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A Tale of a Town: Artists Crafting "The Creative Class"

This dissertation presents an alternative understanding to current works exploring the creative class. Extant views of the creative class portray it as a concentration of individuals and organizations producing clusters of interconnected cultural activities fostering positive socioeconomic change in the communities where they are located. By contrast, this dissertation articulates the creative class as time evolving geographical organizing of networked creative individuals whose presence over time in a community may or may not foster positive socioeconomic change. The creative class is thus conceptualized as contingent and continuously evolving processes whose emergence at any one point in time may or may not be sustainable over time. Framed theoretically through a nexus between strategic management, economic geography, and economic sociology, the unfolding of a creative class is explored as location specific phenomenon illustrating mutually co-constructing processes of organizations and their environment. It focuses –as its exemplar- on local socioeconomic processes enacted by an assortment of artists and artisans in a small New England (USA) former mill town. A case study was derived from data collected for over four years in fieldwork through a multi-method approach. Underpinned by interpretative notions, methodology included participative ethnography and social network analyses, where quantitative and qualitative data functioned in a complementary way. Exploring relationships between artists and artisans and their organizing attempts to become members of the community, observations focused on mundane situations through which these processes were enacted. Social network methodologies contributed to mapping processual linkages between community members, while further ethnographic work contextualized relationships uncovered through social network analyses. The resulting case study presents a narrative about the unfolding of a potential creative class as dynamic bottom-up phenomenon whose socioeconomic consequences cannot be guaranteed by formal planning. Artists and artisans struggle to become a community of creative practice and become acknowledged as such by their neighbors when their organizing opens up socioeconomic change. These processes, which may lead to a sustainable cultural economy in this location, are not independent or exogenous to the place. They are part of the local history, influenced by shared and ongoing socioeconomic processes, and specific to locality.
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