The Dimensions of Worth

Everyone loves a good list. Lists of things, if complete, give us a definitive account of the contents of a category. They let us put things into easily understood groups and help us make sense of what those groups are. Colours of the rainbow. Planets in the solar system. Quantifiable and legitimised, tick ‘em off at your pleasure.

Lists also provide great fodder for debates, because who’s to say that a list is truly definitive? It’s not just that everyone loves a list, but that everyone loves the list they love, and loves to contest the lists other people love. Seven colours of the rainbow? What about the myriad hues between those seven colours? There are lots of people still insisting on putting Pluto on their list of planets.

Defining the creative industries seems to me to be a similar debate about what to include on a list. It seems to have started, by nearly all accounts, in 1998, when the UK’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (those three happy bedfellows) described the creative industries as “those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property” and provided a handy list of 13 sectors. And it seems people have been arguing about that list ever since.

I’ve written about that debate before and the variations proposed and rejected. It is a crucial debate for policy makers and researchers, as boundaries need to be set in order to effectively map, measure and learn about the creative industries (how can we analyse the solar system if we don’t know where it starts and finishes?). At the same time, it’s a pointless debate for many creative industry practitioners, with no day to day impact on their activities (call it what you like, Pluto is still a big ball of rock and ice orbiting the sun).

Having sampled this debate, I’ve been considering a couple of questions. One, how to add to this discussion, in a way which isn’t simply arguing about other people’s lists. And two, what do we mean by the term ‘industry’ anyway? What is one and how do we recognise it?

This article, by Mukti Khaire, offers an interesting perspective on these questions. In it, she talks about the identification of a new industry, not by its vital statistics (is it in orbit around the sun, does its self-gravity make it a globe, has it cleared its orbit of smaller objects) but by a series of socio-cognitive actions.

An industry is self-defined by a process she calls “distributed sanctification”, whereby a variety of participants in an activity take a series of self-directed actions which legitimise that activity as an industry. It is a gradual and unplanned process, the start and end points of which are undefined. In essence, no-one says, “this is now an industry,” in an ABS sort of way. Instead, people start behaving like they’re in an industry and sooner or later, everyone else agrees with them.

To illustrate this process, she looks at the rise of the high fashion industry in India. This is useful because she can identify a time period (the 1980s) before which there was no such thing and after which there was. She then examines the actions which participants in the formation of the industry took during this time.

As might be expected, the steps taken by designers, clothes makers and sellers are important, but she argues, so are the actions taken by other more tangential players – educational institutions, the media and so on. The cumulative effect of these actions is the accumulation of social currency in the term “high fashion industry” in India. In her own words, she is mapping “the dimensions of worth.”

This process, she says, is difficult but essential for new industries:

These complexities make the construction of worth of new industries particularly difficult. New industries […] lack definition and coherence—that is, clear boundaries and identities, so they are difficult to understand.

Which seems to be to be exactly the problem faced in describing the creative industries. She goes on to say:

In addition, new industries  […] typically lack norms and conventions of evaluation, so it is difficult to determine their worth. However, the construction of the worth of a new industry is particularly important because worth is a prerequisite for cognitive legitimacy, which is a critical resource that pioneering entrepreneurs in new industries lack. A cognitively legitimate industry—one that is accepted “as a taken-for-granted feature of the environment”—is well defined and understood by both industry actors and audiences and broadly accepted as appropriate. Cognitive legitimacy, or taken-for-grantedness is a condition of complete intersubjective agreement and total absence of dissent regarding the right of an entity to exist.

Which again, seems to aptly describe the creative industries – lack of definition, leads to complexity in evaluation, leading to a lack of legitimacy and “taking-for-grantedness” which in turn is an impediment to entrepreneurship.

It’s tempting to describe Khaire’s approach as the opposite of “definition by list making”. But actually, she does provide a list of actions she says participants take which legitimise an industry:

Curation Customers and outside influencers, like education, media and government orgs, identify what’s high and low quality product.
Certification Educational institutions start offering qualifications for entrants into the nascent industry.
Commentary Educational institutions offer instruction on what’s good and bad practice in the industry.
Critique Media publications offer opinion on what’s good and bad practice in the industry.
Co-presentation Various examples of competing product are displayed together enabling…
Comparison Customers to make judgements about the qualities of those products.
Commensuration The growing number of comparisons allows the development of standard measures of quality.

Khaire’s example (high fashion in India) springs from the creative industries, which she says is appropriate because, “the highly symbolic nature of the products makes collectively understood definitions, shared meanings, and broad agreement on norms and rules crucially important…value construction in creative industries is a complex process because of the relative “singularity” of the products, and involves multiple actors and cognitive processes.”

No argument there. But while her criteria can be applied consistently to fashion, I suspect they could not be as easily applied to the creative industries, as defined as a collection of creative sectors, of which fashion is only one. I think all of her 7 Cs listed above create the “worth” she describes, but only within each creative sub-sector. We can’t measure a fashion designer by the same yardstick as a musician or an architect and so on.

This is leading me to the conclusion that whatever the “creative industries” is, it is not an industry in and of itself – at least not yet. It might be more helpful to see it as a selection of like industries, and that selection as being influenced by a variety of social and political pressures on the entity defining the term.

What makes them “like” is something we can’t quite grasp. Something alchemical, the transformation of imagination into IP. But just because a beautifully designed gown springs from the same creative well as a symphony or a grand old building, doesn’t necessarily mean they together form a cohesive creative industry. Pluto’s a really different place to Jupiter.

Khaire, M. (2014). Fashioning an Industry: Socio-cognitive Processes in the Construction of Worth of a New Industry. Organization Studies, 35(1), 41-74. Available at

On who’s in and who’s out: Part 1 –Creative Industries

Since my last post, I’ve been having a series of discussions about this tricky, slippery term, the creative industries.

The first was with Gavin Bowman who pointed out that industry definitions exist to include or exclude things; things like businesses, occupations or people. We draw boundaries around these things because it helps us make sense of them, but also because there’s usually a more specific purpose in mind. We want to lobby, to form alliances, to compare etc.

In this sense, a definition of the creative industries is indivisible from its purpose. Or perhaps the logic behind any definition can only be understood by how it’s applied. A government policy, for instance, might limit its definition due to budgetary restraints. A trade union might apply the widest possible definition in order to attract the most members.

All this made me wonder if I knew what an industry was. In my last post, I proposed a definition of creative industries that excluded activities without a commercial intent (which would include hobbyists and not-for-profit entities).

I did this in part because I had one eye on entrepreneurialism and the looming question about where that resides in the creative industries, but I was also wondering just how industrious one has to be to be part of an industry. Does membership of an industry require you to have a commercial intent? My colleague Ben Fletcher of this fine establishment here thought not; profit and not-for-profit activities sat together within an industry, each being of competition to the other.


A quick sidestep to the mighty Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC) as maintained by the ABS since 1993, in an attempt to define what an industry is.  It says,

The objective when developing an industrial classification is to identify groupings of businesses which carry out similar economic activities. Subject to certain criteria being met, each such grouping defines an industry and the similar economic activities which characterise the businesses concerned are referred to as activities primary to that industry. (my emphasis)

So if an industry definition only makes sense when you understand its purpose, we know the ABS’s is to “identify groupings of businesses”, for administrative ease in use by government, businesses and um, citizens, I suppose. A kind of Dewey decimal system for industry classification.

It goes on to confidently assert:

When the classification is completed, any individual business can then be assigned an appropriate industry category on the basis of its predominant activities. (my emphasis)

And it agrees with Ben, by saying:

The term business is used in its widest sense to include any organisation which provides goods and services, including companies, non-profit organisations, government departments and enterprises.

The first classification of ANZSIC looks like this:


Which seems straightforward enough, but take it down a level and the complexities start to show. Take “R Arts and Recreation Services” as an example:

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And so on down through the superstructure until we hit individual occupations such bird reserve operation, journalistic services, netball club operation and bookmaking operations. All part of good ship “R Arts and Recreation Services”.

Any industry definition is obviously going to have its oddities and miscellaneous items. I suppose the point is that as much as they seek to include and exclude, they are also contestable and are, no doubt, contested.

Naturally enough, the creative industries (as defined by, take your pick, but let’s say the UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport) are scattered throughout sections J, M, R and probably others too. Which is apt for a term which places architects next to actors and fashion designers next to games designers and says, you lot… you all do kind of the same thing.

Another regular and robust conversationalist is Tony Shannon who reminded me that back in the day, we used to wonder about whether it was the “creative industries” or the “creative industry”. If we took the ABS at its word, it’s an industry singular, because we can identify a “grouping” of businesses, no matter how diverse and call them an industry. Even though its own library catalogue on the subject tells us that to get to that catch all term, we have to collate businesses from across a range of industries. If anything, it’s a creative cross-section.


This whole “creative industries” malarkey started when a politician had a need to name it as such, as Australian academic Justin O’Connor points out in his literature review on the topic:

blog 3

In its genesis, then, the term “creative industries” was not a literal term, but a political one, designed, at least in part, to win votes and increase support for a government. It was invented to make sense of a group of businesses which existed across industry lines, but had a shared meaning to government and presumably, voters. It continues to be reinvented, but still, it has come to mean something which is broadly understood as a collection of organisations and individuals which create products and services. After that though, its boundaries blur, defying more precise definition.

Where does entrepreneurship intersect with this ambiguous term? Surely its definitional boundaries are even hazier than those of the creative industries. Perhaps as I talk more about entrepreneurship as a personal trait (that’s Part 2, you see), it is the individual creatives which become more important than how they classify themselves. As Tony remarked to me, perhaps what we’re talking about here is creative entrepreneurs, rather than entrepreneurship in the creative industries.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 1993, 1292.0 – Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), viewed 6 May 2017,
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006, 1292.0 – Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), 2006 (Revision 2.0) viewed 6 May 2017,
Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Creative Industries Economic Estimates January 2015, viewed 6 May 2017,
O’Connor, Justin (2010), The cultural and creative industries : a literature review [2nd ed.].
Creativity, Culture and Education Series. Creativity, Culture and Education, London.

A creative industries definition that recognises commercial intent (WIP).

Talk about the  term “creative industries’ seems to inevitably lead to questions of definition. And those questions lead to more questions. And before long, we’re in a world of confusion.

Who’s in and who’s out? And what does it mean when we leave some creative types out? Is the term ‘cultural industries’ a better term? What about the ‘creative economy’? What happens when we shoehorn the arts and culture in with architecture, design and games? And have we only added software development into the creative industries because it makes the numbers look better?

This matters to approximately no-one working in the creative/cultural industries/economy. But it absolutely matters to people analysing these industries, trying to make sense of what role they play in society and why government is supporting them. And as I’m thinking about entrepreneurship in the creative industries, it matters to me.

This literature review, section 5 of a paper by Justin O’Connor, gives a thorough overview of how the terminology and definitions of creativity have changed since the 1990s. He airs questions well worth asking, such as, was the term only created to legitimise culture in the eyes of government number crunchers? How legitimate is the much-mentioned link between the creative industries and creation of new IP? Is the arts strengthened (through legitimisation) or weakened (through dumbing down) by inclusion as an industrial output? And what place for the idea of quantifying the creative economy by counting creative workers in non-creative industries?

O’Connor also outlines various attempts to define the creative industries, and each model has its pros and cons. And each, I think, misses something about how the creative industries work in practice – that there’s a range of products created in these ‘industries’ which lack an essential element of industry: the intent to exploit the work commercially.

Existing models

Here are three models outlined in O’Connor’s literature review. David Throsby’s relies on a hierarchy of creativity, with purely artistic endeavours at the top of the tree:


A European Commission report from 2006 seeks to stratify the industries into arts, culture and creative.


The Work Foundation presents a version which positions the industry segments as part of the overall economy. It also introduces the concept of ‘expressive value’, to differentiate between the ‘pure’ arts and distribution based enterprises. It also places IP production as central to the definition.


We can use any of these to define the creative industries; none are widely adopted, all are contested in some way or other. For me, the distinguishing between activities within each industry sector by commercial intent is a missing element.

A model which recognises commercial intent

Every subset of the creative industries includes activities which are driven by commercial intent, and some which are not. For the purposes of definition, we might consider that only those with commercial intent truly sit within an ‘industry’, with its connotations of producing a product to a profitable end. Activities with little or no commercial intent can be seen as artistically valid – even essential – but their lack of connection to industry could allow us to classify them differently.

The level of commercial intent within each industry subsector will vary. Some, like architecture, exist almost entirely within the for-profit arena. Others, like visual arts, straddle between not-for-profit and for-profit activities.

My diagram below (not based on real numbers) is an attempt to illustrate this proposition. Each subsector is represented by a column, showing 100% of that subsector’s activity. The position of each column indicates the estimated proportion of each sector which is commercially driven. Under this model, we might see the ‘creative industries’ as existing only in the upper band.


For my purposes – thinking about entrepreneurialism in the creative industries – such a model could be very useful. If we start with the idea that a critical component of entrepreneurship is driven by commercial intent, the definition used could exclude activity in the creative industries which although artistically valuable, lacks that commercial intent. It might save us from having to argue the centrality of the arts – or any other creative endeavour – with the creative industries. But it would also require a debate about what qualifies as commercially driven product, and how much of that commercial intent resides in each industry subsector.

Ref: O’Connor, Justin (2010)
The cultural and creative industries : a literature review [2nd ed.].
Creativity, Culture and Education Series.
Creativity, Culture and Education, London.