Between the white cube and the grey cubicle: The worker as artist?

A master thesis research about creativity in the workplace. A sociological investigation of creativity in the workplace stemming from the idea that today everybody needs to be creative and live a creative life.
Written in English.
Limited edition of 10.
Available upon request

Job vacancies, popular management books, and contemporary DIY literature show that in today’s labour market people have to be creative and live a creative life. Yet, creativity appears easier labelled than explained. On the one hand, the importance of stimulating creativity in the workplace in management studies has been recognised as self-evident. On the other, voices from the art world have predominantly criticised the appearance of creativity outside of their field. As such, one might say we are dealing with competing values between different groups of actors. Thus, within studies on creativity, this research has aimed to fill in a knowledge gap between these two opposites by taking enough critical stance to challenge the idea of a by definition virtuous creativity, but simultaneously also not attempt to assess the value of creativity at the workplace.

Creativity within this project was limited to a utilitarian definition, considering that using creativity at work has to be done to obtain the largest degree of hapiness (i.e., large turnover). Accountants and artists were chosen as the two professions at opposite ends that deal with creativity at work. Challenging the normative conceptions society upholds on these two lines of work, the first are referred to as covertly and the second as overtly creatives in this research. Using Boltanski and Thévenot’s orders of worth, the goal of this study was to understand how these actors legitimise their use of creativity at work.
Interviews were conducted with five actors from each profession to have them share  their thoughts, opinions, and concerns on the topic, whilst participant observations were used to cover the non-verbal creative moments. Upon examination, it appears that the two seemingly opposite worlds actually think congruently to each other. Participants identified creativity as something to solve everyday problems and make things easier, but additionally recognised an unexpected form of creativity at work in the sense that it is also used to obstruct productivity.

Through this, this study highlights how researching creativity demands great reflexivity and an openness to strongly differing outcomes. However, accountants and artists did disagree with each other in showing how they value creativity through different others of worth. Whereas accountants approved of a growing presence of creativity in the labour market through the order of fame, the artists used the logic of the order of inspiration and found alternative interpretations of creativity by others wanting. A reason for this could be that the covert creatives yet struggle with obtaining the recognition they arguably deserve, whereas the overt creatives defend their territory. Lastly, a créativité pour créativité was considered undesirable by both groups as it obstructs the production process. Thus, on a concluding note, they appeared to agree on the values of one dominant order: the industrial order. And yet, creativity did not allow itself to be restricted. Each time participants came down to a certain vision, they had to disrupt it again. And there you have it: creativity in action.

2018 © Chloë Neeleman