'These Things Don't Happen by Magic': Charismatic autonomy in festival production in the English East Midlands




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


Festivals are special times in social life. They interrupt everyday life for periods of celebration. But festivals don’t happen by magic; they are the result of on-going, hidden work by festival producers. Urban arts festivals are multifaceted social phenomena reliant on complex place-based and cultural interest networks. They navigate values and norms with varied identity, place, economic and social meanings. This thesis questions how this largely invisible work shapes urban life, who undertakes this labour, what motivates them, who else is involved and how producers’ underlying value systems influence their effects in regional urban areas in England. In order to address the complexity of festivals as sites and artefacts, research for this thesis was multi-method. Ethnographic methods, cultural production and institutional concepts were synthesised with policy analysis and crystallised into a tripartite Weberian ideal type framework. The typology distinguished between festival’s primary purposes linked to their hetero-regulatory interest groups: arts curation based on aesthetic judgement; commercial priorities within creative industry sectors; and civic outcomes linked to public policies. Three case-studies, one of each type, were researched using thick description techniques to identify themes. The thesis is split into a theoretical section followed by ethnographic research to develop three case-studies: Buxton International Festival, Leicester Comedy Festival and Derby Festé. It asks if festivals are hetero-regulated institutions or autonomous, charismatic actors within their localities and concludes the case-studies were strongly influenced by their founders’ professional habitus within their artistic fields. Although responsive to structural heteronomy in their respective cities, they all resisted pressures to commercialise or lower artistic standards. The thesis concludes festivals are sites where values are negotiated throughout the production cycle and historically as festivals develop and align with wider interests. Policy discourses used to justify public subsidy mask influential players’ power within localities. Professional expertise from founders’ cultural habitus was found to give them intrinsic and instrumental charismatic power. In viewing festivals as cyclical events produced by enduring organisations, this thesis contributes to the field by illuminating festival producers’ charismatic autonomy within the context of hetero-regulatory authorising environments shaped by neoliberal cultural and urban policies.





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