Discourses of Creativity in Shanghai

Andi Burris

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Creativity is celebrated for its ability to generate economic growth, but despite the strong GDP growth in China in the last two decades, Chinese workers are often assessed as less creative than their Western counterparts. This lesser level of creativity is usually attributed by observers to the influence of culture, education, and political history.  However, these influences are not static in China's rapidly changing economic landscape and neither do Chinese workers uniformly accept the assessment of themselves as less creative. Furthermore the thriving cultural industries in China's cities demonstrate a profusion of indigenous creativity, yet the idea that Chinese people are less creative seems to be an enduring one amongst critics. This thesis investigates the meanings associated with creativity, with a view to understanding the Chinese workers are perceived as less creative than Westerners. Based on ethnographic work carried out in Shanghai, this thesis argues that the creativity discourses are deployed as a means to mobilise the workforce and transform workers into self-governing employees and obedient corporate subjects (Foucault, 1999).

Psychologists and management academics have largely approached creativity through a logical positivist lens, and in the processes, turned creativity studies into a science, although some qualitative methods have been applied in the area of innovation research (Crossan et al., 1996; Lanzara, 1999). Increasingly the study of creativity has become focused on the production of creative outputs and tied to economic objectives. This thesis develops existing knowledge on creativity by untangling the concept from productivity discourses. It focuses on two primary sites of investigation, namely the software engineering and fashion design sectors of the creative industries. I examine the meanings associated with creativity and how particular personality traits, processes, places, and products come to be considered more creative than others. I then explore the strategies applied by indigenous workers, students, and parents in responding to the dominant creativity discourses. I also make a further theoretical contribution to creativity scholarship by introducing an alternate way of conceptualising creativity that includes multiple perspectives.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
Award date11 May 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • Creativity
  • Postcolonialism
  • cross-cultural management
  • Creative Industries
  • Foucault
  • Said, Edward
  • international business
  • offshoring
  • higher education research

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