University as Übungsraum: Notes on the Creative Transformation of HE

Serendipity is a unique term in the English language describing the process by which one finds something useful, valuable, or just generally ‘good’ without actually looking for it. Horace Walpole, who invented the term in the middle of the 18th century, defined it as a combination of accident and sagacity. Throughout the history of invention and discovery, serendipity has time and again led the curious human mind onto unexpected novelty. And yet, it is only recently that we are becoming truly aware of the crucial role serendipity plays in our attempts to creatively grasp toward the future.

As a term that almost lyrically articulates the strange occurrence of an unexpected finding, serendipity is quickly becoming an important reference for those whose profession it is to make our economies more innovative, our industries and cities more creative, and our future, well, better. Within the creative industries, with their co-working spaces, creative hubs and start-up centres, the notion has become a guiding reference for the new generation of freelancers and entrepreneurs for whom the principle of valuable unexpected encounters (of new ideas for products and services, funding opportunities, contracts, business partners, etc.) is something like the foundation of economic survival. For academics working within the field of the creative industries, serendipity is often instrumental for understanding the dynamics of ‘creativity’. Think, for instance, of the way in which scholars such as Richard Florida or Charles Landry conceptualise their vision of the creative city.

In this talk, I’ll discuss the role of serendipity in the creative transformation of our HE institutions. Can serendipity serve as a guiding principle for a pedagogics of creativity and innovation? And what kind of serendipity are we actually talking about when referring to the creative industries? Are the creative industries capable of delivering accidents of the disruptively generative kind? Does it entail the sagacity that would recognise truly disruptive potential? And what does “disruption” mean anyway, if it is understood in a non-reductive, non-Californian sense of the term?

Chair: Jane Roscoe, Pro Vice Chancellor & Executive Dean, Arts, Creative Industries, and Education, UWE Bristol

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