(The image above is from Christopher Baker’s visualisation of his social network formed from 60,000 emails in his archive – see video at bottom of post)
An article in The Observer discusses a new report on social mobility and access to the creative industries:
Social networks have been identified as the key reason why young people from affluent backgrounds secure more jobs in popular professions than poorer peers.
A report by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) finds that informal recruitment through word-of-mouth is particularly prevalent in the creative industries such as advertising, architecture, design, publishing and journalism, where the cliché that “it’s not what you know but who you know” appears to ring true.
The research suggests that networks are much more important than unpaid internships, which are often highlighted as inaccessible to those from poorer backgrounds. Critics say that young people with less financial backup are less likely to have work experience because they cannot afford the living costs.
Ryan Shorthouse, a social policy researcher and editor of the report “Disconnected: Social Mobility and the Creative Industries”, said the study showed the strength of social networks was key in the creative sector. “Contacts are very important for getting into the sector because word-of-mouth recruitment is more common than formal recruitment methods.”
This is not new information, though it’s useful to have it confirmed. Research has shown in the past that social capital (who you know) is a means of creating economic capital (money). In semester 2 we’ll be looking at this in a bit more detail when we encounter Pierre Bourdieu who studied how artists worked, building up contacts and influence, then cashing it in later.
It’s also one of the many reasons why we get students to blog and use social networks like Twitter – building up an online presence, getting involved in networks with peers and influencers is arguably as important for employment prospects (if not more so!) as developing technical skills. I’ve met many people working as journalists, agents, advertisers, brand managers – you name it – who got where they are because they knew someone in the business rather than because they knew how to do those things.
Does that mean it’s pointless learning about design (or any discipline) at university? No, of course not. But it does mean that university is more than just learning “stuff” – university’s invisible benefit is that it gives people the chance to build social networks. (which is why, if you’ll forgive a political point, I think that attempts to compress degree courses into two years to “save time and money” rather miss the point of doing a degree).
When I was at the UCAS fair in London the other week, a lot of potential students kept asking me “why Dundee?” and as often as anything else I kept saying “DJCAD is part of a university, which means you are surrounded by people working in other disciplines.” There’s a lack of insularity that comes with being part of a university that leads to remarkable partnerships between, say, medicine and product design, or computing and jewellery, or chemistry and textiles. And at the same time the network that students build up are much more varied and full of potential that may not be realised for years to come. Blogging and Twitter and other technologies add to that, and give networks an international dimension.
What you know is important. But who you know is important too. We can’t teach it at university, but it’s part of what we do.
What do you think?
Read the full article: Social networks help affluent children to secure jobs in creative industries
Christopher Baker’s email network