Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Margarethe Kusenbach, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Donileen R. Loseke, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Shawn Bingham, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Andrew Berish, Ph.D.


Festival, Creativity, Social Change, Lived Experience, Embodiment


This dissertation can broadly be summarized as an examination of the construction and maintenance of a specific type of “authentic” American identity through the lens of folk music. Drawing from interpretive perspectives within the sociology of culture and social psychology, social constructionism and symbolic interactionism in particular, I combine ethnographic research with 61 interviews at two different “folk musicians’ festivals” (festivals where attendees, not hired professionals, produce the music).

My principal focus at these festivals concerns the various practices and stories surrounding the creation and performance of original folk music. I use the empirical platform of musicians’ festivals, where folk songwriters are plenty, combined with the theoretical synthesis of music and narrative, to examine how such practices and stories shape, and are shaped by, culture, emotion, and identity. Specifically, I am interested in the cultural “work” accomplished by the interrelationships among music and narrative at festivals, around songwriting, and in songs, particularly as such “work” relates to the (re)production and reception of folk and festival culture, participants’ emotional experiences, the construction and maintenance of participants’ personal and collective identities, and the purposeful evocation of social change.

In attending to the importance of process and meaning-making, I examine the process through which one accomplishes authenticity as a folk and festival member, the creative process of songwriting, and the process through which listeners experience and interpret “good songs.” I offer the concepts (and processes) of songwriting as inquiry and songwriting in action to account for how these interrelationships “work” for songwriters and listeners, but also for sociologists, particularly in terms of including the (mostly neglected) lived and embodied dimensions of emotional experience. Throughout, I explore how stories and practices in and around the process of musical production and performance are largely influenced by broader cultural narratives that circulate in and around folk music culture, particularly as they relate to the notion of “authentic identity” through emotionality, creativity, and social justice.