Mapping Creativity, Rhetorics of Creativity

Rhetorics of Creativity

It is difficult to nail an all-encompassing definition of creativity when it is a term fraught with contingency and at times inflected with interventionist purpose. Banaji et al extrapolate these contexts and purposes in their 2008 Creative Partnerships report (2nd edition) identifying 9 rhetorics discursively located within social discourses, the different emphases of which have an impact on teaching and learning strategies. They debate these key arguments:

“whether creativity is an internal cognitive function or an external cultural phenomenon; whether it is a ubiquitous human activity or a special faculty; whether it is inevitably ‘pro-social’ … or can also be dissident or even anti-social“ (2008:9)

Wherever one sits on the various continuums or whatever affirmation suits one’s office, Buckingham in particular takes issue with claims to creativity’s socially transformative agency. As part of my research question revolves around the extent to which media production, which clearly deploys creative work, impacts on social cohesion, it would be useful to examine this debate.  Buckingham argues that for assessment purposes, simply giving creative opportunities to disadvantaged young people and ‘unlocking their potential’ is not enough and that their activities should be viewed in concert with the surrounding social contexts and pedagogical apparatuses. For example how much of the process is in their control? Is it relevant to other aspects of their life? What are their motivations? Who is their audience? How much cultural capital is at their disposal? (Buckingham 2007b:53).

Similarly his critique of the NACCE report centres on its de-politicising tone:

“culture and creativity might come to be seen as magic ingredients for evening out the inequalities between youth. This … will not happen unless issues such as inequality, disenfranchisement and poverty are acknowledged and tackled directly.” (Banaji et al, 2006:28)

Such a rational approach makes entire pragmatic sense but fails to take into account the more intangible contention that when young people are having fun creatively manipulating digital content in a medium familiar to them, they can become more engaged and arguably more inspired towards autonomous learning, even towards “possibility thinking” (Loveless 2002:6, 30). The argument is whether this pleasure is a lasting legacy with the potential to influence and extend to other areas of learning – and if so, how to measure that? – or whether it is an example of Buckingham’s ephemeral “edutainment” ? (2007:123)

Where Loveless and Buckingham might concur would be over matters concerning the deadening effect of organizations such as Ofsted and their commitment to management and standards; where creativity is seen to thrive in schools, it is despite these regulatory structures rather than because of them. There is a dichotomy here in that on the one hand New Labour formulated an economic imperative at the beginning of the century for education agendas to feed the creative industries in an effort to sustain the modern capitalist society (Banaji 2006:31), on the other, it restricted opportunities for teachers to innovate: to deviate from the curriculum, experiment with new approaches, follow their intuition or take risks.

This could be construed as something of a paradox, the by-product of which is a de-motivated and de-professionalised workforce, whose job it is to tick off prescribed topics, suffocating opportunities for both teacher and pupil to experience spontaneity, surprise and delight.

In the interim many young people have fallen foul of the complex, incoherent matrices of socio-economic power relations characteristic of the ‘knowledge-economy’, with one-size-fits-all measurable educational strategies that fail to engage the individual talents and interests of many young people, marginalized or otherwise. The net result may be contributory factors to alarming NEETS statistics (those Not in Education, Employment or Training):

“Between July and September (2010), 1.03m 16- to 24-year-olds were neets – 17.1% of the age group.”

It is difficult to think of a better example of patronizing, exclusive “othering” and its damaging social consequences. See Karen Seekings’ NEET MA research where she alludes to the dangers of defining unemployed young people as something that they are not (2010:8). As a result of strategic failure a new social group has been named, shamed, and labelled possibly bringing to fruition Buckingham’s sad forecast alluded to in one of my previous MA assignments:

“It is not inconceivable that new social strata will emerge, independent of social class, race or gender, characterised by a binary opposition between the technologically, creatively and critically equipped digital elite and, as Buckingham has predicted: “an educational ‘underclass’ that is effectively excluded from access, not merely to economic capital but to social and cultural capital as well” (M. Cannon, MCT assignment, 2010:9, drawing on Buckingham, 2003)



6 thoughts on “Rhetorics of Creativity

  1. A fairly un-related thought here is my wondering if there is as much of an over-representation of males in the NEETS Stats as I sense there is.. and why this might be.. and how this relates to notions of ‘creativity’.

    Posted by Christopher Waugh | November 9, 2011, 10:43 pm
  2. Do you mean the media inflate male stats and why do they do that? or do you mean there are in fact more male NEETs than female NEETs and why is that?

    It does seem to have seeped into public consciousness – the notion of divisions of aptitude between girls and boys – and girls generally come out on top in the figures chosen to be reported. Why do we dwell on this? If it was the other way round and it was found that boys were better at certain subjects than girls, would it be newsworthy? I’m not sure how useful it is to keep drawing such distinctions which may pave the way for some odd resurgence of gendered curricula… we’ve come along way since Needlework for the girls and Metalwork for the boys.

    Posted by Michelle Cannon | November 14, 2011, 12:35 am
    • I would think if it were the case that any attainment disparity between any identifiable groups were to be observed then one would want to investigate this. And if there actually were discern able differences between males and females in cognitive/social processes, would it be wrong to account for this when devising ways to help them engage in learning? Whether something is newsworthy or not doesn’t really seem to be relevant in this discussion – nonetheless, I think it would be so that if the general attainment figures for girls were as significantly lower than boys in secondary schools, it would be reported. Arguably, in these times such statistics would not be as easily swept aside were they in the reverse.

      Posted by Christopher Waugh | November 14, 2011, 6:08 am
      • Yeah I agree with you, disparities need looking into and we should indeed dwell on it, as long as something actually changes and the focus is less on the fact of the division, which creates unwelcome polarity, and more on how to bridge that gap. I guess what I question is the way it’s reported, i.e. in mainstream press what we seem to read is a truncated, non-contextullised expression of fact: “Girls are doing better than boys”. I think reporting in this way might lead to knee-jerk action-oriented short termism: “OK, what can we do for the boys then?” rather than perhaps the more considered “What can we learn from the girls that the boys might benefit from?”

        Posted by Michelle Cannon | November 16, 2011, 10:49 am
  3. I’ve been reading more about NEETS and found Karen Seekings’ MA research exploring all aspects of this group’s social positioning particularly informative and insightful: Why can’t they be bothered? Managing and improving attendance and outcomes within a Neet Basic Skills class: A Case Study. (University of Greenwich 2010) She also flags up the inadequacies of a homogenising label that categorises a section of society with such complex needs and daily challenges. I’ve edited the original post with a link to the pdf.

    Posted by Michelle Cannon | December 5, 2011, 11:56 am
  4. Another interesting report which includes references to the impact of social disadvantage & gender disparities ref. educational achievement is the OECD PISA 2009 report (2011) on reading, maths & science attainment: a longitudinal study in 65 nations every three years. See page 12 of the executive summary. It’s kind of annoying that you can’t put links in comments… but it’s easy to google.

    Posted by Michelle Cannon | January 4, 2012, 11:02 am

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