Creativity as a Social Relation?

Abstract (in English): 

Social science in general and anthropology in particular has long attended to core concerns with the structure and form of societies, and with the constant interplay of individual and collective elements. These concerns are obvious: how we understand the emergence and form of human worlds necessitates an approach to creative agency alongside the conditions under which that agency is exercised. As Marx famously wrote in 1852, ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please’. But recent scholarship in the field of anthropology has taken theorising beyond the familiar impasses of structure and agency through an emphasis on practice (e.g. Bourdieu 1977) and on to the embodied and improvisational nature of knowledge and social action (e.g. Ingold 2000, Hallam & Ingold 2007). Creativity is central here. But creativity conceived not as individual genius (an approach that generates questions about how the individual and the collective collide; one clearly linked to other assumptions Westerners make about the bounded-ness of individual minds, and the proprietary nature of the self), but creativity as an emergent (and necessary) aspect of social relations.

As anthropological study is based in a deep engagement with the potentialities and differences between human life-worlds (e.g. Descola 1994, 2005; Vivieros de Castro 2009, 2010), much of the best anthropological work has taken as its inspiration (and guiding its methodology) ideas and concepts generated in the ethnographic encounter with other traditions, traditions where those concepts of individual boundedness and self-propriety do not dominate. At present this approach is well represented by the work of Marilyn Strathern, whose reformulation of the problems of western epistemology in dialogue with the detailed practices and understandings of people in Melanesia has shown the possibilities not only for understanding other ontological systems, but for this understanding to illuminate core theoretical assumptions and approaches within western society, and in anthropology itself (e.g. Strathern 1988, 2005 etc.). So alongside the recent turn in theorisation, a long standing tradition of questioning assumptions that lie behind our theories is adding to the need to re-think creativity as more than the work of exceptional individual minds.

What this anthropology has made possible is the formulation of conceptual approaches that move us outside and beyond the recurrent divisions between persons and objects, individuals and society, creative genius and slavish replicators.

(Source: Author's introduction)

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Elisabeth Nesheim