Sub-theme 36: Creative Selves: Organizing Work in Knowledge Capitalism

Axel Haunschild
University of Trier, Germany
Peter Fleming
University of London, UK
Christina Garsten
Stockholm University, Sweden

Call for Papers

Not just artists are required to be creative workers nowadays. Rather, as Boltanski & Chiapello (2005) have shown in their analysis of "The New Spirit of Capitalism", capitalism has been able to adopt artistic critiques of forms of work organization that make only limited use of workers' abilities and creative potential. They demonstrate how this globalizing economic system increasingly enacts the vision of a cité par projets, promoting values like entrepreneurship, networking, creativity and flexibility instead of company careers and long-term commitment. As a consequence, 'BE CREATIVE' is the new imperative that displaces old imperatives such as 'be productive!', 'be efficient!', 'be diligent!' or 'be obedient!'

This creativity imperative can be read in different ways, however. Firstly, and most obviously, it addresses individuals who are required by organizations to bring in their whole creative potential and to continuously self-market not just their competencies but their person as a whole. Secondly, it is also an imperative for organizations that seek to attract and bind creative knowledge workers. These organizations need to reassemble themselves by developing and employing 'new' and creative forms of work organizations in order to become attractive employers. Thirdly, it refers to new and developing interorganizational forms of organizing work in an industry or employment system. This can comprise atypical (or even creative) forms of contracting, transorganizational career patterns or project heterarchies.

It is the aim of this sub-theme to investigate emerging ways of how work is organized under the creativity imperative in knowledge-intensive sectors of the economy. We invite conceptual and empirical contributions from a wide range of social science disciplines that seek to critically explore this topic.

The following questions are of interest for the sub-theme, but the list is not exhaustive:

  • How has creativity as a normative concept (or new regime) developed and how is it imposed on workers by organizations? What are the ideological assumptions behind the creativity imperative?
  • What are the role models for creative employees (e.g. creative or enterprising selves, culturepreneurs, artists) and how powerful are these role models in shaping actual behaviour in organizations?
  • How do (creative) knowledge workers make use of organizations to develop and maintain their creativity?
  • What kinds of practices do organizations develop to enhance (and at the same time restrict or channel and control) creativity? How do they explore and exploit creative potentials of workers?
  • What new and creative (?) forms of work arrangements and employment contracts emerge in knowledge-intensive industries? What is their impact on individuals, organizations and society?
  • In which ways and to what extent do organizations try to develop to bind creative workers who often are job nomads or 'vagabonds' oriented towards interorganizational networks or professional communities? What makes workplaces 'cool' and attractive for this group of workers? Is it as simple as fun, party and games vs. boredom, routines and bureaucracy?
  • What kinds of lifestyles (patterns of perception, taste, thinking and behaviour) do creative workers develop? Is there such thing as a creative class of knowledge workers (in itself or for itself)?
  • What forms of resistance against norms of creativity can we observe?

We are very much looking forward to receiving your contribution!



Boltanski, L. & Chiapello, E. (2005): "The new spirit of capitalism." International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, 18 (3-4), 161-188.

Axel Haunschild 
Peter Fleming 
Christina Garsten