Manufacturing Creativity




In this paper, I trace the social history of “brainstorming” from 1938 through 1968 in US management handbooks, workplace posters, and newspaper articles. The early history of this nowadays commonplace term tells a story of the imbrications of creative ideation – as a specific and value-generating knowledge practice – within the US military and manufacturing industries. While the initial commodification, institutionalization, and, later on, normalization of brainstorming foreshadows the emergence of a so-called knowledge economy, the particular history of this knowledge-generating practice suggests a not yet severed link between tangible and intangible spheres. Brainstorming did cast thinking and ideation as an activity that resisted the utilitarian logics of everyday work, but it was within the manufacturing industry, within the Navy, that the appreciation for creative thinking came into its own.

Bregje van Eekelen is assistant professor “Historical Culture and Cultural Difference” at the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication at Erasmus University. She is affiliated with the sections Metahistory and World History.
After her studies in Cultural Anthropology and Social and Institutional Economics at Utrecht University, she pursued a graduate degree at University of California, Santa Cruz under the supervision of Professor S. Harding (Anthropology). Her training included coursework in Anthropology, History of Consciousness, and Philosophy. Her dissertation is titled The Social Life of Ideas: Economies of Knowledge.

Both her dissertation and her current project (Brainstorms: Fragments of a Mental Discourse) use a combination of historical and anthropological approaches to the study of traveling concepts, most notably concepts that are situated on the boundary between culture and economy. They include concepts such as ‘marketplace of ideas,’ ‘intangible assets,’ ‘knowledge economy,’ and ‘creativity.’ She studies the socio-historical conditions of the emergence of these concepts; the knowledge practices, bureaucratic categories, and narratives through which they are stabilized and kept in place; and how they structure common sense, both in the past and in the present.

Her research and teaching expertise include the anthropology of knowledge; modern societies and their genealogies; history of social science; language & war; work, governance, ideology; economic history and anthropology. At Erasmus, she teaches courses in the philosophy of history (Theory of History, Historical Culture) and in world history (Histories of Emerging Markets). She also teaches in the MA Research Workshop “Nation, History, and Memory.” Van Eekelen previously taught theory and history of anthropology, ethnographies of capitalism, and histories and cultural aspects of trade, travel, and tourism (University of California, Santa Cruz).
Her research has been funded by numerous grants. Amongst them, a UC Chancellor’s Fellow Grant, UvA Employability Grant, Catharina van Tussenbroek Fellowship, Henriette Sara De Lanoy Meijer Fellowship, a Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds Fellowship, a Nationale Talentenbeurs, a Fulbright NAF scholarship, a Vrouwe van Renswoude Fellowship, and grants from The University of California Regents.
She is a research associate at the Center for Historical Culture. She was previously a Chancellor’s Fellow of the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), and she worked as an academic editor (Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis).

The Business History Seminar has been made possible by financial support from the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM) and the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication.
Contact information:
Marten Boon