Seminar 6: discussant notes

Dr Lauren England, Baxter Fellow in Creative Economies, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design at the University of Dundee, LEngland001@dundee.ac.uk

PERFORMING SOCIAL INNOVATION: The case of social circus in ordinary cities  

A real strength of this paper was in the narrative process and stance, emphasising the negative connotations of CCIs as a “development tool” as a very neoliberal and westernised framing. So often we hear about the CCIs and creative economy/cultural models as exemplars and models for export, or as a ‘solution’ and driver of economic growth but without consideration of what impact has and whether it is appropriate. This paper offered a welcome challenge to the westernised vision and model for who gets to be creative and define creativity. It also offered valuable critique that the emphasis on global and creative cities has limited the scope of imagining alternative-possible urban futures and that alternative sites of “ordinary” cities may provide more inclusive, sustainable models for future development, avoiding the exacerbation of urban inequalities and clustering of resources. The paper draws out the enhanced capacity for “ordinary” cities to ask questions about their future trajectories, respond to complex social challenges – in ways that are perhaps limited in larger, established global or creative cities where structures may be more fixed – but also heightened precarity in these cities. The positioning of CCIs as closer to a social right and tool for social emancipation, rather than economic drivers has potential for development internationally. And likewise, in positioning cultural policy as social policy. However, caution is needed over bold claims for creative and cultural participation/product/work as a panacea for all social ills. It is important to keep space to critique and challenge this. 

Further areas to explore further could be whether social circus (and creative/cultural engagement) acts as a method for the retention of youth in the city; how increased cultural consumption was associated with participation in social creativity / creative production/practice; connections with policy – has the social circus influenced urban or social policy or does it continue to act “outside” policy?; Interactions between top down/bottom up approaches and funding models? For example, does the funding system go against the neoliberal model or is it in some ways feeding it?. What are the ways in which the social circus is actively going against neoliberal models of creative economy, and are there instances of “creeping” agendas? 

Methodologically, the ongoing pandemic undoubtedly caused challenges for this research and likely made the author’s personal knowledge of the context and existing contacts crucial. The remote research activities nevertheless provided insight into the environment for the social circus and their work. When the city and local environment is so integral to the work of the social circus, there is significant potential to explore the themes emerging further through on-site fieldwork and observation.  

Much has been made of the challenges posed by the neoliberal model of creative and cultural industries in the UK (cultural policy research) but there is growing recognition of the need to understand how this has been translated (poorly) in global South contexts and the impacts this narrative has on post-colonial cities where we shouldn’t assume the western model or narrative would fit/be appropriate or support equitable development through creative economies. The paper therefore provides a valuable investigation into socially creative, ordinary cities in the global South context, presenting new voices. While specifically relevant in that context, there is also scope for application in global North “poor” cities or “left behind” areas. This offers a reversed learning opportunity to address the challenges of the neoliberal model by providing alternative, socially constructed and more inclusive models. 

The purpose of fashion: How sustainable design entrepreneurs challenge economic growth paradigms

A key contribution of this paper is in identifying different business models within the fashion sector and presenting insights into strategies adopted by designers/entrepreneurs in this sector. Interesting parallels also emerge between the work of sustainable design entrepreneurs and social/environmental activists. Potentially these sustainable design enterprises could be thought of as a form of formalised activism – here they are more overt in motivation or messaging but also more “mundane” than what we might think of as creative activism. I was reminded of the work of Borén and Young (2017) here, they argue that the reaction of (creative) workers (to creative city policy) most of the time does not transpire in protest and demonstrations but may lead to other forms of institutional innovations. 

There are also connections with research on the Creative Social Economy (Rickmers & Comunian, 2020), although the work of fashion entrepreneurs in this space remains underexplored and is an area to which this paper can contribute. In particular, considering the shift of business models and increased emphasis on the “creative social economy” as an area where creative talent meets and connects with a broader contribution to society beyond the economic growth model. Strong connections can also be seen with research on the motivations behind creative work as not being driven by a growth logic and also to the literature on entrepreneurial motivations more widely. For example, Alacovska’s (2019) research indicates creative workers “have reoriented their professional self-image from artists into social entrepreneurship, while retooling their artistic skills for community-based work” (p.1130). Where the paper refers to the challenges in navigating multiple goals/requirements for sustainability, organisational studies and research on social enterprises and the management and negotiation of multiple logics – people, planet, profit – is also relevant. 

The case studies presented highlight three different business models and approaches to sustainability. There could be an opportunity to reflect across the wider survey sample whether there was a prominence of one approach over others and explore broader strategic categories or motivations. This could be used to develop a typology. The case studies are all small or micro-enterprises, within the survey sample it would also be interesting to consider whether the majority of respondents to the survey were SMEs/micro-enterprises or whether there were ‘bigger players’ involved. It would also be interesting to explore a longitudinal dimension and whether any shifts – in motivation, business model etc. – occurred across the case study group. 

In positioning these designers and their enterprises as contributing to driving a move towards sustainable fashion (away from fast fashion), it is also important to critically explore how (and whether) they are actually shaping the discourse in the wider fashion industry, to ask are they really making a difference in the market? In connection with this, accessibility for consumers is another point to consider. The high price point for goods, while justified for the nature of the product, is potentially a barrier to tackling the market for fast fashion consumers whose purchasing power may not extend to the luxury market. There is however scope for these designers to challenge consumer behaviour and encourage a shift in mindset away from buying new clothes often, to buying clothing as investment – redefining growth paradigm. There are also connections with circular economy that the authors have explored in other papers. 

Alacovska, A., 2019. ‘Keep hoping, keep going’: Towards a hopeful sociology of creative work. The Sociological Review67(5), pp.1118-1136.

Borén, T., & Young, C. (2017). Artists and creative city policy: Resistance, the mundane and engagement in Stockholm, Sweden. City, culture and society, 8, 21-26)

Comunian, R., Rickmers, D. and Nanetti, A., 2020. Guest editorial: The creative economy is dead–Long live the creative-social economies. Social Enterprise Journal16(2), pp.101-119.

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