarray, but it also undermines any coherence of the index-mania across the cool creative cities of the world. Standards simply do not exist. These indices are an attempt to account for local vitality in an age of massive contingency. By making visible the industrial sectors of creativity and their contribution to GDP, policy aims to bootstrap creativity as an economic force in its own right. Creative industries do not follow the multi-national corporate model of locating in places of the cheapest labour. The surplus value of creativity cannot be so easily calculated. Why does Nokia research leave creative Los Angeles for the even more expensive city of London? This is hardly an economic decision. Both are global cities according to Saskia Sassen’s definition. But California has suffered from the restrictions on creative imagination as a result of the post-911 fallout and the trickle down effect of the Bush regime. This should be a clear reminder that we do not yet inhabit a post-national world.

The other key factor at work has to do with the proximity of innovation in California to the materiality of failed business models left over from the dotcom era. The quest for a killer-app business model is simply not there. The peer-to-peer formats of production are fantastic, for sure. But there is no redistribution of absent revenues to creative producers. This contradiction inside digital capitalism is only further accelerating and takes us in to unknown territories. There will be no Hegelian synthesis in which the aspiring billions make money through ‘friends’. The creative industries policy appeals to the rationality of intellectual property regimes as the primary means of profit generation. But again, this does nothing as far as economic benefits for creative producers. There is an economic model for creative workers but it no longer figures around the exchange value of the commodity object. Instead, it is based on creativity as a service model. You go and perform your concerts, you install a company’s IT requirements, you design viral memes, you wait on a restaurant table. There is a logic of equivalence at work here, but it’s not going to make you rich fast. If anything, it’s going to rapidly sap any creative juices out of you.

Who is the Creative Subject?
How to make visible and furnish discursive legitimacy for subjects hitherto not addressed within the majoritarian language of creative industries policy? This is both an economic and a social-political problem. Much like any power game, creative industries discourse is about who is in and who is out. That much is obvious. What is at stake is whether or not creative industries discourse is able to escape the hype reminiscent of the dotcom era and massively redistribute government support to those undertaking real invention and experimentation. No more handouts for Big Media and mediocre consultants.

Corporations and mainstream media are hardly innovators of creativity, yet they remain the primary recipients of government welfare. Despite the ‘victory’ of the incubator model, it is not as though there is a shortage of ‘best practices’ out there. Where is the venture capital for fashion designers? Certainly, biotech holds its attractions on the share-market, but what of the ‘long tail’ of design economies? In other words, what is required are distributive and flexible systems of funding for creative practitioners. In this way, we would begin to see a synergy between the digital technologies of communication and the technics of cultural production. It is clear to us that there is little chance of sustainability in the current system that continues to think that creative economies can be grafted onto modern systems and institutions of governance.

The current institutional arrangements continue to think the docile dog can learn a new trick. Yes, ‘We need to be more creative’. But this agenda is way too convenient. It takes comfort precisely in its refusal to admit disruptive agencies that intervene or straight out ignore bureaucratic directives. This is why creativity cannot be ordered and very often it cannot be incorporated. Deviation has always been a problem of governance. We need a creative subject who is neither a citizen nor a consumer. Web 2.0 makes loud noises about the false synthesis of the so-called ‘prosumer’, but this does not get us very far other than reiterating the logic of individualisation.
There is no subject per se of creative industries. Rather, there is a diverse and continuously modulating culture of self-valorisation and perhaps auto-denigration. There is a celebration of the multiple identity – you are many, and will never have the security of being one. And this often means you are nobody. We wish to retrieve self-valorisation as a productive concept that grants legitimacy and possible stability to collaborative practice. Such a move is necessary, particularly in an institutional environment that shows few signs of departing from the script of modern governance struggling to engage the complexities of knowledge and information economies. This leads to the difficult question of alternative business models outside of government funding.

Free Culture Costs Money
There is no universal recommendation or model for practitioners in the creative industries. Creative practice consists of what Spivak terms ‘irreducible idiomatics’ of expression. One size does not fit all, in other words. You wouldn’t spot this if you limited your reading list to government policy, however. A universal definition does exist within this realm: creative industries consists of ‘the generation and exploitation of intellectual property’. In all seriousness, how many creative practitioners would call themselves producers, let alone financial beneficiaries, of intellectual property? Most probably don’t even know what IP means. We must redefine creative industries outside of IP generation. This is the dead-end of policy. When understood as ‘the generation and exploitation of intellectual property’, creative industries registers the ‘banal evil’ of policy mentalities, and assumes people only create to produce economic value. There needs to be a balance between alternative business models and the freedom to commit senseless acts of creativity. The tension between these two constituent realities is what needs to be investigated.

There are also severe limits to the ‘open cultures’ model that stems from libertarian and open sources cults. The free culture model is essentially a North American libertarian view of the world in its own image. European activists are quick to reproduce this and, in avoiding the question of money trails and connections, also avoid engaging key actors and issues that comprise ‘the political’ of information society and knowledge economies. Taken as a Will to Conformity, free culture serves as a political retreat that parades as radical self-affirmation.
Touching the auto-erotic drive to create without purpose, collaboration and the anarchistic rubric of mutual aid escapes these endless chains of re-appropriation. But they lack suspicion of instrumental intentionalism. These issues were the topic of a recent thread on the MyCreativity mailing list following a posting of a report in Spiegel magazine ranking Berlin as the number one ‘creative class’ city based on classic Floridarian indicators: in this case, what has been termed the ‘3T’s’ – Talent, Technology and Tolerance. The seductive power of such indicators inspires the proliferation of hype-economics, transporting Berlin from a ‘poor but sexy’ city to an economic nirvana populated by cool creative types. But the problem with such index obsession is that it functions through circumscription and the exclusion of a broader range of economic indicators that contradict such scenarios. In its 2007 city-ranking review, WirtschaftsWoche (Economic Weekly) undertook a comparison of 50 German cities according to employment, income, productivity and debt. Berlin came in at number 48. What does this say about Berlin’s 3T’s of creative economy? You can only conclude that the correspondence between indices and material realities are best left for policy fictions – despite all the groovy building sites along the Spree river.

Indicators never end. Any number of permutations is possible. But government policy-makers and corporate beneficiaries are rarely keen to promote a negative future-present. It is precisely these sorts of reasons that necessitate the counter-research advocated by MyCreativity. Media theorist and activist Matteo Pasquinelli proposes an analysis based on a Negative Index:

“Actually what I see is the risk of a ‘Barcelonisation’ of Berlin, named after the touristic turn of Barcelona that transformed its cultural and political heritage into a theme-park for a young rich global class. The legendary Berlin underground is under the process of a slow gentrification (you can gentrify even ‘intangible assets’). ‘Barcelonisation’ means a parasitic economy and not a productive one, an economy based on real-estate speculation and passive exploitation of natural resources (sun and good food for example): is such an economy ‘creative’, productive? Is that a model we can apply to Berlin? Still the most affordable capital of Europe (especially East Berlin), some think that the speculative mentality will never conquer Berliners as they are used to [cheap] rent and live on social housing. Will Berlin’s cultural industries develop a ‘parasitic’ economy based on speculation, local consumption and imported capitals or a productive economy based on production of knowledge/cultural and exportation of immaterial products? And what will be the impact of the Media Spree speculation ( on the East Berlin cultural ecosystem?”

An army of sociologists and cultural researchers is slowly assembling around questions such as these. The creative industries meme dominates research funding calls in the humanities, after all. But don’t expect to read the results too easily – they come at a cost as well, with the vast majority of academics happily transferring their results of state-funded research into commercial publishing houses that charge crazy fees for access to their journals. Organization and management researcher Steffen Böhm responded in reflexive style to Pasquinelli: ‘I think it would be good to understand the process of how activists (like people on this list) and the communicational economy that this list is part of is the very vehicle that helps to create a speculative bubble around certain issues/places/things/symbols. In other words, how is it that critics of the system become the “driver” of the restructuring and transformation of that very system, enabling it to capture new forms of re-production?’.

Böhm attributes an influential power to critics and their capacity to shape the creative economies that is debatable. It is less the case of critics becoming drivers of bubble economies as it is the rise of cheap airlines determining markets for easy consumption. But he is correct to observe that critics and activists are agents within what he elegantly terms the ‘communicational economy’ of creative industries. How, though, to maximise this critical potential in ways that do have concrete impacts on the development of creative industries research and policy formation? As we noted earlier, can there be a 2.0 model for concept generation that goes beyond the easyJet mobility of the commuting class, boozing masses and conference circuits?

MyCreativity is first of all a call for the exchange of ideas, methodologies and collaborative constitution. Efforts at transdisciplinary research are really important here. The collective input of artists, designers, academics, policy-makers and activists is crucial. General concept development and detailed case studies are not a contradiction. Empirics interpenetrates concepts, and vice-versa. Of course we can’t take such research collaboration for granted. Not only are there considerable disciplinary and paradigmatic differences to negotiate, but there are also the banal practicalities of assembling people in a particular place in order to meet. Not everything can happen online. Beyond mailing lists and collaborative blogs, perhaps networked academies and distributed think-tanks are models for accommodating future critical research on creative industries. This reader could become one of many iterations of critical anthologies, just as the MyCreativity event in Amsterdam, November 2006, might register as a node among many similar events.


‘Berlin Tops Germany for “Creative Class”’, Spiegel, 10 October, 2007,,1518,510609,00.html.

‘Die erfolgreichsten Städte Deutschlands’, WirtschaftsWoche, 2007,,pt=self,si=1.html.

Böhm, Steffen. ‘Re: [My-ci] Correction – Berlin Tops Germany for “Creative Class”’, posting to mycreativity mailing list, 18 October, 2007,

Kücklich, Julian. ‘Precarious Playbour: Modders and the Digital Games Industry’, Fibreculture Journal 5 (2005),

Pasquinelli, Matteo. ‘Re: [My-ci] Berlin Tops Germany for “Creative Class”’, posting to mycreativity mailing list, 15 October, 2007,