Adam Arvidsson: Social innovation in Malmo


Adam Arvidsson:

“In modern society we were used to thinking of culture and its production as business of specialized institutions of groups. Indeed the progressive disappearance of spontaneous popular culture, and the concomitant institutionalization of mass culture, were understood to be to central tendencies within the modernization process.


Since the post-War years this development has been reversed, and there has been a continuous tendency towards renewed forms of autonomous cultural production, first with youth culture and the counter culture, then with participatory consumerism, fan culture and finally, through the socialization of networked ICTs, today’s generalized interactivity or Web 2.0.

To some extent this new cultural production constitutes a revival of older forms of traditional, popular culture. Largely however it emerges form a new situation, itself created by the massive reorganization of social relations that have resulted from the modernization process.

‘Spontaneous’, non-institutionalized culture today is the outcome of a dual technological and existential condition. From a technological point of view, the diffusion of networked ICTs has worked as a massive socialization of the means of cultural production, much like that imagined by Hans Magnus Enzenberger in the early 1970s. The multi-purpose, networked computer radically facilitates the production of culture, its distribution and, of equal importance, the organization of productive processes that can span over geographical distance. Existentially, the ‘post-modern condition’ where tradition and inherited identities count less than before force a growing number of people to themselves understand what their values are, know their motivations and aspirations, give meaning to their existence, in short to produce a meaningful, affective and ‘ethical’ context for life. When networked ICTs combined with these existential needs, they work to release an immense productive condition that is immanent in social life itself: the desire to overcome the alienation and solitude imposed by the modernization process and to come together and produce community: what Italian philosopher Paolo Virno has called ‘mass intellectuality’.

Sustainable Policies (after Florida)

Such mass intellectuality has been the focus of a number of theories and suggestions for urban development, from Charles Landry to Richard Florida. Mostly however these suggestions are not sustainable: they tend to use up the very creativity that they seek to build on, in transforming it into an ‘experientially rich’ consumer environment for the educated middle class.

In this project we want to develop a different more sustainable strategy for valorizing creativity. This presupposes a more advanced and multi-faceted definition of the value of this mass intellectuality. With ‘value’ we mean three different things. First, these practices can have what we call an ‘ethical value’, that is they can generate valuable forms of community and belonging that serve to anchor individuals into a social context and can function as a point of departure for political participation and awareness. Mass intellectuality can work as a driver for new kinds of democratization. Second, these processes can have direct economic value. As the distinction between cultural and material production keeps breaking down (BMWs most valuable resource is their brand), companies take an increasing interest in the immaterial productivity of everyday life. This is particularly true for the kinds of ‘cool’ or ‘creative’ productive processes that unfold in the urban environment. Can the mass intellectuality function as an economic resource for the city, and how can it , in that case be valorised? Finally, mass intellectuality has symbolic or ‘brand’ value. Too many cities try to brand themselves as ‘creative’. Mostly this is a matter for rather superficial forms of intervention. Are their ways in which the city of Malmö can make actually existing form of mass- intellectuality contribute to developing its brand and attraction? “

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