Silver Linings: The creative potential of uncertain times

Jessica Symons

This panel calls for ethnographic accounts of communities or people who have engaged creatively with rapidly changing socio-economic and political contexts. It seeks to explore the underlying iterative and discursive processes through which creative activity is dispersed, focusing in particular on the way people respond to uncertain circumstances

The creative industries are currently valued at £84.1 billion per year to the UK economy (DCMS 2016). Music, theatre and arts are combined with digital and film sectors to celebrate and promote original and innovative output on an international stage. The British, it seems, are increasingly recognised as ‘global leaders’ in creativity – an ‘innovative nation’ (Creative Industries 2016). However, creativity is not just located in particular sectors. Anthropologist Leach argues for a ‘dispersed creativity’ where ‘creativity itself lies in the relationships between differentiated elements…The particularity of the outcome (its novelty, value, unique appearance or whatever) is a function of a kind of initial dispersal of agency and knowledge’ (Leach 2007:22).

Ethnography is well situated for getting under the skin of creative aptitude by going beyond sectors or end products of creative activity. Drawing on the principle of creativity as an adaptive process (Symons 2015) that requires fluid responsivity to circumstances, there is much creative work in an era of rapid change. While many people are overwhelmed and challenged by such dynamics, others are exhilarated and excited by the wealth of opportunities that emerge. Ethnographers situated in communities are well positioned to identify and understand those that embrace uncertainty and respond adaptively to it. Furthermore, urban contexts are particularly demanding on communities with regards to adaptation. The current trend for resilient cities implicitly asks for creative responses to rapid change.

Through shared insight from multiple ethnographic contexts, this panel can explore and compare the relational characteristics of adaptive individuals and their circumstances. It can consider the individuals, communities and situations that produce adaptive behaviour and identify similarities and differences. It can attend to the value that adaptive individuals bring to their communities and attempt to profile an adaptive community itself.

Panel papers should identify situations where people responded creatively - adaptively and productively - in rapidly changing and uncertain situations. They should explore moments when such situations occur and unpack their significance for providing insight into adaptive/creative behaviour. The panel discussion will look for patterns across different contexts and ask what makes adaptive/creative activity distinctive and, in particular, what can be learned from such situations. It will ask what there is to learn from people who embrace uncertainty and where are their motivations and interests are directed. It can also explore how such people are received in their own environments and how this affects their activity.

Topics covered by papers may include macro themes such as Brexit, the Anthropocene, environmental degradation, war, terrorism, civil rights disputes, political stagnation and corruption or micro contexts in communities, households, workplaces and families. Paper contributors could be ethnographers of cities, organisations, networks or communities, decision/policy makers focused on creative industries or urban/community practitioners.

Please submit a 500 word abstract or proposal by Tuesday 28th February 2017.