Workshop 1 - Bogdan Costea, 'Managerialism, Creativity and the University'

Bogdan Costea’s (Organization, Work and Technology, Lancaster University) presentation was an attempt to offer an interpretation of the explosive growth of the idiom of creativity in current managerial and academic culture. His hypothesis stated that, in its current phase, managerialism may have struck gold by appropriating one of the significant elements of the popular self-understanding of a globalised bourgeoisie.

The richness of this vein lies, he surmised, in a particular manner of predicating the ‘Self’ in managerial discourse – namely in the articulation and cultivation of an unprecedented idiom of ‘talent’, ‘creativity’, ‘innovation’, ‘knowledge economy’, ‘excellence’, and other such superlatives. They are coupled, in turn, with various vocabularies of the exceptional-yet-to-come – all indexing the overstretched discourses of unbridled self-expression characterising Humanistic Psychology of the Maslovian-Rogerian varieties, the Human Potential Movement, Erhard Seminar Trainings, or D’Aubigny’s Exegesis – but somehow 'on steroids'. These are the vocabularies of permanent human excess such as ‘untapped potential’, ‘talent’, ‘the genius in all of us’, etc.

Costea argued that this vocabulary of excess of human potentiality has led to an overblown discourse of hope that there might indeed be a genius in all of us, and that the migration of this discourse in the University as institution of scholarship (as the ‘House of Questions’, as one of his very young colleagues described recently) has the potential to suffocate precisely that which makes scholarship creative: the possibility of questioning, and the openness of the scholar to being called into question to the point of ‘de-struction’ (i.e. to the point of tragically recognising that one can go no further in the production of ideas). In other words, the vocabulary of ‘creativity’ becomes something else than a stimulant – it has already metamorphosised into a discourse of entitlements and a premise of resisting being called into question (especially when coupled with the repositioning of students as customers).

Firstly, Costea explained how over the 1990s and 2000s something important happened to the self-understanding of academia – one way or another, the vocabularies of the ‘knowledge economy’, the Schumpeterian urgency of innovation through ‘creative destruction’, and their managerial correlates (‘creativity’, ‘innovation’, ‘talent’, etc.) intensified an already existing debate about the utility of academic research and teaching. He claimed that one of the outcomes of this debate is a form of permanent sense that the ‘University’/’Academy’ (lato sensu, as a principle and institution) is in a crisis of ‘relevance’, that it has permanent difficulties in ‘finding its proper place’ in the ever-so-special ‘21st Century’.

Costea pointed to the fact that one of the interesting and much ignored (for the time being) dimensions of this state of ‘permanent crisis of relevance’ is the search by the University for a new kind of language to appeal to the cultural (in)sensitivities of its target groups – namely, the adolescent generations brought up in the 1980s and 1990s. This means that a certain set of new discursive resources have come to play an increasingly central role in the construction of the Universities self-image. These are of pop-cultural extraction and have a specific ethical power: they corrupt an essential message to which all sound scholarship should be sensitive – namely, that one ought to be humble, that arrogance (even the arrogance of genius) is an intolerable feature, that a proper scholarly quest ceases when humility is not present, etc.

Consequently, Costea argued that what is interesting is that, in this process, the University mirrored (more often than not, very clumsily) an equivalent process which drove a restructuring of managerial vocabularies. The essence of this process is the projection of an image centred on the ‘Self’ (put simply, every ordinary man and woman, girl and boy) as a store of endless potentialities, as an entity to be celebrated in every institutional context through the creation of opportunities for the release of this presumed inner potentiality.

Costea then claimed that this has created a very strange spectre: the ‘talented every(wo)man’ entitled to automatic recognition of that supposed ‘genius’, that supposed capacity for ‘creativity’ that lies in everyone and which has become now a political entitlement. A reordering, a re-ranking, a new hierarchy of values is being forced by the celebration of ‘creativity’ as a false premise – rather than as a promise to be recognised upon delivery. Consequently, the Spectre that is now haunting Academia, the Spectre of the Creative/Innovative Individual (of course, also ‘unique’ – this is very important associate motif), demands (politically) something crucial: to reoccupy the position of the ‘student’, the studying/studious man and woman whose discipleship presupposed a significant self-sacrifice for scholarship and learning (as opposed to a ‘student experience’ echoing the vocabulary of cruise holidays).

He argued that this reoccupation, the tone of this re-ranking of the order of study – in which creativity becomes an entitlement, rather than a possible discovery – is a very powerful myth, one of the key mythical resources (‘mythical’ here is used in Hans Blumenberg’s sense which is actually more accurately rendered perhaps by the notion of ‘symbolic form’) through which the modern cultural synthesis functions: the endless expansion of the ‘Self’ as an infinite possibility and an infinite project – the ‘Self’ that is always already endowed with infinite potential, and always capable of actualising it and overcoming.

Costea illustrated how the cultivation of this symbolic form in popular culture is evident, its migration in the sphere of the academy is also, but what is not evident is that – in a certain view of scholarship (which I espouse) – the most important ethical operation is rendered impossible: namely, the moment in which scholarly work calls the student into question, so much so as to mark a tragic moment in which one’s worth is called into question in the most fundamental way.

Finally, Bogdan Costea argued that the projection of the university as a place where an automatic premise functions that there is ‘a genius in all of us’ functions precisely against that possibility. Moreover, the projection of ‘creativity’ as a personal entitlement has important pedagogical consequences which work very much against that which is most valuable in academic education – namely, the difficult thought, the hard and often thankless work of reading and re-reading, writing and re-writing.

In conclusion, Costea suggested that the unchecked movement of the vocabulary of ‘creativity’, ‘talent’, ‘imagination’, etc. from the managerial sphere to the academy carries with it one more potential mutilating agent for scholarship, rather than offering an emancipatory, liberating horizon.

DISCUSSION:

Following discussion was oriented around five main themes.

Firstly, the problem with negativity and the shift in the notion of the person in academia was probed.

Secondly, debate turned onto the questions of relations between the individual project and institution.

Thirdly, issues of a perpetual, never resolved tension, related to human finitude were considered in the context of the history of universities. Here, following problems were posed:

  • the evaluation of creativity
  • social psychology work in that area – the actor, creative learning
  • the conflict of tradition and innovation

Fourthly, it was considered that this tension is highlighting the continuities in alternative discourses, problematically pointing to the rejection of the mode of critique.

The next turn in the debate, however, considered the possibility of critique in this context. Reference to Foucault pointed to the need of getting involved on the inside to deconstruct prevailing discourses – very powerful critique can come from within tradition and break out of it. Methodology and process were considered in terms of self-destructiveness of initial positions and a determination that the hypothesis can be exploded all together. And finally, the issue of a student as a fast subject that cannot be patient enough with the tradition was probed.