On the Creative Class

James Hannaham has written an amusing short review of Richard Florida’s latest entry in the Creative Class Franchise he launched back in 2002 with his Rise of the Creative Class, a book that at least made a gesture, however weak, toward sociological rigor. His latest salvo in this assault of shallow lifestyle sociology is called Who’s Your City, a kind of guide to help creative class types pick which city to live in.

The funniest quote in the review:

If our conventional impressions of urbanites and their cities are correct, one might ask, why read about that for 300-odd pages? A trained rat could match American cities with their respective creative industries. With his research, Florida simply reassures his readers that their presumptions — that New York is the center of the U.S. financial, fashion and publishing industries, for example, and “Nor-Cal” the center of the high-tech industry — are absolutely correct. It’s almost as good a scam as when Malcolm Gladwell reassures people that snap judgments are good judgments, or when James Surowiecki tells the masses how smart they are (even more so if they buy his book).

One should not be too hard on Florida, I suppose. Understood properly, his writing is merely the latest attempt by lifestyle journalists/academics to tap into the emerging market for pop analysis of everyday phenomena that flatter their readers as creative geniuses, make a big show of revealing counterintuitive canned insights that collapse upon even mild scrutiny, provide spicy anecdotes and clever turns of phrase perfectly suited for repetition at cocktail parties (thus ensuring they reproduce, meme-like…), and garner their authors interviews on NPR and lucrative book deals.

Gladwell is perhaps the most powerful and ingenious proponent of this genre of cultural and social analysis. He’s good at this sort of writing, and I think he deserves the success he has received, so long as he’s understood for what he is: a talented entertainer. Florida, whom I discuss a bit in the trendspotter chapter of my dissertation, is more problematic because he takes his own ideas too seriously. I could write extensively about what’s wrong with his project, but in my view its greatest flaw is its effort to imagine that in the age of the so-called creative class, the very category of class has transformed itself, somehow, from one’s position relative to the economic and political levers of power–a structural argument–to the description of where one stands within a matrix of lifestyles. I’ve been thinking, for several years now, of trying to write an article about this ideological position, pulling in other people like McKenzie Wark. Until dissertation-writing lets up, a blog posting will have to do.