Eat the city! Does the fashion industry devour Milan creativity? (RC21 Conference – 9 June 2011 – Amsterdam)

On Saturday 9th June Marianna D’Ovidio will present “Eat the city! Does the fashion industry devour Milan creativity?” – the result of our combined effort – at the RC21 Conference in Amsterdam. RC 21 means “Research Committee 21” on Sociology of Urban and Regional Development of the International Sociological Association; this year conference is entitled “The struggle to belong. Dealing with diversity in 21st century urban settings” and will be held in Amsterdam, July 7-9 2011, at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research – Urban Studies – University of Amsterdam.

Here is the abstract:

Eat the city! Does the fashion industry devour Milan creativity?
Marianna d’Ovidio – Bertram Niessen
The paper aims at assessing to what extent the fashion industry in Milan has been destroying the creative and cultural capital of the city and how this is related with the configuration of local powers.
Milan is worldwide known for its strength in the fashion field, nevertheless the industry is a liability for the city more than an asset. The fashion system in Milan has not been able to reproduce its social and creative capital; worst, it has devoured both symbolic and material spaces, turning a resource into a leveller of the social and cultural differences that are the real capital for urban creativity and innovation. Similarly, city neighbourhoods that are typical “fashion hubs” lost their creative potential and are used (and misused) only as window for luxury fashion maisons. Increasingly, “new” creative neighbourhoods are overwhelmed by mainstream fashion activities, which take over the underground innovative potential and use it (distorting it) on a mere commercial frame.
This contribution shows how this tension is related to two main processes. Firstly, actors of the fashion system are not able to build the wider vision needed to develop virtuous circles among different cultural and economic fields. Secondly, cultural policies in Milan are afflicted by a chronic absence of co-ordination. This causes a fragmentation of actions and a discontinuity with previous experiences. On the long term, this situation, namely the self-cannibalisation of the fashion industry, has led to a sterilisation of the underground and alternative creative systems.

Trough the presentation and analysis of data, we will 1) illustrate this situation and 2) show how this process is particularly (although not exclusively) related to the sphere of local power and its peculiar structure.
The paper will present the following structure. After an introduction where we present the paper content, we will address theoretically the issue of local creativity questioning the role of physical proximity on creativity in urban neighbourhoods. A critical presentation of the fashion field in Milan will follow, where we particularly focus on the local power and its structure. The core of the paper will deal with the relation between “alternative” scene in Milan and the fashion industry. We will therefore draw our conclusions showing how the local creative potential is jeopardised by the sterilisation of new forms of imagination.


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