Toward Political Community: Navigating Civic Conditions and Civic Positions in the Creative Economy
This dissertation confronts the deterioration and transformation of public life in the era of neoliberalism and neoliberal multiculturalism. This confrontation is filtered through the creative economy of Nashville, Tennessee, where development trends over the last two decades have hinged on an entrepreneurial and socially liberal urban identity while simultaneously skirting contestations over growing inequality and corporate governance. Here, the arts and cultural sector is entwined with urban politics, as creativity has become a lever for competition, civic engagement, and collective action. This research is based on 18 months of qualitative research, exploring the integration of the arts into Nashville’s civic strategy (for instance, through programs that enroll artists into partnerships with municipal agencies to facilitate public participation), and specifically, the navigations by artists who, while desiring voice, recognition, and representation for their communities, are often conflicted about their roles in urban change and service to a governing ethos that depoliticizes racial and economic struggles. Enabled by theories of subjectivity and democratic politics, this analysis examines artists’ political subjectivities as developed through the institutions and structures that often subjugate and constrain public life, but also through the ways socially- and civically-engaged artists navigate and shape the conditions to act. In this study, I approach artists’ political subjectivities as shaped by self-understandings, actions toward self-determination and self-development, relationships with municipal institutions and private sector developers, cultural policies and development plans, affinity organizations, and a professional development program to train artists in civic practice. Rather than submit artists to hegemonic forces or, alternatively, tout them as beacons of urban activism, I approach socially-engaged artists as urban denizens who are engaged in common struggles for collective agency – where they are navigating collective identities, expressions of conflict, the terms of civic responsibility, and a critical consciousness of social power. While hailed into collective identities that draw them into alignment with the city’s economic development infrastructure, artists, as civic actors, also leverage positions of agency to bring political community into being – where collective capacity for democratic politics is not dismantled by neoliberalism, but is being cultivated through the navigation of its contradictions and the redefinition of its terms.