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November 29, 2006

« Creative Singapore, Creative China | Main | Talent, spikes and firms »

My "most outlandish critic" has a new post on her site which is mighty interesting. Seems like there might be room even for some common ground.

The heart of the issue seems to be this: How does my construct of the creative class differ from earlier, influential constructs like the "professional-middle class" outlined by social theorists like Erik Olin Wright among others? What do I add?  Let me start by saying my own work owes a huge debt to this earlier line of thinking as well as by constructs like Peter Drucker's "knowledge workers" and Robert Reich's "symbolic analysts."

As it just so happens, the debate over class has been at the heart of my own interests since my undergraduate days at Rutgers. I wrote my first essays on this in the late 70s.

Marx viewed class in relation to the means of production, while Weber saw class more as status groups. While I lean to Marx's view on this, I always found the canonical marxian duality of bourgeoisie and proletariat failed to capture the dynamics of modern "post-industrial" or "post-fordist" society.  In fact, even during Marx's time, he recognized these two classes, not as the only two classes, but as the ascendant and therefore "revolutionary" classes--the ones driving the progress of history. Marx, I should also point out, also noted in the Grundrisse that science can and does enter into the economy as a direct productive force as intellectual labor, which the great economic historian Nathan Rosenberg has written on.

I felt ever since graduate school that a new kind of economy or mode of production and thus a new kind of class structure was emerging.  It took me a while though, a long while to begin to put my finger on it. I was always interested in the schism between intellectual and manual labor, something that theorists like Harry Braverman had identified, though mainly in the context of the seperation of the two and the "de-skilling" of factory workers.   At the time and since, I was also very influenced by the European "regulationist" school of political economy whose leading theorists were trying to elaborate not just the "crisis" of fordist mass production, but what was likely to come after in the shift to "post-fordist" production structures. I wrote a lot on this with Martin Kenney as we tried to analyze and compare the US "breakthrough system" of Silicon Valley high-technology, which was and is very good at harnessing intellectual labor in the form of high end innovation, to the Japanese "follow-though" system which was and is very good at harnessing the intellectual labor of shop-floor workers ala the Toyota production system. 

All the while, I never found the simple-minded, un-economic, and ahistorical construct of the service economy very useful, mainly because it cannot specify an underlying source of value creation. Agricultural or feudal production was based on land and physical labor. Industrial production based on technology, raw materials and manual labor.  What is the service economy based on?  The concept of the service economy, as Kenney and I long ago argued, lumps together things like software production which can and does animate real production processes with activities like hamburger flipping. The professional-managerial class is the class analysis equivalent to the service economy. Neither specify where real value comes from--the driving force which animates the economy and society.

What was the new production system that was replacing industrial/ fordist capitalism: what was its motor force, its inner dynamic? To answer this question, I found myself trying to come to grips with a new and more innovative post-fordist system based increasingly on the mobilization of intellectual labor in technological innovation, in design and on the factory floor as well. What was the driving force, what was the common unifying element across the board?

Then one day it hit me:  Marx had long said that what made the proletariat a universal class was its role in an inter-subjective or social production system--the fact that workers can't make stuff alone, they are all part of an extended division of labor. We all need one another to make things and survive.

But it is not manual labor that binds us together, really; it's our capacity to think, our capacity for knowledge, our intellectual labor. In fact, even Marx had said as much.  And then it hit me:  It's really something more. It's our creativity.

Thus the two core precepts of my theory. One, every single human being is creative. And two, creativity does not conform to the social categories our history has imposed on us. It is ubiquitous and comes equally in both genders, all nationalities and ethnicities, all sexual orientations. It really doesn't care about your skin color, or national origin, or gender, or how rich your parents are, or what kind of family you grew up in or care to create for yourself. It is creativity that is intrinsically human, that cuts across our imposed divides, that is the universalizing element so to speak. 

So that's the backdrop for my writing about the creative class. Don't get confused by the backs and forths about  artists and hipsters, amenities and sexual orientation, though those things can and do play a role.

At bottom, my theory is about the emergence of a new economic system and a new class who's fundamental relationship to the economy is human creativity. Creativity today, like manual labor and industrial production under industrial capitalism, is the primary generator of economic value.

All of this leads me to the great conundrum of the creative economy. Even though every single human being is creative, only about a third of the workforce works in occupations where they are expected and paid to use even a modicum of their creativity.  Thus, the great challenge of society is to expand the structures of the creative economy to tap and harness the creativity of much larger segments of the workforce in the service and manufacturing sectors alike. At bottom, all of us are creative beings and thus all are potential participants in the creative economy.  How to extend and include these creative talents, this creative energy?

And this in turn leads to an even greater contradiction.  The full flourishing of creativity comes smack up against the old and tired institutions of industrial capitalism--the nation-state, an outmoded industrial structure, rigid political institutions, corporate bureaucracies which treat people like machines or worse, an antiquated system of intellectual property protection. 

Thanks to my outlandish critic for bringing these issues to the fore.  How to ignite a broader conversation over these, the fundamental issues, of our time?


mark safranski

Where does Schumpeter fit into your analysis ?

"And this in turn leads to an even greater contradiction. The full flourishing of creativity comes smack up against the old and tired institutions of industrial capitalism"

Don't be too hard on industrial capitalism as it's market effects dissolved the very uncreative socioeconomic structures of traditional societies, permitting a higher degree of creative expression and innovation than had been possible previously. The feedback loop provided by market mechanisms also made the emerging capitalist order more adaptive than its etatist rivals.

There's reasons England and the Netherlands eventually eclipsed the Spain of Charles V and Philip II.


Thanks Richard for writing this brief intellectual history of the idea of the creative class. As a "recovering academic" it was an enjoyable and stimulating read.

Also, Mark's point is a good one and also relates to your warning about bureaucracy absorbing too much creative energy. That's how creative people during the heyday of the Spanish empire made money-- finding ways to earn a fee (or take a share) from anything connected to government. Meanwhile, the creative people in England figured out how to get Spain's silver-based wealth without fighting for it on the high seas -- sell them finished products...


what a load of wank mate.


Mark and Wendy-Thanks for the insightful comments. I am very influenced by Schumpeter. Great quote too. Schumpeter of course amended Marx by saying that innovation and entrepreneurship are what give rise to the great "gales of creative destruction" which recast markets and economic and social relationships and setting in motion new growth. And you are absolutely right about the dynamic and "revolutionary" nature of industrial capitalism, which as both Marx and Schumpeter pointed out, overturned all manner of ossified social relationships. But as Schumpeter also later noted in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy that system did hit it limits. Nathan Rosenberg by the way has a great essay comparing Schumpeter and Marx. My work, as I tried to point out in the post, takes those theories as a point of departure and tries to answer the question: What comes after industrial capitalism? My answer is of course the new system of "creative capitalism" which is just now emerging and which has the potential to not only recast the ossified social relationships and structure of industrial capitalism but to link future economic growth to the further development of human capabilities in new and very powerful ways.

eric wp

The history of perfume goes back to Egypt, although it was prevalent in East Asia as well. Early perfumes were based on incense, not chemicals, so aromas were passed around through fumes. The Roman and Islamic cultures further refined the harvesting and manufacturing of perfumery processes to include other aromatic ingredients.

Thus, the ancient Islamic culture marked the history of modern perfumery with the introduction of spices and herbs. Fragrances and other exotic substances, such as Jasmine and Citruses, were adapted to be harvested in climates outside of their indigenous Asia.

eric pb

Ah….the sweet, smell of perfume! Today's market is flooded with hundreds and hundreds of different fragrances ranging

from floral to woodsy. Most women love the smell of perfume, wearing it even when going to the grocery store. The problem

is that perfume allergy for some women, is anything but nice.

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