Creativity As Anti-Alienation: Towards a Sociology of Artistic Labor

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 8:30 AM
Room: Booth 63
Oral Presentation
Christoph HENNING , School of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, St. Gallen, Switzerland
Patricia HOLDER , University of St. Gallen, St. Gallen, Switzerland
Based on qualitative research in the fields of the visual arts and design we aim to show that the actors in those realms experience the non-alienating qualities of their work even under current conditions of an intensified economisation of the “aesthetic” sphere. The idea and the activity of “creative labour” thus may still serve as an ideal for a Critical Theory of alienation. We propose that this view is legitimated by the self-reflexive stance of this type of activity on the one hand and the self-proclaimed distance to economic logics in the mode of production on the other hand. For example, some artists we interviewed who were quite aware of the commercial dimension of their own activities proclaimed anti-economic zones and un-commercial times in their creative process. The autonomy attributed to the idea of creativity and the practice of creative work thus seems to allow for a relative and at least temporal distance to economic calculations and its potentially alienating effects.

This is a surprising result because it runs against two major trends in contemporary European sociology: First, against the impetus to interpret the discourse on creativity mainly in its complicity with neoliberalism (for example following the sociology of critique of Boltanski/Chiapello or proponents of Governmentality Studies such as Thomas Osborne or Ulrich Broeckling), and secondly, against the perceived need to focus on issues of marketization resp. financialization and economic speculations in the analysis of all areas of social life (according to Michael Sandel and others). While both trends can hardly be ignored, the 'liberating' effect and the ‘personal’ meaning of creative work for the actors themselves however seems to be relatively stable. This is an argument in favour of the classical "artistic" critique of capitalism that is sometimes under a meta-critical attack in recent sociological research.