Austere creativity and volunteer-run public services: the case of Lewisham’s Libraries


The article explores a particular concept of creativity that which is being mobilised within Austerity Britain. This mobilisation involves capitalising on the resourcefulness and ingenuity of citizens in their ability to adapt and ‘problem-solve’ in the face of cuts to the welfare state; it lacks any oppositional or explicitly political aspects. Such a conception of creativity is also linked to imperatives to restore a perceived loss of community and authentic experience, and to the nostalgic belief that austerity provides an opportunity to do so by bringing us ’back to basics’. ‘Austere creativity’ becomes prevalent in the absence of alternatives and large-scale social movements challenging austerity. The article will explore these issues through the case of a campaign to save five libraries in Lewisham, London in 2010-11, and in the reaction of campaigners to the decision by the council to turn them over to charities and social enterprises, with volunteers replacing qualified librarians. It is based on interviews with key activists, ethnographic observations from the author’s role as an activist in the campaign, grey literature and a promotional video on the outsourcing of public services.

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New Formations 87: Austerity