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The point at issue is therefore to understand whether economic thought (rather than merely economics) is capable of bringing about such a shift in perspective, thus reconciling itself with the hermeneutic turn that is taking shape, maybe unconsciously, within enterprises and arguably society at large. All we can do in these introductory pages is to provide evidence of the upset which is occurring in some key notions related to knowledge and creativity by assuming a hermeneutic stance, and which a renewed economic thought cannot avoid facing:

(a) Noise. In information science and commonsense meaning, noise is a disturbance in the transmission of a signal, due to interference or entropy, which distorts it compared with an expected, though unlikely, form. This notion necessarily entails that of code: only by possessing a code can the receiver in fact distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar, correct and incorrect, meaningful and non-meaningful, expected and unexpected signals. From this viewpoint, noise is plainly a 'bad'. Its status becomes multifaceted, however, when communicators employ hermeneutic attitudes, which radically question the given categorisation between noise and order, as well as the moralistic understanding of order as good and noise as bad. Thus, 'order from noise' becomes married to 'noise is good'—the latter in its double moral and utilitarian sense. When considered from this perspective, noise becomes a potential source of original information, which could also be susceptible to being deliberately 'produced' within certain controlled conditions in order to enhance (or indeed stymie) creative attitudes (Atlan, 1979).

(b) Ambiguity. Ambiguity consists in the expected though vague 'amount' of information that could stem from noise once a suitable mental adaptation has been carried out (Piaget, 1967). In this case too, whilst ambiguity appears as a 'bad'—a sign of undecidability (rather than indeterminacy, as happens in the case of noise)—when it is seen from the syntactical/ information-science viewpoint, it too becomes a basic and maybe irreplaceable 'good' in a hermeneutic perspective (Monod, 1970): a sort of intermediate material between noise and knowledge (Visser & Visser, 2004) that is firmly conditioned by contingency (Luhmann, 1995), in its turn conditioned by spatial and temporal parameters.

(c) Learning. From a hermeneutic viewpoint, learning appears as the capacity

to reshape cognitive attitudes, rather than acquire information on the basis of a supposed given and reliable cognitive code. This is not a wholly new horizon in cognitive sciences, since Bateson (1942) distinguished between “simple-” or “proto-learning” and “deutero-learning”, that is learning according to a certain “apperceptive habit” and learning about that and other possible mental habits. More recently, in dealing with creative firms, Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) updated Bateson's insight by recalling the more anodyne labelling he had originally coined: “Learning I” and “Learning II”. Echoing him, they define Learning I as “obtaining knowhow in order to share specific problems based upon existing premises”, and Learning II as “establishing new premises (i.e., paradigms, schemata, mental models, or perspectives) to override the existing ones” (p. 44; emphasis added). It is however worth noting that, while the two modalities of learning appear as alternatives in a postmodern approach (with the insistence it puts on the limits of modernism), they appear as intertwined and equally necessary components of the cognitive experience when approached from a hermeneutic viewpoint: the former modality focused on 'things' external to mind, the latter on the mental attitudes by which 'things' are perceived and finally categorised. This has important consequences for learning: cognitive excursions are now expected to go beyond repetition as identity (namely, dealing with like cases alike), and construct an understanding of repetition as difference, whereby cognitive repetition reapplies its premises every time anew and is consequently fundamentally exposed every time to the contextual, environmental noise. The immediate consequence of this is that every cognitive process becomes reflexive. Such a development runs the risk of self-annihilation for learning however, since the process may end up crashing against the wall of selfdissimulation of limits; but at the same time it makes learning truly radical, that is rhizomatic, and able to push the limits of cognitive immanence in seemingly innovative ways.

(d) Creativity. The commonly used notion of creativity is borrowed from Poincaré's (2011[1914]) concept of “discovery”, according to which “[it] consists precisely in not constructing useless combinations, but in constructing those that are useful, which are an infinitely small minority” (p. 51). In this situation, too, it is not the veracity of that notion that is being contested, but the fact that it just depicts the epiphenomenal aspect of the creative process—combination—without questioning how this process essentially happens: is it, for the sake of paradox, the outcome of a random re-arrangement within the individual's cognitive repertoire [1] or, once acknowledged that the notion of randomness only reflects our margin of ignorance about the factual chain of events, is it possible to investigate elements which ultimately come into play in the creative process and the way(s) it may re-combine them? To gain a preliminary insight into this subject, let us quote a definition proposed by a scholar of hermeneutical persuasion, according to which “creativity is the aptitude to enlarge the space of the mental possibilities with which we view the world: it is therefore the art of shifting the points of view from which an observation is made” (Bocchi, 2013; emphasis added). The emphasis here is moved from the content of the extant mental repertoire (from the re-combination from which creativity necessarily springs), to its complement, i.e., the context within which the individual concerned might replace his/her own repertoire, where the conditional suggests both the uncertainty about the fact that the individual triggers the process and the unknowable content of the complementary set with respect to which s/he will choose to recontextualise things. So, if creativity is the outcome of an attitude/aptitude to re-contextualise rather than re-combine knowledge, the issue at stake becomes how to enhance propensities towards such an exercise. From this, we propose a conception of creativity that goes beyond the phenomenological and even the distinction between subject and object/environment, and, first, becomes immanently inscribed within the milieu conditions of its production; second, it finds itself in a position to affect the way needs for creativity and its modes of production are generated, though always contingently and never unilaterally; and third, it is itself subject to a continuous process of reflexive superimposition of limits and limitations, thus enabling itself to push the limits of immanence always further but always from the inside and always with respect to its limitations.

(e) The meso-dimension. Another main consequence is a reinterpretation of the meso-dimension within the economic discourse. Leaving aside the naive (though common) reading of this subject according to which the meso is something lying midway between the micro and the macro, it is here considered as the domain wherein some essential untradeable goods (mainly, trust and knowledge) can be produced and circulate in “satisficing”[2] amounts and ways. Within this view, the anthology opts for the idea that the meso-dimension does not simply act as a facilitator for the diffusion of such goods, essentially following Schumpeter (for example, Dopfer, 2006, 2007), but as a generator, in that it induces people to re-contextualise knowledge, i.e., to become creative. This idea is grounded in the seminal notion of generative milieu put forward by Durkheim (1895, 1898), and the applications it has had (and is having) in the regional science (though, curiously, without making any mention of Durkheim himself[3]). Except for amongst the staunchest followers of Schumpeterian thought, the idea that certain milieu conditions can foster knowledge, creativity and innovativeness, has spread rapidly within the regional science, giving rise to a variety of approaches aiming at substantiating the notion of the meso, including Lundvall (1992), by the notion of “National Systems of Innovation”, Morgan (1997), by “Learning Regions”, Cooke, De Laurentis, MacNeill, and Collinge (2010), by “Platforms of Innovation”, and especially the GREMI, through the notion of “milieu innovateur” (see Camagni & Maillat, 2006).[4] With respect to these approaches (and others of a similar kind[5]), this book puts forward the idea that they ultimately fail to explain analytically how milieu conditions work in enhancing creativity because they do not deal adequately with the role that the physical component of milieu—i.e., the spatial arrangement of all kinds of things within it—performs in fostering de/re-contextualisation practices, that is hermeneutic practices. This book points therefore to this last topic, by levering on Durkheim's seminal contribution about the milieu's generative role, which remained inconclusive precisely on this point. And conversely, it distances itself from the usual functional approaches and related notions (mainly 'cluster'), due to their inappropriateness to account for the generation of new elements rather than their functioning, within a certain socio-spatial context. The establishment in the following chapters of the notion of “Knowledge-creating Milieu—KCS” will precisely respond to this purpose.

(f) Finally, the knowledge economy. The different recourse to the cognitivist or the hermeneutical notion of knowledge gives rise to a very different image of the knowledge economy itself. According to mainstream economics, it is understood as the stage of capitalist development characterised by recourse to knowledge on a previously unheard of and increasing scale—in particular the codified form of knowledge, specifically connected with the development of ICTs.[6] Our criticism of this kind of approach does not focus so much on its degree of realism—the definition it gives is so evident as to appear banal—as on its capacity to restore the intimate nature of the change that is occurring as compared with the preceding situation, the industrial economy, and mainly culture. This change is not, according to our and others' criticisms, purely quantitative (however major it may be), in that processes and products embody a far higher quantity of knowledge than in the past, but rather a qualitative one. For example, Florida and Kenney (1993) and Gibbons et al. (1994), to recall some crucial contributions, place this change in the shift from an individualistic towards a relational viewpoint (and connected practices) on learning inside firms, organisations and also local and regional systems.[7] These contributions have not however fully realised that the opening to the social dimension causes a shift towards a hermeneutic approach because the cognitivist idea intrinsically remains that comparison of different viewpoints helps one approach the right/true vision of things. The present book finally argues that the simple recognition of the role the hermeneutic approach is pragmatically assuming within industry will eventually induce economic thought to emerge from its increasing condition of obsolescence with respect to the evolution which is observable in the remaining human and social science as to knowledge and creativity, by levering on the not many and not always explicit and systematised cues which it is now possible to read in this direction within the economic literature (for example, Lavoie, 1990; Leydesdorff, 2006; Nguyeˆn, 2010; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995).

  • [1] This is not the Poincarécase. According to him, useful combinations spring from the interaction between the conscious and the unconscious level. The researcher's deliberate effort provides the unconscious with raw unrelated materials, and this latter works as a “sieve”, to select from the infinite possible combinations the “only few [which] are harmonious, and consequently at once useful and beautiful” (Poincaré, 2011[1914], p. 60). Though shedding important light on the emotional component of creativity, leaving the metaphor, the question remains unsolved as to how this process actually works, and how the two levels actually interact: are we sure that the unconscious does not subliminaly endow with usefulness the solutions it feels as beautiful?
  • [2] Here too, the term is drawn from Simon (1956)
  • [3] On this point, see Cusinato (2015)
  • [4] It seems the time has come to question if regional science is actually becoming or is tout court the science of the meso-economy
  • [5] For example, Scott (1999), Hemlin, Allwood, and Martin (2004), Meusburger, Funke, and Wunder (2009)
  • [6] For example, OECD (1996), Foray (2000)
  • [7] This 'relational turn' on knowledge has also had consequences on spatial research, as Khan, Moulaert, and Schreurs (2013) show.
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