“Creativity” is an exemplary case of what Bonnie Urciuoli termed a “strategically deployable shifter”: that is, an indexical term mobilized by diverse actors toward divergent ends. Across communities of production and practice, creativity can circulate with wildly different (often competing) meanings. Creativity has been explored as a human good necessary for flourishing in modern life through notions of holistic wellness, spiritualized aesthetics, and cultural hybridity. The term has also acquired singular value in the production of commodities, functioned as a neoliberal imperative, and as a more general gloss for innovation, subaltern frugality and precarity. Despite or perhaps because of this semantic excess “creativity” is celebrated and presumed to be invaluable in a range of contexts. In turn, it is worth exploring why and how the term creativity has acquired such ideological density, channeled by semiotic and material cultural means and situated in everyday routines. Towards this end, this panel features five anthropological case studies in which “creativity” is the focus of (meta)cultural labor and poses a series of comparative questions. How does the meaning and valuation of creativity shift across communities of practice? In what ways is creativity incorporated into broader social projects? And, ultimately, toward what practical and ideological ends is ‘creativity’ being strategically deployed at this moment in history?
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AAA Annual Meeting 2021
18 November 2021