Multiple paths to an unknown destination


Entanglement © Belinda Allen

The antecedents for my thinking of how creativity fits into higher education begin with Dewey, and traverse Habermas, Bourdieu, Giroux, Kemmis and McLean. These theorists are not specifically concerned with creativity, but with critical pedagogy, cultural production, praxis, and the transformative nature of learning.

So how does this relate to creativity?

Of all the multiple perspectives on creativity there are two that seem robust and useful, and not coloured by social, political or ideological agendas. Firstly the concept of creativity as a disposition: more than a process or a product, it is a way of seeing, of being, and of acting in a particular way in a given situation that can be identified as ‘creative’ (eg Torrance, Amabile). Secondly the concept of creativity as systemic: dependent on a range of factors that are beyond the individual, such as the environment, colleagues, prior work in the field, and the opportunities for action, collaboration and recognition (eg Csikszentmihalyi, Simonton). But I do have a third perspective, one that is perhaps more ideologically coloured. The dimensions of creativity that relate to personal and social ‘good’ seem neglected in recent discourse that focuses on the economic benefits of developing a creative workforce (eg, Pink, McWilliam). Of course there may be related personal good (able to participate in creative and challenging work), and social good (creative industries develop services and products that improve enjoyment of life). But my aim is for a personal good that goes beyond a hedonistic pleasure in enhanced lifestyle, seeking to support personal growth and capacity for meaningful contribution, and a social good that raises collective awareness of social, political and environmental situations and brings creativity to designing solutions for (or ways of living with) urgent and wicked problems (eg, McLaren, Giroux).

This third perspective is one that in its emancipatory nature owes more to the field of critical pedagogy and transformative learning than to creativity studies. Since its origins in a Marxist approach to literacy education, critical pedagogy has been harnessed to a range of interests, such as feminism, counter-racism and environmentalism. Creativity has tended to be sidelined as a tangential interest, or critiqued as a product of white, middle-class liberal arts education. But I believe that the emancipatory potential of creativity as both a focus and a strategy for critical pedagogy is under-explored (Pope, 2005).

I am interested in:

the creative graduate – how do they act, what are the environmental factors that support or inhibit their creativity, and what agendas does their creativity service?

the creative teacher – how can teaching as a creative act promote and support the development of creativity in learners? How can development of creativity empower teachers to promote a social justice agenda?

the creative researcher – how can a critically creative/creatively critical  approach to research in learning and teaching support creative development of learners and teachers?

creative technologies – what is the role of technology in enabling creativity in learning, teaching and research?

The research question:

How can a critical approach to the development of creativity in higher education contribute to the promotion of personal and social good in learning, teaching and research?

A dog of my own …

At the Coorong

At the Coorong © Belinda Allen

Creativity – the more I read the bigger it gets. I began to think that maybe it would be better to avoid ‘creativity’ as a term altogether, as it seems to mean such different things to different people in different contexts. Now I find that Mark Runco, an eminent psychologist who specialises in creativity studies (he is editor of the Creativity Research Journal and E. Paul Torrance Chair at the Torrance Center, University of Georgia) has been there before me. In his recent review of the research, ‘Creativity’, he says that he too thought that ‘creativity’ was just too ambiguous to be useful. But then he realised that ambiguity is everywhere, not only in creativity studies, but in pretty much all research endeavour. Perhaps, he says, ambiguity is inherent in scientific work, and has advantages in widening the focus of attention or as a catalyst for other work?

In the history of research on creativity there have been a multiplicity of approaches and perspectives, and Runco does a great job of unpacking these. In the past there have been studies focusing on how intelligence and creativity are correlated, and whether creativity is just an aspect of intelligence. This reductionist approach diminishes our understandings of both – just as Gardner has suggested that there are multiple dimensions of intelligence, Runco seems to suggest (as does Sternberg) that there are multiple creativities …

Of course, one of the things I now need to do is to focus in and frame a ‘manageable’ research question. The proliferation of interesting tangents and subtopics that I come across in the literature is one of the problems – any one of these may turn out to be a really productive focus, but I can’t follow them all. Another problem is that just when I think I have pinned down an idea that is compelling, relevant and original, I find that others have been there before me. Like going at dawn to the pristine beach only to find it’s already covered in footprints. Conferences and journals are my beaches, and I find all sorts of people walking there with their dogs named ‘artography’, ‘critical creativity’, ‘creative pedagogy’ and such-like. I so want a dog of my own …

The ideas that have really been making me want to throw a stick relate to integration of creativity into practice at all levels:

  • Creativity as a graduate attribute (or disposition) across disciplines and professions.
  • Teaching as creative practice.
  • Research as creative practice.
  • Curriculum as a way to integrate all of these.

The authors who are really turning me on have such a holistic approach, and their work is framed in critical theory/critical pedagogy. I am enthused by both the personal development and social revolutionary aspects of this approach.

Reading to do: Giroux, McLaren, Pope, Higgs, Titchens et al …