— Cultural Sources of Newness

Organisation und das Neue: Contradictory?

The dean of the department of education of Philipps-Universität Marburg welcomed the participants at the conference Organisation und das Neuewith the observation that we were taking on a topic that is „widerspruchsvoll und brisant“. Can “organization”, i.e., that which orders and maintains, generate newness? He did not add “and can it do so here?” but that question was definitely on my mind as I looked around the venerable hall in the ancient university of Marburg, reminiscent of a cathedral with its organ and decorated windows. (The university was founded in 1527 and is the “oldest protestant university in the world”/Wikipedia).

 

Opening session in Philipps-Universität Marburg (photo ABA)

Opening session in Philipps-Universität Marburg (photo ABA)

The first keynote speaker, Professor Susanne Maria Weber, took on the challenge by using discourse analysis to address the question “Organising the New—by Design?” She explored current discourses of innovation and their attendant myths, such as the myth of the locus of innovation, the myth of the one big idea, the myth of the heroic inventor, as well as the relatively new myth of cultural spaces. Design thinking is on the agenda of publishing houses, consultants and researchers—is it more than hype, does it offer a new paradigm? She left us wondering about the “mega-myth of innovation” and the shift from a normalizing gaze to the multiperspectival gaze. And the challenge: must deviance become the norm?

 

Design thinking--the hype?--Slide from Susanne Maria Weber presentation

Design thinking–the hype?–Slide from Susanne Maria Weber presentation

Before sending us off to the parallel fora in which we would be presenting and discussing papers (in a different, i.e., modern building of the university), Susanne introduced Dr. Amanda Bill from the University of Auckland whose dissertation on “Techniques of the Creative Self” has spawned an artwork that is being exhibited at the conference. The two oversized, felted wool ‘pages’ from her dissertation were fabricated by an industrial waterjet cutter, an innovation in itself. The artist/academic explains that “the work is (partly) an ironic attempt to make traditional academic outputs count as ‘creative knowledge’ in new taxonomies of university research.”

 

Amanda Bill at the exhibition of her artwork (photo ABA)

Amanda Bill at the exhibition of her artwork (photo ABA)

Conversations in and around the parallel sessions kept coming back to the topic of the barriers to newness in the university context. Fortunately, interesting examples from other domains brought in rays of hope. Many participants asked me after my presentation whether our data base had evidence of artistic interventions enabling new ways of thinking and doing to emerge in universities? We do not give up hope.