Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





William Kornblum

Committee Members

Sharon Zukin

Philip Kasinitz

Subject Categories



Culture, Identity, Music Scenes, Urban Ecology, Urban Sociology


This work is concerned with the situation of indie musicians and their relationship to the urban imaginary of the city of Portland, Oregon. Central to this inquiry is the interplay between music makers and the evolving cultural economy of the city. There are several key issues that arise in Portland for participants in the indie music scene, in the new, high-rent lifestyle city. The regional Northwest ecology of indie rock music and the collective memory of the underground has been brought into the mainstream as an advertisement for the city, an identity for its new residents and for cultural tourism. This commodification of memory threatens the DIY culture and its independent production practices that previously had thrived. The rise in rents and capitalization of space has undermined the potential of small-scale processes of creation and exchange, from which the identity of the city today was derived. The precariousness of work in the digital age hits home for music makers, as their efforts to collectivize and monetize their production creates a bifurcated creative class, as opposed to a rising tide of creativity.

Spatial practices surrounding development and the use of the music scene as value pose interesting questions of potential and possibility in the new landscape of artisanal entrepreneurialism. As the television show Portlandia, and its related product lines illustrate, as the imagineered version of the hip city overtakes the lived version, the indie culture's value as part of a growth machine outpaces local quality of life measures, such as availability of work and cost of living in general. Participants use neighborhoods as sites of renegotiation, even with limited resources, and homeownership becomes a major mode of spatial entrenchment in the growth machine city. The dispersed archipelago of music places and networks across the city acts as a buttress against the rising tide of incorporation into capital frameworks seen in distinct Bohemian enclaves. In addition, the potential of digital networks of exchange and communication breathe life into a fragile urban cultural production scene.

This work makes a contribution to the sociology of cultural production and the sociology of culture concerning frameworks of identity and spatial change in the new post-industrial city. Codes of authenticity are built up in the tone, technology and practices of the production of musical sound. A new left libertarianism of tiny publics of local goods, especially in the food cart and restaurant scene, have help reestablish spatial practices that embed alternative cultural production, its meanings and practices, in the Portland indie rock framework of authentic local historicity. The threat of the expanding use of space and the value of the music scene as part of the city as a growth machine, especially when the urban growth boundary forces development in close, has threatened the social fabric of creative actors, racial minorities and the working class. Future issues such as the preservation of local cultural identity and collective memory and the notion of artistic communities as a local cultural trust rise to the forefront as artisanal economies and collective networks are left to work to stem the tide of larger capital forces in the new leisure city.

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