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Richard Florida on the Rise of the Creative Class.

The Creative Worker

Florida opens this short article with an interesting spin on the familiar phenomenon of resistance being appropriated by capital. A tattooed, apparently employer-unfriendly graduate is flattered and seduced by recruiters into a highly paid contract. It's fascinating to read this analysis against older ones of how you are treated differently in your work time vs leisure time. The Situationists talked about how you are humiliated as a worker, then flattered as a consumer. But here we see an inversion where the worker is seen as a valuable asset who must be flattered/seduced into employment.

How does this shift of power happen? How does it come to be that companies are showing off to their potential employees, rather than vice versa? And just how big is this 'creative class' really? Looking at my peers I see penniless creatives struggling to find work - any work! So this creative class isn't referring to 'artists' in the traditional sense but a rather different group of material & immaterial commodity-makers, who "produce new forms or designs that are readily transferable and broadly useful---such as designing a product that can be widely made, sold and used; coming up with a theorem or strategy that can be applied in many cases; or composing music that can be performed again and again."

Florida broadens the category of 'creatives' by including those who work in fields not necessarily considered 'creative', but do so in a way which uses independent thinking. An interesting note about shifting class roles is the following: "In fields such as medicine and scientific research, technicians are taking on increased responsibility to interpret their work and make decisions, blurring the old distinction between white-collar work (done by decisionmakers) and blue-collar work (done by those who follow orders)." (If this is the case, then it would be good to know in more detail how Florida works out the population % of people in this 'creative class'. If you can't tell from the job title whether they are in it or not, how do you work out a percentage?) So is this a kind of middle class, then, who escape the drudgery associated with working class jobs but whose work still benefits those higher up the feeding chain? Young people should be championed by city planners, Florida states bluntly, because "they are workhorses".

Plug & Play Precarity

Florida is big on the idea of flexibility, mobility, and a kind of free-trade free-thinking "plug and play community" allowing cretives quickly to settle and feel at home in their new city:

"Places that thrive in today's world tend to be plug-and-play communities where anyone can fit in quickly. These are places where people can find opportunity, build support structures, be themselves, and not get stuck in any one identity. The plug-and-play community is one that somebody can move into and put together a life---or at least a facsimile of a life---in a week." [1]

The unstated underbelly of this cyborg dream is, of course, the actual working conditions resulting from such a shift - ie, precarity. While Florida focusses (perhaps strategically) on the high-paid innovators valued by large companies, he ignores the reality of low wages and unemployment faced by those in what are more traditionally referred to as the creative sectors. Or, even more troublingly, those free thinkers who are needed in the early stages of Florida's scheme - squatters, DIY initiatives, and those cast in the unfortunate role of providing exotic ethnic and poverty-stricken 'colour' to creative neighbourhoods. (In fact, the poverty and otherness of the latter actually have to be maintained in order to continue attracting highly-educated new recruits.) This blindspot seems necessary to prop up the whole theory, just as autonomous arts are being sidelined in arts funding changes in favour of an 'innovative' start-up model. This manifesto, then, seems to have little to say to those in the autonomous arts. They are not part of Florida's thinking and, apparently, have no place in the immaterial economy that he is helping to articulate.

The Creative Class vs The Culture Industry

Adorno & Horkneimer's critique of the Culture Industry is an interesting one to contrast with the vision presented to us by Florida. The industry described by the former churns out numbing trash to subdue the masses; it is easily critiqued by intellectuals, and provokes succinct leftist exposes with which we are familiar:

"Docility is no longer ensured by means of priestly magic, it results from a mass of minor hypnoses: news, culture, city planning, advertising, mechanisms of conditioning and suggestion ready to serve any order, established or to come." [2]

How do those neo-Marxist critiques stand up to Florida's vision? Does an analysis of the spectacle stretch to accomodate this emphatic anti-spectacle ("[the creative class] prefer indigenous stree-level culture... not escape")? On the economic level, probably yes - this culture has changed in appearance but is still serving the same ends. (This is a manifesto aimed at city authoririties, after all.) With the added complication that the culture produced by and for the 'creative class' is far more subtle in its methods. What Florida describes is the capitalist appropriation of counter-culture par excellence. The tattooed graduate is no drop-out threat to the order of work, but lands the highest paid contract! This scenario is, in fact, briefly acknowledged by Adorno & Horkneimer: "Once his particular brand of deviation from the norm has been noted by the industry, [the dissident] belongs to it as does the land-reformer to capitalism. Realistic dissi-dence is the trademark of anyone who has a new idea in business." [3]

This is exactly the formula advanced by Florida, his question being: "how do we make creative people serve capital?" rather than, "how do we ensure economics enables creativity?". It's possible that this may just be an incredibly clever way of persuading city authorities that supporting creatives is in their interests. But what Florida proposes is not stable funding, but merely the creation of an environment in which creatives can generate money themselves - ie, the promotion of precarity in the name of free innovation. The question is, when capital is falling over itself to flatter and recruit the rebels it needs to rejuvenate itself - what forms of resistance are still available, or yet to be invented?

  1. Florida, R. (2002) The Rise of the Creative Class [online]. Available at: (Accessed 19 June 2012).
  2. Vaneigem, R. (2006) Revolution of Everyday Life (p.23).
  3. Adorno, A. & Horkneimer, M. (1993) 'The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception' in Dialectic of Enlightenment (New York: Continuum).