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Exploring the on-site behavior of attendees at community festivals: a social constructivist grounded theory approach

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Empirical and theoretical gaps exist on the subject matter of attendee experiential behavior at community festivals as this action occurs in real time. To acquire knowledge and begin to build theory, attendee behavior was investigated through an interpretive lens to

Empirical and theoretical gaps exist on the subject matter of attendee experiential behavior at community festivals as this action occurs in real time. To acquire knowledge and begin to build theory, attendee behavior was investigated through an interpretive lens to give rise to a socially constructed understanding of this phenomenon in contrast to typical positivist inquiry designs found in the field of event studies used to test theory and determine universal explanations. This ontology was deemed appropriate as human experience at community festivals is multifaceted, relative to social interactions, highly variable with complex meanings, and has a wide variety of consequential implications; all views representative of social constructivism. A grounded theory approach was used in conjunction with a participant observation method to collect data on attendee behavior during fieldwork undertaken at community festivals. Prior to fieldwork, literature was not reviewed nor specific theory pre-selected to serve as a basis for research, with the researcher's only intent to record attendee's on-site actions with an open mind. Fieldwork notes were systematically expanded into descriptive narratives that were broken down into initial codes to establish robust analytic directions, which were synthesized into categories and subcategories through focused coding. Relationships between categories and subcategories were reassembled with axial coding bringing into view a strong emergent theme on social capital bonding and bridging at community festivals and a second theme that considers the aspirations of event management to program festive experiences. To strengthen the second theme event manager interviews and content analysis of event association newsletters were conducted as theoretical sampling to move data towards saturation. From emergent themes it was theorized, while social capital bonding is profusely exhibited at community festivals, social capital bridging is minimally displayed unless augmented with programmed festivity to increase physical, emotional, and social engagement of attendees. Literature reviewed in relation to this theory revealed that spirituality, dance, music, the arts, and wild abandonment were important elements of festivity. An implication arising from this study indicates that if community festivals consciously enhance programmed festivity then correspondingly increased social capital impacts within community development might also be achieved.

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2013