Limits to creativity:

Authority and power in deliberations on the creative economy

Tamara Metze

University of Amsterdam, Department of Political Sciences

O.Z. Achterburgwal 237

1012 DL Amsterdam



Experimentations with co-operation and deliberation between government and non-government are more and more a fact of life, as dissatisfaction is felt with established practices. In a shift from government to governance, the influence of (transnational) networks is undeniable, and these networks challenge existing power relations ((Kickert, 1993, Hajer, 2000, Rhodes, 1996). This is also the case in interactions between government, the creative class (Florida, 2002), and cultural industries (Scott, 2004). Their interactions are less hierarchically than ‘government’ policy making, planning, and project-development due to, for example, the globalized, conceited, and experimental character of this class and industry.

The ‘Community of Practice Creative Economy’ is a cluster of projects that tries to take into account this shift to governance, and that desires to establish innovative relations between housing corporations, (local) governments, project-developers, financers, communications-and strategy firms, and all kind of people from the creative class and cultural industries. These actors have joined forces to exchange hands-on experience in a Community of Practice (Wenger, 1998), and to develop several old industrial buildings or sites, into attractive mixed-use areas for the creative class in the Netherlands. Commercial, non-commercial, and public functions are being developed, implemented and maintained by innovative coalitions of these actors.

The Community of Practice on the creative economy is an experiment with deliberative problem solving in which the discussions should be “inclusive, open, accountable, reciprocal and integer, and […] the various participants learn through an iterative dialogue” (Hajer, 2005)@176). However, at specific moments in these deliberations, actors seek to legitimize their arguments and positions in reference to their ‘normal’ practices, interactions, and to their routine beliefs and interests. They discursively demarcate their normal practices and ‘government’ interactions to gain credibility, authority, and power. For example, a planner might claim that her argument is more credible because it is scientific, and because she studied planning. This is what I will call boundary work (Gieryn, 1983, Jasanoff, 1994, Halffman, 2003)). Boundary work is a discursive mechanism of a fluid, Foucauldian, kind of power. In Communities of Practice actors endeavor not to reiterate this kind of power to enhance the iterative learning dialogue. However, they sometimes routinely demarcate practices to gain more substantial power for their arguments and positions.

I will argue that the study of these discursively expressed boundaries in the case of the Community of Practice in the Creative Economy, reveals how actors that have agreed to deliberate to change power-relations and to discuss the rules of the game, will enact routine and traditional practices to gain authority for their arguments and practices. Boundary work exposes (1) the conflicts in an experiment with deliberative democracy, (2) the development of this conflict within the deliberations, and (3) the changes in this conflict and in current power distributions (in which power is considered to be embedded in language and in ‘truth’).  In the case of the community of practice on the creative economy, I will describe two types of boundary work, demarcation and blurring, and how these two types enhance or limit the learning dialogue.



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Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.