Semiotic dimensions of creativity

Eitan Wilf*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Recurrent, most recently Romantic, ideologies conceptualize creativity as the solitary, ex nihilo creation of products of self-evident and universal value-most emblematically in the field of art-by highly exceptional individuals. Such ideologies obscure the social dimensions of creativity that come into view via anthropological analysis: (a) the nature and ubiquity of creative processes as communicative and improvisational events, with real-time emergent properties, involving human and nonhuman agents in the context of pre-existing yet malleable genres and constraints; (b) the role of socialization in the making of creative individuals, implicating processes of social reproduction; and (c) the processes by which certain objects and individuals are recognized and constructed as exemplars of creativity and thus acquire their value. This review discusses these dimensions by synthesizing cultural and linguistic/semiotic anthropological research. It concludes by addressing the recent transformation of creativity into the neoliberal philosopher's stone and the potential contribution of anthropology to the demystification of this transformation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)397-412
Number of pages16
JournalAnnual Review of Anthropology
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 by Annual Reviews.


  • creativity
  • improvisation
  • neoliberalism
  • semiotic mediation
  • socialization
  • value


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