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Fifth International Conference in Cultural Policy Research,

Yeditepe University, Istanbul

20-24 August 2008


The Creative Class Thesis and Cultural Policy
Jim McGuigan,
Loughborough University, UK

The work of Richard Florida has proven extremely influential in cultural policy circles in
recent years. His arguments concerning the rise of the creative class and the
concentration of technology, talent and tolerance in successful cities are grounded in
certain theoretical assumptions and supported by specific kinds of evidence that should
be submitted to critical interrogation in order to test their robustness.
The paper addresses the following questions:
What are the theoretical assumptions underpinning Floridas arguments?
Is the evidence upon which these arguments are substantiated sound?
What are the implications of Floridas thesis for cultural policy?
The paper presents a critical reading of two of Floridas key texts: The Rise of the
Creative Class and Cities and the Creative Class. It also comments on the impact of
Floridas work around the world and focuses upon a particularly significant policy
document in Britain, the Work Foundations Staying Ahead The Economic
Performance of the UKs Creative Industries.
It is necessary to trace the intellectual framework of post-industrial thinking about
contemporary capitalism, the incorporation of bohemianism into business and
aspirations for urban regeneration and competitive advantage in a global economy with
local and regional peculiarities in order to evaluate the Florida thing. These and other
issues are treated extensively in my forthcoming book, Cool Capitalism. The paper
reflects upon the synthesis of cultural policy with economic policy and considers whether
or not this is the best way forward for the politics of art and culture in the twenty-first
cool capitalism, creative class, creative economy, neoliberalism


Doing a Florida Thing

A few years ago, on a lecture tour of Australia and New Zealand, whilst at Canberra, I
received an e.mail from a colleague who was organising a couple of lectures for me in
Wellington, New Zealand. He told me that the city of Wellington was doing a Florida
thing. At first, I misunderstood his meaning. I thought by Florida he was referring to a
state in the South Eastern United States and, straight away, I wondered what Wellington
might have in common with Miami and what exactly it was that the capital of New
Zealand might be learning from the capital of Florida. Immediately it occurred to me that
there was something distinctly Floridian lacking in Wellington, to whit, Hispanic
gangsters. Perhaps they needed to bring in a few such folk in order to liven up the place
and recruit some coppers from the Miami Vice department too. Of course, I was soon
disabused of my error. Shortly afterwards, I spoke at a seminar in Wellington that was
chaired by the mayor. Apparently, Richard Florida, the American management theorist,
had been there some time earlier doing something similar to myself but, as it transpired,
with greater impact than my miserable discourse. They were following his precepts for
urban development. I realised that I needed to read Florida seriously in order to grasp
the appeal of his magical advice, which was not about attracting Hispanic gangsters
after all but, instead, about capitalising on the rise of the creative class.
On reading his work, I realised that Richard Floridas thesis was less impressive than it
might appear at first sight to readers without an academic background in the social
sciences. It was evident that Floridas discourse is characterised by a typically
managerialist rhetoric that over-simplifies and, to an extent, bowdlerises social-scientific
reasoning and research. To demystify his work, it is necessary, then, to interrogate
Floridas pronouncements with regard to their theoretical assumptions, empirical
evidence and implications for cultural policy.
The Creative Class
Floridas (2003 [2002]) main thesis stated in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class
is a familiar iteration of a longstanding tradition of new class theorising, going back at
least to Milovan Djilas (1966 [1957]) in the 1950s. Class formations are complex and
they change over time, particularly due to shifting occupational structures and the
habitus of different socio-economic groups. Florida discerns the emergence of a
specifically middle-class formation, reminiscent of Pierre Bourdieus (1984 [1979]) new
petite bourgeoisie. Bourdieus new petite bourgeoisie were famously characterised by
him as consisting of all the occupations involving presentation and representation
(1984, p. 359) They include the cultural intermediaries of advertising, journalism,
marketing, public relations and the modern or rather, postmodern - media and culture
generally. Their numbers have increased dramatically since the Second World War and
these people are, in Bourdieus terms, engaged in a struggle for distinction. Their
strategy tends to blur the boundaries between and diminish the hierarchical structure of,
on the one hand, the arts and high culture, and on the other hand, commerce and masspopular culture.
What we find, however, is that Floridas creative class is a much broader formation
than Bourdieus new petite bourgeoise, making up an astonishingly high proportion of
the population in the USA for, after all, it is with the USA that he is principally
concerned despite his influence on the rest of the world. Florida (2003, p. 74) makes the
startling claim that the Creative Class constitutes 38.3 million Americans and 30% of the
US workforce. Yet, it transpires that this claim is not quite so startling as it appears at
first sight because the Creative Class is divided into two segments: the Super Creative
Class and Creative Professionals. The Super Creatives, in fact, are made up of 15% of

Doing a Florida Thing

Americans and only 10% of the US workforce. Super Creatives range from artists and
educators through somewhat less obviously super creative in an artistic sense librarians, scientists, engineers and computer and mathematical occupations (Florida,
2003, p. 328). So, even the 10% calculation might be considered a little exaggerated.
The rest the Creative Professionals include lawyers, managers, technicians and
what Florida calls high-end sales personnel.
So, the Creative Class, then, is largely what would otherwise be called routinely the
professional-managerial class, which also includes artistic occupations. Florida (2003, p.
68) says that the distinguishing characteristic of the Creative Class is that its members
engage in work whose function is to create meaningful new forms. It is reasonable to
ask, exactly how many of those formally listed in the category of Creative Class would
this actually apply to?
The American Working Class consists of 33 million workers, according to Florida,
whereas there are 55.2 million Service Class workers, 43% of the workforce, which is a
much more meaningful indication of post-industrialism than a dubiously calculated
Creative Class. And, as Florida (2003, p. 74) says, the Service Class includes workers
in low-wage, low-autonomy service occupations such as health care, food preparation,
personal care, clerical work and other low-end office work.
What is the social character of this putatively new Creative Class (which is not quite so
prominent, we learn on close inspection, as we might initially have supposed)? In
depicting their habitus, Florida follows David Brookss typification of the bobo the
bourgeois bohemian and calls it the Big Morph whereby there is a new resolution of
the centuries-old tension between two value systems: the Protestant work ethic and the
bohemian ethic (Florida, 2003, p. 192). Brooks provided a superstructural description of
how the differences between business people and bohemian rebels have dissolved so
that each side of the divide co-opts the other sides modus operandi and only noted in
passing that this represented a cultural consequence of the information age (Brooks,
2000, p. 10). Florida went further in supplying a deeper, infrastructural account of the
socio-economic foundation of the bobo lifestyle. These people, he says, are on a
passionate quest for experience (Florida, 2003, p. 166) but they are not against working
hard and making money. Their creative energy, apparently, is the driving force of wealth
creation. Florida disputes Robert Putnams (2000) concern with social capital. Creative
people are individualistic and expressive. They like cool scenes in which to hang out
and where they can interact with other similarly go-getting bobos without having to go
the whole hog by actually reinventing the intimate communal ties of a pass small-town
The Creative City
This characterisation of the Creative Class is at the crux of Floridas arguments
concerning the success of certain kinds of city, which is where a fascination with his
work among cultural-policy professionals comes into the picture. Place, it seems,
matters in spite of the speed and convenience of remote communications across vast
tracts of space that are facilitated by the Internet in a global world. It is on this basis that
his work can be connected to a cultural-policy discourse of culture-led urban
regeneration, though, when looked at closely, the good sense of that connection tends to
diminish in plausibility.
Florida, it should be noted, is not so much concerned with cultural development as with
economic development. According to Florida, economic growth derives from a felicitous
combination of three factors, the three Ts: Technology, Talent and Tolerance (Florida,
2005, p. 6). As post-industrial/information-society theorists all argue, high-tech is at the

Doing a Florida Thing

heart of post-industrial prosperity (Webster, 2007). This tends to be closely correlated,

according to the creative class thesis, with the attraction of talented people to particular
places, Silicon Valley in California being an obvious example. For Florida, talent is
defined simply by the possession of a bachelors degree, which is a rather crude
calculator of talent, to say the least, in the era of massified higher education.
Tolerance is also crucial to economic success in his scheme of things, though it is not
quite clear why; and it tends to be found in cities like New York and Seattle. These are
places that welcome diverse groups of people in terms of ethnic mix and lifestyle
preferences. Especially notable in this respect is that they are Gay-friendly places.
Florida produces indexes that demonstrate the concentration of Technology, Talent
and Tolerance in particular city locations. For instance, he has, to quote him, a
Bohemian Index a measure of the concentration of working artists, musicians, and the
like in given areas (Florida, 2005, p. 19). To illustrate the point, he says, Seattle, New
York and Los Angeles top the list with more than 9 bohemians per thousand people
(2005, p. 122). Moreover, Florida even has what he calls a Coolness Index that
correlates with all the other factors that make for successful places: high-human capital
individuals, particularly young ones, are drawn to places with vibrant music scenes,
street-level culture, active nightlife, and other sources of coolness (2005, p. 101). In
sum, then, making a not entirely logical connection from this kind of data, ideas and
intellectual capital have replaced natural resources and mechanical innovation as the
raw material of economic growth [in] the age of creative capital (2005, p.144).
It is important to emphasise that Florida is not really motivated at all by the usual
concerns of cultural policy such as the preservation of heritage, wider social access to
cultural resources, opportunities for cultural production and the like as with accounting
for why some places are economically successful in an era of de-industrialisation in what
were hitherto the leading centres of industrial production in the sense of making things,
especially in the United States. And, he finds that certain kinds of lifestyle culture what
I have elsewhere called the culture of cool capitalism (McGuigan, forthcoming 2009)
contribute to economic success by attracting the agents of post-industrial wealth creation
to particular places. Floridas thinking, it is worth noting in passing, also resonates with
Jeremy Rifkins (2000) notion of cultural capitalism, a term that was recently adopted
favourably by Microsofts Bill Gates in his speech at the 2008 World Economic Forum.
The Creative Economy
Floridas ideas are not so much an original contribution to cultural policy as consistent
with certain questionable assumptions and conventional wisdoms on economic policy
that come together around a notion of the creative economy. Take New Labour Britain,
for example, where the government has enshrined this notion of creative economy as a
key plank of economic policy. Since this seems to enhance the role of cultural policy in
governmental strategy, it has been seized upon enthusiastically as the leading
justification wealth creation - for subsidising culture. Thus, cultural policy discourse
has, in effect, been infected by economistic reasoning and, indeed, turns into a branch
and a weak branch at that of economic policy.
Key here, of course, is the notion of creative industries, a term which seems first to
have been used to widespread attention around the world in a British Department for
Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) document of 1998, Creative Industries - Mapping
Document. The very notion of creative industries used by that document covered an
expansive range of practices, from advertising to software in general, not just practices
like the arts, film and television. It was estimated in 1998 that the creative industries
contributed 60 billion a year to the British economy and employed something in the

Doing a Florida Thing

region of one-and-a-half million people. Prophetically, the document claimed that The
value of the creative industries to the UK domestic product is greater than the
contribution of any of the UKs manufacturing industry (Creative Industries Task Force,
1998, p. 8), though it did not cite comparative figures for either armaments or
pharmaceuticals. This was an extraordinary declaration for the historical workshop of
the world and was part of a short-live rhetoric of Cool Britannia during New Labours
first term of office.
A couple of years later, the mapping document was revised and updated. The original
definition of creative industries was retained those industries which have their origin in
individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job
creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property whilst also
adding the close economic relationships with sectors such as tourism, hospitality,
museums and galleries, heritage and sport (Ministerial Creative Industries Mapping
Group, 2001, p. 00.05)
Recently, the DCMS commissioned the Work Foundation to further develop the
governments Creative Economy Programme. The Work Foundation report, Staying
Ahead, which was published in 2007, cites Richard Florida as an inspiration. His
imprimatur was hardly necessary, however, since the reduction of culture to economics
is such a deeply-rooted feature of hegemonic neoliberalism today.
The Work Foundation report observed that the UK or what Raymond Williams (1983)
was apt to call Yookay PLC in his more facetious moments several years ago has the
largest creative industries sector in the European Union (EU) and is arguably the largest
proportionately in relation to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the whole wide world;
second only to the USA in range yet much smaller in size (and hegemonic reach), of
course. The creative industries are calculated to account for 7.3% of gross value added
(GVA), twice that of the tourist industrys contribution to the British economy and 2.7%
of total employment, though the percentage is higher if jobs linked but not directly
involved in creative work are included, giving a grand yet vaguely computed total of 1.8
million. In actual fact, such figures are not anything like so impressive as the report
makes out. Never the less, it might be argued, the calculated growth rate of 14.9% in the
late 1990s, led especially by software development, gives rather more convincing
support to the claim that the creative industries are at the cutting edge of the economy
as a whole. Still, a certain measure of scepticism is called for, especially considering that
the largest industrial sectors in Britain include armaments, finance and pharmaceuticals,
making up a much larger part of the economy than the creative industries; and of which
none are noticeably in decline.
In addition to establishing the quantifiable facts, the Work Foundation report is devoted
to identifying what it calls the drivers of the creative economy such as stimulating
demand and providing education and skills and what the government can do to oil
these drivers. According to the report, Creativity and innovation are overlapping
concepts ((Work Foundation, 2007, p. 6). Also, the creative industries are integral to a
paradigm shift towards the knowledge economy and the development of a new class
of consumers (p. 117). Typical of the Work Foundations rhetoric is the following claim:
Creative origination is sparked by challenges to existing routines, lifestyles, protocols
and ways of doing things and where societies want to experiment with the new (p. 18).
Furthermore, expressive value is said to be the fundamental source of value in the
world. The purpose of cultural industries - and, more broadly, creative industries is to
commercialise expressive value; hence the importance of exploiting intellectual property
rights in order to grow the business of a country: The business model of the creative
industries depends significantly on their capacity to copyright expressive value (p 23).

Doing a Florida Thing

Staying Ahead addresses the thorny problem of definition and explains why it is
necessary to expand the definition of cultural industries into the all-encompassing idea of
creative industries in spite of the fact that advertising and art are not necessarily the
same kind of thing. A diagram to illustrate what is at stake is helpfully provided.

(p. 103)
At the centre or core of the diagram, copyrightable expressive value, the object of
cultural industries, is illustrated with a list of typical examples, including quite
reasonably, no doubt, video games. Circling further out are the creative industries,
including design and software other than video games, that is, rather more functional
entities; and constituting an important bridge to the wider economy (p. 106). This circle
represents the mediation between cultural industries and the rest of the economy,
illustrated by the emotional ergonomics of the Apple iPod and Dysons vacuum cleaner
or the retailment of service, eg Virgin Atlantic and BA. Quite apart from the
questionable choice of examples and infelicitous use of language, as the modeling of an
economy, it is rather hard to take such an implausible scheme seriously.
Are the creative industries not to mention the cultural industries being asked to do
too much here? There is a pervasive blurring of categories indeed, a category error going on and excessive fuzzy reasoning in the construction of this model. Another
currently fashionable example of such confusion is the argument that creativity in
artistic practice and business management are roughly the same kind of thing (Bilton,
2007). Moreover, in the creative economy, economy seems to be swallowing up
creativity whole rather like a Pac-Man on the loose. It is tempting to agree with Larry
Elliott and Dan Atkinsons (2007, p. 92) summary judgment on creative economy
rhetoric: Bullshit Britain reaches its apotheosis in the lionization of the cultural
The Fallacies of Economistic Cultural Policy
To reiterate, Floridas principal concerns are not to do with cultural policy as such but
instead are about the articulation of neoliberal economics with cool culture. This is also

Doing a Florida Thing

true of the Work Foundations 2007 report and the discourse of the creative economy
promoted by the British government in the mid 2000s. That chain of reasoning, which I
have traced here, is only apparently a matter of specifically cultural policy. In
consequence, I would argue, it is a fatal error on the part of agents of cultural policy in
Britain and elsewhere to align themselves uncritically with this discourse of the
creative economy, which I have sought to show is associated with the thesis of a
creative class and, by implication, a particular set of class interests.
Economistic cultural policy, then, is connected to a dubious set of political and, indeed,
sociological assumptions that can be questioned on many different grounds. The context
that has fertilised this set of assumptions is that of de-industrialisation in the formerly
industrial societies and a neoliberal regeneration strategy that is represented by an
ideological rhetoric that is variously named, post-industrialism, information society,
knowledge society and, fairly recently, cultural capitalism. Like all powerful ideological
forces, this complex of ideas is not entirely false. It relates to certain realities, most
notably the transfer of certain kinds of work from high-wage to low-wage economies and
the globalisation of economic process, informational and cultural exchange. Putting it
crudely, stuff is designed and marketed in what are still comparatively high-wage parts of
the world and made in low-wage parts of the world where the conditions of work are
appalling. It is all coordinated by fast communications. Uncritical acceptance of this state
of affairs anywhere is ethically questionable and more consequential - politically
It is quite reasonable that socially and culturally responsible people wherever they are
may be keen to ameliorate the situation for their own people with, say, vocational
training for the newer economic realities, strategies for reviving run-down places and
staking claims on resources for making life pleasurable and meaningful. Urban
regeneration strategies are typical manifestations of this reasonableness. And, it is not
unusual for culture to be latched onto as the panacea for a whole plethora of woes in
particular places. It is extremely doubtful, however, that culture can solve deep-seated
economic and political problems in places suffering from routine forms of creative
destruction. Unfortunately, this mistaken assumption has distracted exponents of cultural
policy from their principal concerns, which are probably best summed up as attempts to
offer something different and better for most people than the usual produce of cool
BILTON, C. (2007) Management and Creativity From Creative Industries to Creative
Management, Blackwell, Oxford.
BOURDIEU, P. (1984 [1979]) Distinction A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste,
Routledge, London.
BROOKS, D. (2000) Bobos in Paradise The New Upper Class and How They Got
There, Simon & Schuster, New York.
CREATIVE INDUSTRIES TASK FORCE (1998) Creative Industries Mapping
Document, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, London.
DJILAS, M. (1966 [1957]) The New Class An Analysis of the Communist System,
Unwyn, London.
ELLIOTT, L. & D. ATKINSON (2007), Fantasy Island Waking Up to the Incredible
Economic, Political and Social Illusions of the Blair Legacy, Constable, London.
FLORIDA, R. (2003 [2002]) The Rise of the Creative Class And How Its Transforming
Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, Pluto, Melbourne.
FLORIDA, R. (2005) Cities and the Creative Class, Routledge, London.
McGUIGAN, J. (2009 forthcoming) Cool Capitalsm, Pluto, London.

Doing a Florida Thing


Mapping Document, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, London.
PUTNAM, R. (2000) Bowling Alone The Collapse and Revival of American
Community, Simon & Schuster, New York.
RIFKIN, J. (2000) The Age of Access How the Shift from Ownershio to Access is
Transforming Capitalism, Penguin, London.
WEBSTER, F. (2007 3rd edn) Theories of the Information Society, Routledge, London.
WILLIAMS, R. (1983) Towards 2000, Chatto & Windus, London.
WORK FOUNDATION (2007) Staying Ahead The Economic Performance of the UKs
Creative Industries, Work Foundation/DCMS, London.

Jim McGuigan,
Professor of Cultural Analysis,
Department of Social Science,
Loughborough University,
Tel. +44 (0)1509 228357
Fax. +44 (0)1509 223944
E-mail j.t.mcguigan@lboro.ac.uk