The Creative Citizens research project has sought to adopt and adapt asset mapping as a cross-thematic methodology to study the value of creative citizenship. The use of this approach was introduced and developed by project researchers examining the value of creative citizenship in the context of community led design (strand 2) and is it is now being employed to investigate creative citizens activity in hyperlocal publishing (strand 1) and in creative networks (strand 3, operating both in Bristol and Birmingham).
Our strand 3 Bristol-based research team, focusing on creative networks, is using asset mapping as part of a multi-method approach to the investigation of ways in which value is generated by creative communities that operate within and between informal and formal creative networks, which considers the role of media therein and how this activity links to notions of place.
We recently conducted the first of two asset mapping workshops with our research partner South Blessed to try to establish the current and prospective scope and scale of enabling resources available to it. As a network, its activity is constituted and curated through a community media website and associated social media platforms that showcase the creative talents of young people in the South West. It is also facilitated through South Blessed’s shop front production studio in central Bristol. The mapping workshop follows a series of in-depth interviews with people involved to varying degrees in the network’s activity.
As the ethics of asset mapping methodology dictate, this was intended as a developmental exercise, enabling the participant community to identity, primarily, what it has, rather than what it hasn’t, as a tool for change. Simultaneously, it is a process through which impact, following intervention, can be co-evaluated by participants and researchers.
Mappers identify assets; people, spaces, media, and other resources, and consider the nature, strength and value of the asset’s relationship to the network and its activities. We asked participants to reflect on the assets that support South Blessed and also those that will enable its production of Indigo Babies, a graphic novel based on a futuristic storyworld about young creative citizens in Bristol; a project that is funded and supported by the research project. Asset mapping also takes place at the level of individuals, in order to identify the value of their own resources, how these may benefit the creative community and what they might gain from their participation in collaborative activity.
Our initial observations of this first wave mapping of South Blessed reflect many key themes identified through our coding of the previous interviews. For example, the value of sharing creative resources informally, both online and offline, for personal learning and growth and for community building. It also echoes the significance of a common moral ethos that acts an intrinsic driver for this type of individual and collective creative action. This dynamic began to suggest a kind of disposition or mindset and cultural milieu that motivates and facilitates people to use their creativity for both self-affirmation and collective social progress.
The suggestion of a dispositional notion of creativity was questioned by the wider research team, interpreted as a potentially exclusionary definition, probably due to its historical association with behaviourial science. However its use was appropriated from media literacy scholars that mobilize the concept to describe the goal to facilitate the development of a thinking disposition that characterizes an inclination to critically comprehend media representation. For instance, Bellino (2008) asserts that such an alignment “encourages critique of everyday expressions and negotiations of meaning” and “has the potential to foster critical consumerism and active citizenship”.
It was and still is my view, that this offers parallels with the kinds of creative activity occurring in the South Blessed context where media making and circulation are bound into ways of experiencing and interpreting the world that tend towards citizenship in multiple ways. Typically, these correspond to new and generative forms of citizenship enacted in the realm of participatory culture (Hartley 2010).
Furthermore, engagement in these participatory practices, it is argued, benefit young people (the key demographic of South Blessed) in specific ways, namely in enabling peer to peer learning, the diversification of cultural expression and the emergence of more empowered conceptions of citizenship (Jenkins et al, 2007:3); elements which can be detected in the biographies of actors in the South Blessed community.
The asset maps produced underlined the centrality of practices of cultural association, aggregation and appropriation in actualizing self and community. For example, the leveraging and accumulation of others media content by South Blessed to aid user traction and flow, alignment and interaction with provincial cultures (‘Bristol’ badging) and local scenes (e.g. the graffiti scene) to increase credibility and authenticity, and use of its logo and name to invoke choice-based affiliations to the South Blessed brand.
Hartley (2010) argues that those most open to the plural nature of contemporary citizenship that simultaneously encompasses civic, political, social, cultural and do-it-yourself and with others activity are those most exposed to media and culture. South Blessed agents appear to epitomize this idea, engaging in online and offline practices of media activism and in gifting of content and knowhow in support of personal and collective aspirations.
The asset maps were people centric and showed an economic fragility that reflects an exchange culture whose mantra is less about ‘making it’ in a commercial sense and more about ‘becoming’ as a convivial axiological goal. This disjuncture between the kind of collaborative currency which circulates in informal networks and the characteristic monetization in formal, professionalized networks which relies on extrinsic drivers to catalyse and maintain creative practices is of central concern to our study.
As a concluding observation, the asset mapping activity has further highlighted the need to cultivate ethical and sustainable approaches that are capable of supporting the kinds of value creation that result from the activities of creative citizens. The eternal application of linear business models to such contexts is myopic and undermining. Rather, a generative ecological matrix is needed that offers adaptation not incubation. Such an approach should therefore aim to engender the principles and practices it seeks to nurture and facilitate, and should refute, as Freire suggests, a bureaucratization of the mind in order to…“live life as a process – to live life to become” (in Hooks, 1994).
Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to Transgress, Routledge, New York, Dedication.
Hartley, J. (2010). “Silly Citizenship’. Critical Discourse Studies. Vol: 7. No.4. November. pp. 233-48.
Jenkins, H. with Clinton, K., Purushotma, R.,Robison, A.J. and Weigel, M. (2007) Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. The MacArthur Foundation.