Creative geographies and the “creative class”: are we participating in neoliberalising the academia?

The last years, I have grown into a “visual” enthusiast. I am now part of the “creative” scholars, advocating for a visual methodology – that I understand as a way to access knowledge through the production of still or moving images, of counter-cartographies, or of any other forms of art.

As a matter of fact, I co-edit a volume on visual methodologies, volume which I have bragged about in a recent post. In this book, we include contributions of colleagues who have all approached their fieldwork through the visual.

I am also teaching a four-session seminar on visual methodology in migration studies, to a little group of PhD students at my university. Through this seminar, I encourage them to find their creative voice in order to better involve their participants, but also to gain tools to be activist.

And even if I look at the last conferences I attended: Harriet Hawkins, encouraging us to be “makers” (see the book on creative geographies); Rickie Sanders who argues that she brings her camera everywhere because “it sees what she cannot see”; or even the decolonising museums conference I attended last week, which brough the idea that we ought to – through a umcomfortable, labourious process – be creative about how we de-colonialise the collections of our museums… All these scientific events advocate for the adoption of a visual methodology.

But, are we pushed to be creative at any cost? Are we just checking the boxes to get grants or simply, an academic career?

Somehow, the creative craze became associated, in my mind, with Florida’s “creative class” nonsense: are we simply enabling the hidden talents among us scientists to blossom? Or are we forcing a generation of scholars to be creative, and hence creating a new desirable category?

I have always loved drawing and painting. I took classes for years during my childhood and teenagehood. More recently, filming has grown on me. But I am a bit afraid that this will be soon imposed on us, together with publishing in top-ranking journals, raising funds, and a whole range of skills that researchers are meant to acquire, beyond being just good researchers and teachers.

I understand that I write about my fears here. I, for myself, think that amazing works have emerged from this new recognition. But while teaching the students, I wondered if this should be pushed on them? And while thinking of my own research, I wonder how to actually commit to my creative self, aside from outside pressure…


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