[ISEA2011] Panel: James Leach – Can We Help Being Cre­ative?

Panel Statement

Panel: Creativity as a Social Ontology

Peo­ple on the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the fer­til­ity and re­pro­duc­tion of land and peo­ple. Through gar­den­ing, hunt­ing, cer­e­mony and ini­ti­a­tion, they are con­tin­u­ally ‘cre­at­ing’: both peo­ple/places, and the con­di­tions for the emer­gence of these things as recog­nis­ably human. En­gag­ing in the con­tin­ual cre­ation of the human world is not op­tional for them but in­trin­sic to what it means to be a human being. Cre­ativ­ity is nec­es­sar­ily dis­trib­uted in such cir­cum­stances, power over cre­ation or de­struc­tion os­cil­lates, but to be a per­son means par­tic­i­pa­tion. As such, the emer­gence of per­sons or things, as ob­jects of con­tem­pla­tion, or ex­change, or value and beauty, are achieved mo­men­tar­ily as el­e­ments of the wider process of which they are part and through which they have mean­ing.  By briefly re­flect­ing on this ex­am­ple (of a peo­ple still lo­cated out­side the reach of dig­i­tal cul­ture and his­tor­i­cally un­con­nected with the con­di­tions under which elec­tron­i­cally me­di­ated col­lab­o­ra­tion takes place) I wish to high­light ques­tions about what we mean by ‘cre­ativ­ity’ in the realm of elec­tronic lit­er­a­ture and net­worked art (for ex­am­ple). In a cul­ture where every ac­tion is a part of mak­ing the self, one with a very dif­fer­ent his­tory and tech­nol­ogy from Reite, what is the an­a­lytic im­port of sin­gling out dig­i­tal arts prac­ti­tion­ers from oth­ers as an ex­am­ple of a so­cial on­tol­ogy of cre­ative prac­tice? What (or who) is being made? What are ef­forts and ac­tions di­rected through such chan­nels mak­ing? If we ac­cept (the premise of the panel rubric) that no ac­tion is out­side cre­ative process, then what kind of world is cre­ated by dig­i­tal arts prac­tices? Why do we use the lan­guage of cre­ativ­ity and of com­mu­nity here? Is it the recog­ni­tion of cre­ativ­ity as such that makes such prac­ti­tion­ers into a ‘com­mu­nity’?

  • James Leach stud­ied So­cial An­thro­pol­ogy at Man­ches­ter Uni­ver­sity, UK (B.Soc.Sci 1992, PhD 1997). He is Pro­fes­sor of An­thro­pol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Ab­erdeen in Scot­land. His in­ter­ests are in cre­ativ­ity, knowl­edge pro­duc­tion, and own­er­ship; in art, sci­ence and col­lab­o­ra­tion; and in the de­vel­op­ment of new tech­nolo­gies and their im­pli­ca­tions for so­cial form. His pub­lished works have fo­cused on kin­ship and cre­ativ­ity, place/land­scape and art in Papua New Guinea, on cre­ativ­ity and the per­son, in­tel­lec­tual and cul­tural prop­erty, knowl­edge pro­duc­tion and ex­change in cross-cul­tural and cross-dis­ci­pli­nary con­texts, gen­der and free soft­ware, and on the re­la­tion of law (specif­i­cally in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty law) to artis­tic and col­lab­o­ra­tive prac­tice.