Have you ever heard of Pascal Gielen? I hadn’t before I was given one of his short books, Creativity and other Fundamentalisms.
It’s as dense as the title suggests, but I stuck with it and found a few decent gems of wisdom. Essentially Pascal Gielen argues that society has developed an unhealthy fetish for individual entrepreneurship, which in his view encapsulates the way that work has become more ‘nomadic’ and ‘rootless’. Increasing numbers of us, Gielen agues, have been set adrift on our own rubber dinghies, while the cruise ships of the welfare state lie idle, and the yachts of the super wealthy glide by (his metaphor, not mine). Worse, we’re all complicit in this neoliberal agenda, having been convinced to sacrifice our rights in the futile pursuit of self-realisation – something Gielen calls ‘self-precarisation’.
So, not exactly light-hearted. But still worth a read if you’re interested in thought-provoking commentary on the future of work, education and business.
Here are a few of those gems I mentioned:
On professionalisation and the development of generic skills:
We should not be fooled by these loud calls for professionalisation…. The aim of all this is to deliver ‘broadly employable’ or ‘polyavent’ students, multi-purpose individuals who follow just one important imperative: that of adaptation or – indeed – anticipation… The point is by ‘tuning into’ the market, schools lose all performativity (and authority) to make their own mark and therefore no longer provide a spine to those who wish to stand up straight and undertake some daring act.
On the fluidity of the modern world and the deterioration of welfare:
Whereas collective institutions – the welfare state prominent among them – used to guarantee the stability of the cruise ship on the open ocean, today our living environment is made up mainly of rubber rings floating about with the occasional small lifeboat and a limited number of luxury yachts thrown in… With no clear idea of the future, creative individuals are bouncing from one wave to the other and have no choice but to practice freestyle swimming.
On new values and ways of interacting with others:
A view of society that is based on enterprising individuals, organisations and cities or regions on a flat level stresses certain qualities or values, such as individual freedom and self-reliance… The enterprising individual has little use for solidarity, for one thing… Individuals and organisations that are permanently open to change and to constantly new connections and constantly new artistic movements and creative trends have problems with building durable relationships.
On the lure of novelty and superficial creativity:
As each project has to bring about a clear and preferably remarkable creative distinction in the relatively short term, there is often little space for self-reflection or for research and development. This ultimately undermines the sustainability of the creative production itself. Creativity often stops with superficial creation, mere differentiation with neither depth nor height. In the wet, flat network world, creative individuals swim hastily and blindly from one project to the next.
On self-precarisation, and how we have bought into the neoliberal vision:
Creative capitalism of course tells its protagonists that they are, or at least should be, in control of their own lives and working conditions. It is their moral obligation. In exchange for this opportunity for self-regulation, the creative individual is prepared to offer his virtuosity cheaply, and sometimes even for free. The desire for autonomy, fuelled by the neoliberal appeal for realism and ‘personal responsibility’, eventually leads to ‘self-precarisation’. Creative entrepreneurs take risks and neglect institutional securities.
And finally, on the popularity of project work:
Projects have a special economic value because their temporariness allows them to always succeed in bringing together a lot of energy, manpower and working hours. Those who collaborate on a project tend to give it everything they’ve got… Precisely because they know it will end someday, they are willing to sacrifice private time, perhaps pull an all-nighter, or at least work long hours…. But those who go from project to project will learn that this way of working feeds on intellectual and physical stamina and in the long run leads to exhaustion. The project squeezes you out.
There’s plenty more of that in Gielen’s book, so have a gander if you can.
Anyway, back to that project on self-employment I’ve been working on…