Place, Space and Work in the Creative Economy

Dr Dan Ashton (Associate Professor of Cultural and Creative Industries, WSA) and Dr Roberta Comunian (Reader in Creative Economy, King’s College London) have published their research on creative hubs in the edited collection, Creative Hubs in Question: Place, Space and Work in the Creative Economy (eds. Ros Gill, Andy C. Pratt, Tarek Virani). This volume is part of the Dynamics of Virtual Work series.

Their chapter, titled ‘Universities as Creative Hubs’ develops a framework to understand the modes and practices of engagement with creative hubs by UK higher education institutions. The chapter then goes on highlight some of the tensions and areas for further debate including: relationships with existing research and teaching agendas, the extent to which university hubs connect with existing forms of creative (hub) activity, and issues of inclusivity and accessibility.

This international volume includes chapters exploring hubs in Europe, South America, and Africa, and is part of the “Dynamics of Virtual Work’ series.

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creative media research

Seth has an article in the launch issue of the International Journal of Creative Media Research. ‘Configuring the 15 second dancers: distributed creativity in design for postdigital media’ tracks the human and nonhuman mobilisation of creativity in the design and testing of an experimental smartphone game app, and the ‘configuration’ of its players.

He is a member of the journal’s editorial board and spoke at the launch event at Bath Spa University on 26th March. The journal is open access and aims to push forward approaches to and possibilities for publishing creative media-based research.

toying with the singularity

Seth has a chapter in the newly published book The Internet of Toys: practices, affordances and the political economy of children’s smart play, edited by Giovanna Mascheroni and Donell Holloway (Palgrave 2019).

Titled ‘Toying with the singularity: AI, automata and imagination in play with robots and virtual pets’, the chapter explores the various and layered ways in which imagination and imaginative processes intersect with the development, promotion and everyday reception of play with new playful digital technologies. It takes the author’s research on the prototyping of a robotic gaming platform as a central case study.

The book is a ‘thought-provoking volume’ (Sonia Livingstone), and ‘a landmark collection’ (Nick Couldry).

Does it come with a spear?

Megen de Bruin-Molé’s article ‘”Does it come with a spear?” Commodity activism, plastic representation, and transmedia story strategies in Disney’s Star Wars: Forces of Destiny’ has been published in a special issue of Film Criticism 42(2) 2018, on Film and Merchandise. It is available here.

Addressing the tensions between Disney’s presentation of its girl-focused Forces of Destiny Star Wars series on YouTube and its reception by fans and consumers, Megen focuses on the design and marketing of the show’s doll line, tracing its ‘plastic representation’ within the broader contexts of Star Wars transmedia, commodity activism, and paratextual erasure.

state of play

Seth Giddings’s chapter ‘The state of play: the work of Iona Opie in the postdigital era’ opens a recently published book. Edited by Julia Bishop and June Factor, The Lifework and Legacy of Iona and Peter Opie: research into children’s play (Routledge 2018), is based on a special issue of The International Journal of Play in 2014. There is an extended version of the chapter here.

Iona and Peter Opie were twentieth-century pioneers. Their research and writing focused on the folklore of British children – their games, rhymes, riddles, secret languages and every variety of the traditions and inventions of the children’s collective physical and verbal play. Such closely observed, respectful, good-humoured and historically attuned writing about the traditions of childhood was a revelation to English-language readers around the world. Their numerous books were a rare phenomenon: they attracted a popular readership far beyond the professional and academic communities. For those who work with children, their collaborative research was a powerful influence in confirming the immense capacities of the young for cooperation, conservation, invention and imagination. Their books challenged – then and now – the bleak and limited view of children which focuses on their smallness, ignorance and powerlessness.

Star Wars Roundtable on

Last month the newest member of the Transforming Creativity research group, Dr Megen de Bruin-Molé, participated in an online roundtable discussion of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) on ‘Confessions of an Aca-Fan’ (the official weblog of Professor Henry Jenkins). Other participants included Dr William Proctor (who convened the roundtable), Dr Rebecca Harrison, Dr Suzanne Scott, Dr Mar Guerrero-Pico, and Professor Will Brooker. The first instalment can be found here.

Professor Jenkins introduced the roundtable as follows:

Over the weekend, Warwick Davis, noted for his performances in various Lucas-directed films, weighed in on current controversies around The Last Jedi: “It’s a piece of entertainment, it’s not about making political statements. It’s just there for people to enjoy. You go in there and are supposed to lose yourself in the world the director has created. Star Wars has always been a great example of that – it’s pure escapism and you can forget the 21st century for a couple of hours. That was George Lucas’s philosophy with Star Wars – to make a fun adventure.” This is characteristic of a Hollywood move which seeks to distance itself from politics and thus absolve itself from critical discussion: “Get a life! It’s only a television series.” The reality is that Star Wars has always been about politics — if nothing else, Lucas’s choice to base the stormtroopers on, well, stormtroopers or to tap the aesthetics of Triumph of the Will for the final moments of A New Hope means that he was tapping certain political narratives to give the story much of its punch.

So, the question is not whether one group or another is “politicizing” Star Wars but whether what kind of politics seems “natural” within the context of a Hollywood blockbuster franchise and whose politics seems intrusive, whose politics gets read as, well, “political.” The discussions around The Last Jedi allow us to take certain soundings about where our culture is at in terms of embracing an ethos of diversity and inclusion, in terms of rethinking old genre formulas to encompass people whose stories have not been told in that term before.

This is an important part of the story of The Last Jedi‘s reception, but it is ONLY one part of the story. There are also questions about how we define notions of quality in a transmedia era — and what notions of quality are appropriate when factoring in somewhat different and still emerging narrative expectations, ie. what information needs to be contained in the film, what we may legitimately access from other sources, what expectations we have about closure or plot development as the unified Hero’s Journey narrative which Star Wars helped to popularize in Hollywood gives way to what Jeff Gomez has called “the collective journey” structure.

And there are also issues around how fandom gets represented in the media, how we break through what is often a monolithic conception of Star Wars fans in the hand of journalists, and how we deal with a legacy of gender politics which still breaks fandom down into male and female binaries despite efforts towards greater fluidity.


The resulting exchange is lively and thoughtful. I don’t necessarily agree with every perspective represented — I am personally pretty enthusiastic about The Last Jedi (not necessarily as the best of all possible Star War Movies but as a step forward for the franchise) — but I have learned something from all of the participants here.

There are moments of tension in the discussion, but the participants are able to work through their disagreements with some degree of mutual respect and with some openness to each other’s arguments. You will get four installments of this discussion. And the discussion will continue further as, coming soon, we launch a new podcast, How Do You Like It So Far?, which I am developing with Colin MacClay from the Annenberg Innovation Lab and which will take up The Last Jedi as our first extended case study. Watch for more soon.

Read more here.

At work in the toybox…

‘At work in the toybox: bedrooms, playgrounds, and ideas of play in creative cultural work’, an article by Dan Ashton and Seth Giddings, is online now in the International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. An authors’ approved version can be found here.

Key companies and commentators on the new economy have identified play as a crucial aspect of entrepreneurship and commercial innovation. We will argue that play and place are inseparable in these discourses: from places such as Google’s HQ – the Googleplex, with its ball pits and slides – to schemes and practices such as Lego Serious Play, children’s play and sites of play are taken as the model for, and wellspring of, imagination and creativity, modes and spaces of thinking and experimentation that can invigorate and innovate the adult worlds of cultural and technological production. Taking as case studies Google’s reimagining of cultural practices of play, and LEGO Serious Play’s deployment of playful experimentation for corporate / therapeutic ends, this paper argues that to understand the possibilities of playful working places, it is necessary to question the generally uncritical assumptions about the character and potential of play itself that underpin these initiatives.