This article discusses a particular strand in the history of creativity in the mid-twentieth century shaped by an instrumental, production-oriented understanding of the term. When the field of creativity research emerged in the United States after World War II, debates around creativity were driven not only by humanist intents of self-actualization but also by the aim of rendering individual creative potentials productive for both society and economy. Creativity was thus defined in terms of not mere novelty and originality but utility and productivity. There was a strong interest, too, in methods and techniques that promised to systematically enhance human creativity. In this context, the article looks at the formation of brainstorming, a group-based creativity method that came into fashion in the United States around 1950. It discusses how this method had been influenced by concepts of human productivity developed and applied during World War II and prior to it. Using the brainstorming method as a case in point, this article aims not only to shed light on the quite uncharted history of creativity in the mid-twentieth century, but also to stress the conducive role of allegedly trivial creativity methods in the rise of what sociologist Andreas Reckwitz has identified as the “creativity dispositif”: a seemingly playful, but indeed rigid, imperative in post-Fordist and neoliberal societies that demand the constant production of innovative outcomes under flexible, yet self-exploitative working conditions.
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Research Article| March 01 2020
Brainstorming Revisited: On Instrumental Creativity and Human Productivity in the Mid-Twentieth Century
Claudia Mareis is professor of design studies at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland in Basel and deputy director of the Cluster of Excellence “Matter of Activity” at Humboldt University of Berlin. She is the author of Design als Wissenskultur (Design as Epistemic Culture, 2011), Theorien des Designs zur Einführung (Introduction to Design Theory, 2014), and Systematisiertes Querdenken (Systematized Creativity, forthcoming).
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Cultural Politics (2020) 16 (1): 50–69.
Claudia Mareis, Burke Barrett; Brainstorming Revisited: On Instrumental Creativity and Human Productivity in the Mid-Twentieth Century. Cultural Politics 1 March 2020; 16 (1): 50–69. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/17432197-8017256
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