The following study examines the potential of eight independently run bars in New London, Connecticut to “manufacture” community. This process is examined with particular focus on the tension felt by bar owners, who must continually attract new patrons while still keeping their current “regulars” content. Inherent to this study is the reexamination of “community” as an analytically useful term in anthropological scholarship, with particular emphasis on disproportionate feelings of belonging and commitment as manifested by individual interpretation of collectively rendered symbols.
This data for this study was collected by virtue of semi-structured interviews as well as ethnographic field observation. The owner (or, in one case, the manager) of each bar on which the study is focused was interviewed twice. First interviews largely consisted of descriptive questions, while structural questions comprised the majority of second interviews. Interviews were transcribed and then analyzed by virtue of domain analyses and folk taxonomies. Field note-taking was divided into two distinct stages: that of unfocused notes, which concerned anything and everything discernible within a bar, and that of focused notes, which concerned a single behavioral pattern.
Analysis of my data indicates that a bar may “manufacture” community by encouraging patrons to identify with one another, the establishment’s owner, and the owner’s ideal bar environment. The bar owners interviewed for this study facilitate such feelings of identification, in part, by targeting specific “crowds” of patrons with whom they identify. Furthermore, these individuals remain highly visible within their respective establishments and, as a result, promote the continual reproduction of a specific bar atmosphere. This atmosphere is the product of such elements as music, décor, and television programming, but primarily emerges as a result of social interaction. The bar owners on which this study is focused make it a point to interact with their patrons on a regular basis. In so doing, they promote normative models of social behavior. The role of these individuals can be said to harbor a considerable tension, however, as, along with reproducing regularity, they must continually seek new patronage (albeit to varying extents) as a means of remaining in business. As such, the need to make a profit is often juxtaposed to “community” in the language of both bar owners and bar patrons.
Based on the interview and observational data that I collected, I conclude that the propensity of bars involved with this study to garner feelings of solidarity and belonging among patrons does, indeed, enable them to “manufacture” community. Although the interpretation of symbols (“hipster,” “alternative,” “neighborhood bar,” etc.) associated with bar communities unavoidably varies between individual patrons, bar owners encourage similarity across such interpretations by, again, remaining visible within their respective establishments. The owners of the eight bars examined in this study, through both conversation and other forms of behavior, publicize their own interpretations of the community identities “manufactured” within their respective establishments. As new bar patrons become more familiar with a bar owner and this individual’s regular clientele, they will be encouraged to align their own interpretations of community identity with those of more seasoned community members. By encouraging interpretive unity among patrons (with the understanding that this can never be fully achieved), bar owners navigate the tension between novelty and cyclicality. Although some bar owners encourage “diversity” within their main crowd in terms of ethnic or cultural backgrounds, they also attempt to assimilate new patrons into their respective communities as quickly and seamlessly as possible. Prompt assimilation reduces the potential for disruption in the regular schedule of a bar.
Hartshorn, Timothy, ""Manufacturing” Community: Solidarity, Profit, and the Bar Owner" (2014). Anthropology Department Honors Papers. 10.
The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.