Julia Itel, Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology, Paris Nanterre University
Cultural creatives represent a growing social trend in Western postindustrial societies. First identified by two American researchers, Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson (2000), cultural creatives adhere to postmaterialist values centered on individual autonomy, the quest for well-being, self-expression, gender equality, social diversity, social implication and a better relationship with nature. Rejecting the respective excesses of tradition (institutional religious authority) and modernity (rationalist authority), cultural creatives are particularly sensitive to the ecological question and feel the urgent need to, both individually and collectively, adopt new sustainable visions and behaviors to preserve at the same time humanity’s and the planet’s future. As they are making the adoption of a new moral pact between human beings and nature more relevant than ever, the tendency of cultural creatives illustrates the emergence of an alternative discourse in several Western societies, largely based on the end of adherence to the modern narrative and on pragmatic action. Very critical about the consumer culture and capitalism as invading every sphere of society, the implementation of local initiatives reveals the desire of sustainable emancipation from the Western neoliberal system.
Meet the cultural creatives
In the study I conducted with nineteen cultural creatives between Montreal and France (Itel, 2019), it appeared that these individuals’ distance from neoliberalism relied on a critique of hypermodernity, i.e. modernity in all its excesses (Aubert, 2006): materialistic thought, hyper capitalism (profit), hyper consumption, hyper individualism, technological progress (considered as dangerous), patriarchal model, and excessive speed of time. As described by participants, this dehumanized society, which rests on an instrumental conception of nature, and embeds an unsustainable system, will lead humanity to its demise.The end of trust and belief in our current system, encompassing politics, finance and the media, is widely evoked. Thus, a great number of the people interviewed said that they had “dropped out” of society in one way or another, because they no longer identified themselves with its values and vision.
But cultural creatives’ vision is based on “opti-realism”, which designates a “double look both positive and lucid” (Lecomte, 2017) on current issues. They see the current time as a period of change (corresponding to the ecological and social transition movements), and while there is “a lot to be done”, this time is also full of new ways for repairing the world. For example, cultural creatives are very positive about the growing ecological and therapeutic (i.e. increasing demand for a better-being) consciousness that emanates from the global population. According to participants, this indicates a response to the crucial need of landmarks and meaning in a “dehumanized” society.
Focusing on daily life as the main field of action, cultural creatives embody a transmodern utopia (i.e. a new vision and direction for humanity) by adopting a politics of small steps (ex: consom’action, zero waste movement, etc.). They do so by being both coherent and bold, and by making the congruence between values and acts a constant discipline. In the aim of becoming fully ethical citizens, cultural creatives act upon consumption as a way of defending one’s ideals and values, by choosing high quality products (organic, local), eating less meat, repairing rather than redeeming objects, etc. In this context, ethical and civic consumption is best defined by the French term “consom’action” (contraction of “consumption” and “action”).
A transmodern utopia
The transmodern ideal society would be based on a sustainability model, in which humanity and nature could finally live collectively. First, humanistic and ethical values (e.g. kindness, tolerance, cooperation, mutual aid, equity, sharing, love, social justice) would ensure harmonious relationships in society. Foremost is respect, which implies three dimensions: self-respect; respect for others; and respect for nature. This three-dimensional value would drive a sustainable economy in which all three levels are preserved: being sustainable for oneself (respectful of the mental and physical health of the individual); for others (ethical vision and respectful of people’s fundamental rights); and for the environment (protection and care for nature). The transmodern narrative would therefore be structured on the concept of ecosophy, a new ecological and relational paradigm based on these three levels of interdependence (Maffesoli, 2017).
Finally, one of the most impactful actors of this potential transmodern society is the youth. According to the participants, millenials are naturally born with an ecological, spiritual and multicultural (advocating diversity at all levels) consciousness. In the recent news, the mobilization worldwide of youth for the climate illustrates the urge to create a new viable way of living in modern societies. Advocating for civil disobedience and questioning collective survival and intergenerational justice (Van de Velde, 2019), they decided to go on a school strike one day a week to actively engage for the recognition of all the components of life on earth. These young people are certainly the most visible transitional actors who carry the transmodern vision for a better future.
Aubert, Nicole. L’individu hypermoderne. Toulouse : Éditions Eres. 2006.
Itel, Julia. Spiritualité et société durable. L’engagement éthique des créatifs culturels. Gap: Yves Michel, 2019.
Lecomte, Jacques. Le monde va beaucoup mieux que vous ne le croyez ! Paris : Les Arènes. 2017.
Maffesoli, Michel. Écosophie. Paris: Cerf, 2017.
Ray, Paul et Sherry Anderson. The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World. New York : Three Rivers Press, 2000.
Van de Velde, Cécile. « Cette génération de jeunes ressent la finitude du monde » Le Monde, 19 avril, 2019. https://www.lemonde.fr/campus/article/2019/04/19/cette-generation-de-jeunes-ressent-la-finitude-du-monde_5452464_4401467.html