Social Capital and the rise of Creative Capital
We are witnessing a revolutionary rise of social capital, as represented by cyber-networks. In fact, we are witnessing a new era where social capital will soon supersede personal capital in significance and effect
Nan Lin 2001
The past 20 years have seen a decrease in the building and utilising of economic capital through sociological downward pressures, and a horizontal branching of investing in other forms of capital, specifically social capital. This downward pressure has been caused by both the fragmentation of work, and the emergence of digital social media platforms that provide the operating systems in which social capital is constructed. The strength of this reallocation has become so strong that, within certain sections of society, it has become both more useful and desirable than personal capital. The creative class, that nebulous of the workforce that drives innovation through the production of the new, have felt this change most acutely, increasingly in industries where “new” is digitally and socially focused, such as media and advertising. This has led to a new form of capital called creative capital - the potential to create cultural commodities through social networks. Within the creative class, this has formed a new mode of work called The Personal Networked Agency. Here, the actor creates within the capacity and strength of their social capital. Here too, the quality and volume of personal relationships of the actor, as opposed to knowledge, experience and skills, is the main influence in productivity and ultimately, success.
A concept pioneered by sociologist Karl Marx in the 19th Century, capital denotes surplus value captured. Marx primarily concentrated on how this surplus value, created by capitalists, disempowered the working class. Due to the overwhelming influence of Marx’s works, people understand capital within this socio-economic modality - the accumulation and ownership of surplus wealth or means of production for it’s use value, and the inherent inequality that this accumulation brings. Since Marx’s writings however, many other sociologists and writers have formalised of new modes of capital that sit along side Marx’s political original. Human capital, for example, is a person’s current and potential skills, knowledge and experience, that can be utilised by an organisation or country. Cultural capital denotes the embodied cultural norms of a particular group and the benefits knowledge of these norms brings. Social capital, the focus of this piece, on the one hand denotes the access to and use of resources embedded in social networks, and, on the other, signifies the mutual recognition within these social networks that allows the groups to survive and thrive. As such social capital is: the investment in social relations with expected returns e.g wealth, power, reputation and networks. This can conjure images of Machiavellian game-playing, but it’s a practice that we all engage in on some level. We all get to know our neighbours, knowing that, on the of chance you need and don’t own a screw driver for example, you can save on acquiring your own by asking to borrow theirs, and vice versa. The traditional notion is that social capital consists of ties that although they are not made with the sole notion to leverage, they are all connections with the potential for leverage.
Causes of Change
The gig economy, consisting of regular short term or freelance contracted work, doubled in 2019 and is set to keep growing. Its growth can be attributed by the rise of on demand service companies like Uber and Deliveroo, and the growth of the the creative industries and the fragmentation of the workers that work inside it. The creative industry is an open field, you don’t need to pass an exam to get into it, you don’t need seven years of study, and you don’t need a certificate. The industry is thus comprised of knowledge workers who’s knowledge is subjective and unscientific. For many of these workers, this creates a confusion around objective career progression. People therefore have subjective understanding of their skill level, and, because of the lack of an industry structure, are more willing to take the risk of going freelance, some times before reaching a level of expertise and knowledge that would attract clients. Additionally, a majority of work in the creative industries involves creating work for today, so knowledge of the consumers of today is paramount. The younger you are, the more confident you are that your (subjective) knowledge of today will produce better outputs. Your boss seemingly has no clue (wether this is true or not depends on circumstance), but gets paid more than you (this is definite), and this dichotomy can lead to a certain level of disenchantment with traditional job progression, as a result, more people strike out on their own for creative control. The young, creative and knowledgable, full of ambition and energy, would rather trade their sick pay for creative (and lifestyle) freedom.
A heightened importance is placed on growing contacts that can offer the potential of work as fewer people are tied to the security of a regular income. In a traditional permanent role, the employee would be employed because they have the skills, knowledge and experience to do the tasks required, or, failing this, can engage other with members of the organisation that do. Ultimately the work circuit in which tasks are completed is closed to external forces. Working within the Gig Economy, you are the sole member of the company, you would need the complete human capital required to function in your role and its auxiliaries. Trouble arises when you don’t, either due to taking on work that requires you to do something that you are incapable of doing technically, or needing complimentary skills in which to complete a project, i.e director and editor. To solve this issue, workers in the Gig Economy actively look to plug holes to complete solutions that they cannot themselves fill, for example, a director asking a musician to create a song for a advertisement that the director has filmed. It is in the benefit of both the musician and the director to know each other, especially prior to the working relationship, so that either is confident in taking work that might require the services of the other. Naturally, the more people you know and the higher quality of human capital at your disposal, i.e your social capital, the more likely you are to successfully complete a variety of work (that you don’t solely have the human capital to do). It would make sense then, to adapt to an approach that sees not the increase in skill and knowledge, but an increase in connections with a variety of skilled people (and the ability to instruct these people). Social capital is fast outweighing personal capital to a point where the main bulk of “work” within the creative class is simply resourcing human capital.
Another cause of this refocusing of capital is that the main generation that this effects is one that grew up on the internet, and the internet is a place that celebrates curation as opposed to the romantic sense of creativity. The internet was built in a way that the only way that its users can express creativity is to taking things, references from other places and putting them together to create some sort of attractive aesthetic presentation. Users of Spotify create playlists, users of instagram curate their experience by follow visually aesthetic or aspirational profiles. From the days organising songs and top friends on Myspace we have consistently taken material, re-ordered and refined, to create a cohesive aesthetic and an expression of ourselves. Some might argue that this is the definition of creativity, but it is a different synthesis, nothing new is made apart from a re-order and re-presentation, a nod to this, a nod to that. Likewise, the better the sources and the atheistic presentation, the better the result, whereas a better brush and canvas doesn’t necessitate the production of a better painting. Examine the social media accounts of any culture profile that a majority of people will follow, one might be pictures of sport from the nineties, another collation of pop culture images from the naughties, whole media platforms have been created on the basis of curating material. Everything we see is immediately usable, everything is material and this attitude integrates itself into professional life. I can, in developing a cultural commodity, reference material that I never created or I have do not have the capacity to create, but I know someone that can, and that’s close enough, better still if I know the original creator. This provides additional pressure for people to know the now, specifically the creators of the cultural commodities of the zeitgeist.
Social Media and the internet in general have facilitated this horizontal extension. Platforms make it easier to prospect people and network, actions that that lead to the generation of social capital. Effectively it acts as a operating system for social capital, actively demonstrating its development and allowing potential use (how many times have you seen “do I know any […]?” as it relates to someone’s job). We use social media to actively grow our networks and find people with rare skills that we can proactively use.
Lastly, in 2020, every minute of our waking lives has economic potential. Side hustles are unlimited in their development. In a bid to avoid fading into existential insignificance, we become our own media broadcaster. Those with an opinion have no barriers to expression, those with a skill have a theoretically limitless audience. Our thoughts, experiences, and actions can be mined for ores that can be exchanged for recognition, which can be exchanged further for economic gain. With this comes pressure comes the desire to be open to all opportunities, so we shape our lives, not on a foundation of security, but one of freedom.
The Formation and Use of Social Capital in 2020
The “cybernetworks” that Lin described in 2001 came to become something, less like the pastime undertaken in the dingy basements by its early practitioners, but something wholly integral to the productive identity of those that laughed at them. Social media applications as a whole have become key in developing social networks and increasing social capital that drive and support the modern creative industries. There are a vast number of features integrated in digital social networks like Instagram and Facebook that make them easier to grow and cultivate than offline networks, mainly, they facilitate the communication of the information that allows people to make social judgement assessments and connections. Within the Creative class, this can also allow people to lookup and reference previous commodities and the creative contributors to those commodities, thus enabling two dimensions of prospecting, especially in visually focused platforms like Instagram. Interestingly, a platform like LinkedIn, catered to establishing connections within the professional world, is less utilised in this way. Although Linkedin and the growing number of like products e.g The-Dots are highly professional, connections are made with on the basis of exploitation. Here it is of what one party can get from the other. In the neighbour equivalent mentioned before it is deciding to move to a building due to its proximity to someone whom you could sell a product to, an awkward situation. LinkedIn is one of the few platforms that overtly mention “my network” when describing connections between users— but these networks are not the same networks as the ones generated on mutual interest platforms and thus, do not attribute to social capital. In other, more social platforms, relationships are created via a mutual respect and trust. A Mutual friend can legitimise two parties to each other, whilst the expression of a similar tastes, interests or even attitudes can bring two people together.
The connection of two parties doesn’t necessarily assume the generation of social capital between them, work must be done to embed oneself within the network in order to gain a mutual trust and respect - one must become a good neighbour. New connections are mainly cemented through exchanges in shared values/interests, people of a certain disposition and taste will align themselves with people of the same taste. People who have are interested in technology, and work within this world, will have a network that feeds some of this interest back to the user, likewise someone who is interested in the arts, fashion and so forth. Embedding occurs by consumption of cultural commodities within the shared value and interests of the social network, e.g posting and sharing inspiration/references. This is much easier that the embedding practices that occur offline (i.e forming recreational clubs/societies), though it is is possible to embed through shared experiences, i.e attending the same event.The more embedded you are the more the stronger the social capital resources you have at disposal.
As the impetus to grow social networks has increased, within the creative class, this surplus of capital, when dealing with agents that are in the business of making cultural commodities, can be called creative capital. Creative capital is defined by the potential to create something new either directly or indirectly, but mainly indirectly - the more social capital you have, the more potential for creative capital. With a vast social network and ability for curation, it is possible to create work through the sheer organisation of the human capital of other people, it doesn’t require a specific skill but have a very specific idea of what the execution of a project. The more people that one knows, the more opportunities for production. Creative capital is still quite closely tied to social capital, as the value for success in most of these is public engagement, what is created is shared. Not only your social network can see this but each of their individual social networks, as such, maybe we have been measuring influence wrong. It is not simply a question of how many followers you have, but of how many people follow those that follow you?
Finally, from this there has been the creation of what we might call the Personal Network Agency, a creative agency where the nexus is a sole, public facing actor, but can call upon the abilities of the supplementary / semi-regular actors as required to whom they are connected. More and more, within the creative industries, business will look to hire those with higher levels of indirect creative capital, as opposed to an internal human capital (aside from the knowledge and temperament required to develop thorough creative potential). Work will be focused on roaming individual actors who serve as access points to contemporary creatives and who, through the volume and strength of these connections, can create the new. A tradition agency is a company that helps another company make their brand more relevant to it’s current and potential consumers. They discover and unpack a company’s core truths and turn them into relevant communications, wether that be through ads, events, products etc. The personal network agency is able to do this and is adaptable to include a variety of actors and these can be changed for a multitude of reasons (availability, fit for project etc) as such the players in a P.N.A are malleable and interchangeable. As such the Personal Network Agency’s only expertise is their curation of talent zeitgeist. Working along this social capital can lead to an accelerated pace of growth, especially if of course growth can be measured in sheer volume of output as it is possible to work across several things at once.
This is not an inherently bad or fickle progression. Indeed social capital has made the creative industries what it is today. Whereas before it might have been a secondary to economic capital, it is arguably more important than economic capital. Of course, one cannot pay the rent on the basis of knowing someone else, but, as described, the relationship can lead to work, through collaboration or association, which can lead to paying rent. Where as previously it was a means to an end, it is now the end completely, what was once relegated to the exchange of small white cards and awkward networking events in carpeted conference, is now vibrant cultural exchanges in digital media posts and participation in branded panels. In the meantime, however, we have lost certain aspects of professional life. We have lost a certain level of craftsmanship, that is skill in a particular craft, in our work, and the benefits that this could bring. The notion of progression, achievement, expertise, enjoyment, and ultimately job satisfaction are tied to how good you are, and replaced it with something entirely more ephemeral. During the peak of the focus on economic capitalism, consumer materialism was both and cause and result. Now, at the peak of social capital we are in danger of developing a materialism of both relationships and culture, fetishising and hoarding both to increase our status.