The future prospects of higher education are increasingly seen as linked to the future prospects of creativity. However, much prevailing discourse on creativity and higher education sees both in narrowly instrumental terms. The literary critic and educationalist F. R. Leavis (1895–1978) provides a searching critique of this discourse. This critique reflects a world-view rooted in Leavis’s exposure to the conditions of technologised warfare while serving as a nursing orderly in the First World War. This world-view is later given shape by the cultural programme of Cambridge English and finally expressed at its most adventurous during his association with York University.
Leavis’s critique can be analysed using a framework of creativity as ‘person, process and purpose’, devised from existing models of creativity and organisational research. Viewed through this systemic framework, Leavis offers a set of conceptual tools relating to the creative self (‘selfhood’, ‘identity’), the dynamics of creativity (Ahnung, ‘nisus’) and creative purpose (telos, ‘telic’). These tools have various literary and philosophical sources but all share the basic assumption that creativity is a capacity over which humanity cannot exert complete transmuting control. The belief to the contrary, Leavis contends, stultifies our capacity for creativity and adaptive learning. However, Leavis falls short of pursuing certain of his own insights to their logical conclusions. These are appropriately supplemented by additional concepts drawn from other systemic perspectives.
How can higher education foster creativity? Answers proliferate but tend to address matters of function rather than purpose. Leavis’s concepts deepen our understanding of the key questions of creativity, including those relating to academic self-identity, pedagogy and institutional purpose. Leavis’s thought and practice encourage us to make sense of creativity in more systemic, imaginative ways and to advance the notion that re-conceiving creativity is one of higher education’s most pressing commitments.
|Keywords||Leavis, higher education, university, creativity, organisational learning, systems theory, pedagogy, academic identity|