“I’ve got to say, by the way, it’s been downloaded six million times”: Ken Robinson’s TED talk and the discursive construction of ‘creativity’

Authors: Readman, M.

Conference: Discourse Communication Conversation

Dates: 21-23 March 2012


As he pointed out to Victoria Derbyshire on her Radio 5 Live show in March 2011, Ken Robinson’s online lecture from the 2006 Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference in which he argues that ‘schools kill creativity’ has been viewed six million times (actually, nearer eight million at the time of writing this).

This (along with publications expressing a similar sentiment, such as the 1999 report All Our Futures and the 2001 book Out of Our Minds) has earned him the reputation of “one of the UK’s home-grown creativity gurus” (Schlesinger 2007, p.382).

It is possible to criticise Robinson’s lecture for its elision of concepts of personal growth and the exigencies of the future global economy, and it is possible to identify the rhetorical strategies he uses in order to effect such harmony. But it also possible to interrogate the production of the concept around which all of this is built – ‘creativity’.

In this paper I argue that creativity is a chimera and that Robinson invokes a range of discourses, such as those of ‘reformation’ and ‘romanticism’, in order to anchor the concept and to recruit allies for his campaign. Despite Robinson’s assertion of a definition for creativity, it is possible to identify particular tensions around the codification and rationalisation of the term, which, under scrutiny, render it incoherent. In order to efface such tensions Robinson employs different modes of address, such as the ‘anecdotal’ and ‘comedic’, which contribute to a powerful rhetorical performance.

Through analysis of this popular and influential example of ‘creativity’ being championed and performed, we can identify some strategies by which this most rich and empty of signifiers is constructed.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Mark Readman