Challenging the Narratives: Higher Education Institutions and Agency in the Creative Economy

By Lim, Lorraine | Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal, Annual 2016 | Go to article overview

Challenging the Narratives: Higher Education Institutions and Agency in the Creative Economy


Lim, Lorraine, Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal


Introduction

This article seeks to assess the possibility for contemporary higher education institutions (HEIs) to challenge current working practices in the creative economy. The article will first examine the current state and perception of work within the creative economy in the UK, before examining the role HEIs play as a 'producer' of talent for this sector, which is relevant globally. By drawing upon two projects that examine work placements and curriculum development for young graduates, the article will then show how there are opportunities to provide some form of power and agency for young graduates as they seek to develop their career in the creative economy. While the context and examples in this article are drawn from the UK, this article will conclude by highlighting how these issues are prevalent in the creative economies accross the world, and will assert that we (education professionals) need to consider alternative ways of preparing students for work in the creative economy, in the cause of social justice, development, as well as careers.

Introduction: work in the Creative Economy within the UK

In recent years, culture has been understood and used by governments around the world as a tool both to bolster economic growth and advance social development. The potential for culture via the creative economy was formally recognised back in 2008 by major the United Nations agencies, for example where the Creative Economy Report 2008 (UNCTAD, 2008) stated that "the creative economy has the potential to generate income, jobs ... while ... promoting social inclusion, cultural diversity and human development" (p. iii). This belief has been reiterated in 2013 with a special edition of its Creative Economy Report (now jointly published by the UNDP and UNESCO), and which highlights how the creative economy is not only "highly transformative ... in terms of income-generation, job creation and export earnings", but investment in this sector can also contribute to the "overall wellbeing of communities, individual self-esteem and quality of life, dialogue and cohesion" (p.10). The financial support of large-scale cultural projects around the world--from cities such as Abu Dhabi and Singapore, to policy developments to allow for the creation of creative clusters in Shanghai and London--is testament to how this policy belief (without a huge amount of empirical evidence to back it up) stands as a firm political principle, where a "creative economy" is understood to be an engine of growth, and must be adopted at all levels of governance as a form of strategic development, particularly in the cause of reversing the decline of economies built on agriculture and manufacturing.

The rise of this "creative economy" has thus occurred alongside a positive notion of the type of work that this economy demands, or is available for would-be-creative workers, along with a positive notion of the way such work is structured, organised and managed in this new creative sector (or series of sectors--there is little consensus on how the creative "economy" is structured, whether in a city, or country, a region, or globally). Work in the creative economy is routinely understood to be 'creative' (again, another largely undefined term) and by this virtue is understood as particularly rewarding for the worker. Creative labour is where workers are to some degree autonomous and independent; they are more able to set their own working hours or indeed work in a variety of locations. In other words, the creative economy promises the opposite (an antidote to?) the alienated labour of industrial modernity. This comes with the irony that the above UNDP/UNESCO report is largely aimed at BRIC or emerging industral countries, whose stage of development one could describe as 'modernisation'. Most importantly for us, however, is that the forms of work that are being generated and produced within this new creative economy are routinely portrayed as fun as much as personally fulfilling--they are attractive to a wide range of people, and particularly young people. …

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