Brock University

Sustainable Creative Economies

The creative economy rhetoric has arguably reached the saturation point. It is accepted as common sense by policymakers, citizens, and cultural workers as an important piece of our post-industrial future, spurring economic development and making our cities liveable. Cheered on by scholars and consultants, governments everywhere are attempting to engineer creative clusters and vibrant, cosmopolitan neighbourhoods. But the question remains open whether these interventions can produce sustainable creative economiesones that can survive independently, foster meaningful cultural activity at the grassroots level, and provide stable and fulfilling jobs.Papers in this session will address tensions arising from top-down approaches to cultural management:* How is culture being used strategically in contemporary policy and practice?* What is the fate of artistic autonomy under these frameworks?* Can cultural industries or scenes be conjured from nothing?* Whose culture counts as creative?* And, finally, is the creative economy a just one?We seek papers which engage with these debates and other questions related to the politics of cultural production and cultural planning, local cultural scenes, and the role of the creative economy in place-making, both within and across borders. A range of theoretical and methodological perspectives is encouraged.

Session Organizer: Danielle J. Deveau, Wilfrid Laurier University, ; Benjamin Woo, University of Calgary,


Turning the Post-Industrial City into the Cultural City: The Case of Toronto's Waterfront

Matt Patterson, Department of Sociology University of Toronto, , Daniel Silver, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto - Scarborough ,

How do we explain cultural planning's widespread popularity among urban and regional policymakers, despite prevailing uncertainty over how well this strategy has achieved its intended goals – goals which are themselves subject to intense debate?  To answer this question, we examine the adoption of cultural policy in the redevelopment of Toronto's post-industrial waterfront.  Not traditionally a centre of cultural production, by the 21st century Toronto had adopted cultural planning with particular zeal, funding new museums, cultural districts and festivals.  At $13-billion, waterfront redevelopment is the centrepiece of the Toronto's strategy to become a global cultural centre.  Drawing on archival research, we attribute the rise of cultural planning to three factors: (1) rapid social and economic changes at the end of the 20th century that threw existing planning regimes into question, (2) the emergence of a "creative city" discourse among a marginal group of policymakers, and (3) the formation of a coalition of cultural organizations, knowledge workers, and downtown residents who identified with this discourse and had the capacity to put it into practice and codify it in municipal policy.  These factors allow us to explain how cultural planning has been politically successful, even if its success as a sustainable social and economic policy is still subject to debate.


Culture, Class and the Creative Economy in Niagara

Dennis Soron, Brock University,

In recent years, “culture” has become big news in Niagara. Long prior to its designation as a Cultural Capital of Canada for 2012, “culture” had been acquiring an increasingly central importance in strategic discussions about the future of this economically and socially struggling region. This is reflected in the development of local cultural plans in which the arts and culture are portrayed as central to a wide range of community aspirations, from rejuvenating declining urban centers, to increasing community cohesion, encouraging civic engagement, spurring tourism, jump-starting economic growth in the emergent “creative economy”, enabling youth retention, and fostering ecological sustainability. This paper examines the limits and possibilities of arts-led urban regeneration plans in the Niagara Region, paying particular attention to ongoing initiatives in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls to harness arts and culture as a means of rejuvenating their downtown cores after decades of sprawl-induced decline. While addressing the troubling class dynamics involved in the effort to rebrand these struggling urban centers as upscale cultural destinations ripe for gentrification and private sector investment, this paper also attempts to salvage the promise of “culture” by identifying complexities and counter-tendencies in this process that are sometimes lost on critiques that adopt an overly rigid and reductionist class-based approach.


Towards a Theory of Unpaid Labour

Miranda Campbell, Dawson College,

As creative cities are increasingly championed as a means towards economic revitalization and growth, much of the rhetoric around creative economies has focused on large-scale, industrialized, and profitable creative activities. At the same time, in discussions and debates about unpaid internships and unpaid creative work that is compensated only by promises of “exposure,” we are also seeing the increasing visibility of the difficult realities of creative industries work for labourers. This paper will argue that the attempt to produce sustainable creative economies must grabble with these realities, and that creative economies research needs to develop adequate theoretical frameworks to engage with unpaid labour in the creative industries. While some Marxist frameworks foreground the exploitation – or self-exploitation – of creative workers, others highlight the emancipatory possibilities of immaterial labour, or forward utopian views of gift economies that celebrate the value of culture beyond its market value or status as a commodity. This paper will explore the tensions between creativity, commerce, and community-building, and forward a theory of small-scale creative labour that highlights the intersection of unpaid and paid work in the development of creative careers and communities.


“Comics Will Break Your Heart”: Fan Identification and Self-Exploitation in Creative Work

Benjamin Woo, University of Calgary,

The notion of self-exploitation has been central to recent scholarship on work in the culture sector. On this view, commitment to a value-rational end (e.g., “creative fulfillment”) distorts formally rational evaluation of means (e.g., pay, job security, work–life balance, etc.). But without a specific conception of where these distortion comes from, we risk simply accusing people of false consciousness for making different decisions than we think they should.

Drawing on the first systematic survey of creative workers in the field of English-language comics production – including both professionals and serious amateurs – this paper examines one potential source of self-exploitation: these creative workers’ fan identity. While by no means unique to comics, this “small world” has been marked by a particularly tight integration – and even “complicity” – between creators’ occupational subculture with the leisure subculture of comics readers.

Despite seventy-five years of cautionary tales about exploitative contracts and bad working conditions, comics continues to draw a committed creative workforce, most of which now come from the ranks of comic-book fans. Creators’ fandom furnishes many of the motivations and commitments that lead them to pursue creative work in comics despite the lack of material rewards.


© Canadian Sociological Association ⁄ La Société canadienne de sociologie