Reviews / Comptes rendus
Spaces of vernacular creativity: Rethinking the cultural economy edited by Tim Edensor, Deborah Leslie, Steve Millington, and Norma Rantisi
Article first published online: 4 JAN 2013
© Canadian Association of Geographers / L'Association canadienne des géographes
The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien
Volume 57, Issue 1, pages e2–e3, Spring / printemps 2013
How to Cite
Vinodrai, T. (2013), Spaces of vernacular creativity: Rethinking the cultural economy edited by Tim Edensor, Deborah Leslie, Steve Millington, and Norma Rantisi. The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien, 57: e2–e3. doi: 10.1111/j.1541-0064.2012.00466.x
- Issue published online: 22 FEB 2013
- Article first published online: 4 JAN 2013
Spaces of vernacular creativity: Rethinking the cultural economy edited by Tim Edensor, Deborah Leslie, , and , Routledge , Abingdon and New York , 2010 , 258 pp. , cloth $142 ( ISBN 9780415480956 )
What is creativity? How is it expressed? Where does it take place? The short answer provided by this collection is that creative activity includes everything from the paid and unpaid work of musicians, designers, and other artists to community gardening, Elvis festivals, and displays of garden gnomes and Christmas lights. As such, the challenge for the editors is to convince the reader that this is more than a simple case of unrelated variety. The book is framed against a wide and growing body of work that invokes and explores various concepts and constructs such as the creative economy; creative cities; the creative class; the creative and/or cultural industries; cultural clusters; and so on. The aim of the book is to challenge the prevailing discourse around creative cities and to “offer a critical perspective on the instrumental use of creativity for urban and non-urban regeneration and economic development” (p. 1). Certainly, the collection challenges the idea that creative activity only takes place in the urban neighbourhoods that have so vividly captured the imaginations of scholars, policymakers, and the media alike. In contrast to this caricature, if we are to believe the claims made in this collection, creativity has far more complex and nuanced geographies and spatialities and we need to pay far more attention to the spaces, places, and spatialities of the everyday and ordinary practices of individuals, groups, and communities. Creativity is performed in suburban and working class neighbourhoods as well as rural communities; electronic and virtual spaces; networks; and your backyard.
The book is divided into four parts, each of which works to challenge notions of creativity: its governance and practice; its spatialities; its expression in alternative and non-mainstream scenes; and other forms of non-economic creativity. Like many edited collections, there is some unevenness across the chapters in terms of how well they fit with the stated purpose and themes of the collection. Thus, it appears that the division of chapters into thematic sections appears, at times, arbitrary. Almost necessarily, the chapters often speak to more than one theme. For example, Edensor and Millington's chapter on Christmas light displays could just as easily fit into the section on “Vernacular creativity and everyday life,” as it does the section on “Everyday spaces of creativity.” Nonetheless, several of the chapters are exemplar and provide detailed and convincing accounts of how creativity is organized and articulated in a variety of spaces. For example, Gibson, Brennan-Horley, and Walmsley's chapter reminds us that rural festivals provide a venue for individual expression and community conviviality, but could also be considered as part of an alternative regional development strategy. Bain and Hracs’ chapters, on artists and musicians respectively, reveal the importance of spaces outside of Toronto's downtown core that are affordable, inspiring in their own right, allow for improvisation, and are often more inclusive. Rantisi and Leslie's chapter on design in Montreal similarly notes the importance of affordability; cultural and economic diversity; and informal spaces that allow for chance encounters and learning. Their work also highlights that broader social policies addressing issues such as income redistribution, housing affordability, and immigration produce the conditions that create and support these affordable and informal spaces.
However, there are several blind spots and shortcomings inherent in this collection. First, there is a skew towards evidence from Canada (Rantisi and Leslie, Bain, Hracs, McLean) and the United Kingdom (Evans, Miles, Crouch, Milbourne, Potts, and Edensor and Millington), with some attention paid to other advanced economies. There remains a dearth of evidence related to the Global South; although, in fairness, this is true of the debate in the literature more generally. Second, in conceptualizing creativity—especially as a quotidian activity—it seems surprising that the authors do not reach out more to disciplines such as organizational studies or psychology, where considerable effort has been made to conceptualize and understand creativity and the creative process at the individual and behavioural level. Third, there is a missed opportunity in the introduction to more explicitly link each chapter to a theme (or to the other chapters). Such an effort would improve the cohesion of the collection. Fourth, and related to this point, a concluding chapter would have been a welcome addition and would improve the coherence of this project. For example, how do displays of garden gnomes as performances of individual creativity relate to the planned and unplanned creative spaces used and created by artists, musicians, and designers? Such additional synthesis would allay concerns about unrelated variety and would more clearly illustrate the overarching themes and contributions of the book. Such a chapter could also address several unanswered questions: What do the arguments and findings mean for those engaged in the work of public policy and program development? What are the alternatives? Where do we go from here?
Overall, the editors aim to expand our conceptualization of what constitutes creativity in economy and society. Unquestionably, they achieve this goal and the collection convincingly demonstrates both the economic and non-economic dimensions of creativity and its spatialities. At present, there are few collections that do such work and for that reason this is a welcome (if pricey) addition to the bookshelves of scholars who are serious about problematizing and understanding the contemporary creative and cultural economy. However, there remains the thorny (and normative) issue of public policy. One of the key critiques made in this volume is that the creative city script has been rapidly accepted by policymakers and authorities across the globe with little critical reflection. And, at the outset, the book claims to have “the potential to move us towards holistic, diverse and socially inclusive creative city strategies” (p. 1). Yet, barring the chapters identified above, few tackle this issue head on. And, in fact, some of the contributors caution against significant formal policymaking and engagement (see the chapter by Evans in particular). It would have been highly beneficial for the editors to return to this issue and provide some commentary, reflection, and guidance as to grounded alternatives and pathways to development that open up spaces of vernacular creativity and realize the potential for a just society. Here, there remains a real need for creativity.