Creative Industries: An Oxymoron?

It will be of little surprise to the majority of readers that the creative industries have become big business – they are the focus of a multitude of local, city, region and national governments’ attempts to redevelop, regenerate and reignite growth and development in their ‘place’. But their benefit and how can they be utilised is often criticised and debated vehemently. The UK government’s attempts at ‘capturing’ the creative industries via the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have been criticised for being too arbitrary (see Oakley, 2004; Roodhouse, 2006a; Christophers, 2007) and recent attempts at quantifying this ephemeral and messy industrial sector have been patchy at best. The definitional boundaries apropos the thirteen sub-sectors have come under close scrutiny, with many practioners and businesses alike claiming that these sub-sectors are of little use anymore – arguing that many business activities will straddle a number of different sub-sectors. Not to mention the fact that the vast majority of work in the creative industries is now project-based, which encapsulates businesses from a variety of the sub-sectors (Grabher, 2004a, 2004b; Rifkin, 2005; Davenport, 2006), so trying to overtly manage these industries ‘from above’ is a square peg in a round hole. Surely film has more in common with the television industry than it does the video industry? Should television and radio be lumped together simply because the high-end of the industry combines the two (Such as the BBC for example)? The majority of television industry workers (producers, directors of photography, runners etc) will never entertain the idea of working for a radio company.

More generally throughout the creative industries, the idea that there is a common practical interest between the film industry and crafts is highly questionable. Also, film-makers work on computer game development, musicians work with software developers, graphic designers and advertisers collaborate. Designers themselves will work for manufacturing firms or retail outlets – if we begin to scrutinize the way the creative industries operate (i.e. through projects and social networks) then we start to realise the deficiencies and vacuity of trying to pen them in with sub-sectors.

Where does this leave us? After all, the economic strength of the creative industries comes from their political management – something that other countries strive towards. For example, it has been argued that India has no single body that can be called upon to represent creative and cultural industries as a distinct entity. A focal point needs to be established to engage various stakeholders in a productive dialogue, so as to achieve consensus over strategy. This is ossified when an Indian commentator argues, “we can choose not to address the need at our own peril in a world where more and more governments are setting the required infrastructure” (Sethi, 2005).

Therefore, the creative industries’ intrinsic economic value is created through their strategic and political positioning. After all, the creative industries are in no way new – the latest technological developments have helped us to express human creativity to a higher potential, but people have been sculpting, painting, playing, performing and filming for millennia. Creating a political outlet in which these people can reap economic benefits in such a way as to aid the development of particular regions (through cultural quarters (Roodhouse, 2006b) for example) has been the catalyst for the ‘creative industries’ as a political tool, and the main reason for the proliferation of such policies and their popularity around the world.

In many ways, the ‘creative industries’ can be considered an oxymoron. Being truly creative has always been in conflict with making a quick buck. Trying to make money out of talent, it is argued, has always been viewed as ‘selling out’, albeit a view which has been challenged (Orme, 2006). By industrialising creativity, the DCMS has put profitability at the top of the to-do list of creative businesses, and now the majority of policies are engineered to increase the wealth-generation of the sub-sector and economic prosperity of it’s participants. Perhaps this is why these stringent boundaries are therefore perceived to be necessary – to keep them in check, keep them profitable. But this can be to the detriment of the fundamental processes involved. Keeping an industry ‘in it’s box’ obfuscates collaborative efforts, negates networking and can hinder the development of burgeoning industrial practices. A rejection of a ‘top-down approach’ cannot be replaced with a ‘horizontal approach’ either (such as project-based policies). The ethereality and rhizomatic nature of the creative industries should be celebrated – cutting through the ‘soup’ of social networks, informal practices, tacit knowledge etc in a linear and unidirectional fashion will only create the same problems of definitional boundaries and political suitability. Therefore, next time we start to think about how to manage the creative industries in such a way as to improve the quality of life, maybe we should start by rethinking their political ethos – not an easy or comfortable task by any means, but then, has it ever been so?

First image courtesy of Ed Davenport (c) 2008.

All other images courtesy of Jimmy Mould (c) 2008: See more of his photos on his blog.


Christophers B. (2007) ‘Enframing creativity: power, geographical knowledges and the media economy’. Transactions. 9: 235-247.

Davenport J. (2006) ‘UK Film Companies: Project-Based Organizations Lacking Entrepreneurship and Innovativeness?’ Creativity and Innovation Management. 15(3): 250-257.

Grabher G. (2004a) “Learning in Projects, Remembering in Networks? Communality, Sociality and Connectivity in Project Ecologies’. European Urban and Regional Studies. 11(2): 103-123.

Grabher G. (2004b) ‘Temporary Architectures of Learning: Knowledge Governance in Project Ecologies’. Organization Studies. 25(9): 1491-1514.

Oakley, K. (2004) ‘Not so cool Britannia’. International journal of cultural studies: 7(1): 67-77.

Orme G. (2006) ‘Special, moi?’ PACT. June, 2006: 31.

Rifkin J. (2005) ‘When markets give way to networks’, in Hartley J. (eds.) The Creative Industries. Blackwell, Oxford.

Roodhouse S. (2006a) ‘The unreliability of cultural management information: defining the visual arts’ Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society. 36(1): 48-65.

Roodhouse S. (2006b) Cultural Quarters. Intellect, London.

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