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Another way of thinking about Creativity AND Conformity

Erik Bohemia, Northumbria University
Kerry Harman, University of Technology, Sydney

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A binary ordering of the way we know and understand the world has prevailed since Enlightenment times. In a binary ordering the relationships between dimensions are overlooked thus working to make these divisions appear natural. Rather than understanding creativity and conformity as separate elements, where one is understood as excluding the other, we discuss the potential of examining the relationships that might exist between them. In other words, can creativity produce conformity and can conformity provide the conditions for creativity?
     Using various case study examples we examine the interrelatedness of creativity and conformity. For example, how might design styles, which are generally understood as creative outcomes, constrain creativity and lead to conformity within the design field? How might artists, an identity usually associated with high levels of creativity, constrain and regulate themselves? Is fashion producing creativity or conformity?
     Conversely, the ways conformity contributes to creativity is also discussed. For example, the conformity imposed by the State on arts and design industries within the communist block and how these created a thriving underground movement with a high level of creativity in challenging the imposed conformity. Another example can be found in contemporary workplaces where the introduction of IT systems, often with the aim of producing conformity, are transgressed and used creatively by employees for their own purposes. These exemplars begin to illustrate the ways the introduction of programmatic mechanisms, with the intent to control and regulate conduct, often lead to resistance, contestation and unanticipated outcomes.
     Drawing on a Foucauldian conceptualisation of governmentality we offer another take on creativity and conformity which draws attention to the complexities of the relationships between them. In this take conformity is read as both the regulation of others and the regulation of self, thus introducing the element of power. A governmentality focus draws attention to the relational aspects of power, thus making visible potential spaces where existing relations of power might begin to be renegotiated or contested.

Author Bio(s)

Kerry’s background in fine arts is complemented by a Master of Commerce (hons) from the University of New South Wales, Australia. Her most recent research work has been on a three year Australian Research Council (ARC) funded project exploring the significance of everyday learning at work. She is currently completing her doctorate at the University of Technology, Sydney, in the field of Workplace Learning, with a focus on worker identities. She has over 15 years combined experience in the field of training and development and lecturing in Human Resource Management related subjects.

Erik is a Reader in Three Dimensional Design Studies at the School of Design, Northumbria University. As a researcher and an educator in the field of design he is interested in the skills and competencies of designers and the match between these and industry requirements. The results from his research in this area have been used to guide the development of curriculum in design management subjects and courses so that future graduates may more effectively fulfil industry requirements. Erik’s current research focus is on global product design development processes and its impact on the industrial design profession. Erik’s research has been published in international journals and conferences.