Sub-theme 18: Creative Trajectories in Cultural Fields

Gino Cattani
New York University, USA
Dirk Deichmann
Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Simone Ferriani
University of Bologna, Italy

Call for Papers

Recognizing the symbolic value of a creative product and the legitimacy of its producer – the process of consecration – is critical in the field of cultural production and is gaining increasing scholarly attention (Allen & Lincoln, 2004; Cattani et al., 2014; Accominotti, 2018). While extant research has shed important light on the individual characteristics and contextual factors that make certain producers more likely to be chosen by consecrating institutions, our understanding of the underlying creative trajectories and distinct career patterns that may give rise to enduring impact and success is still rather fragmentary.
On the one hand, studies informed by categorical scholarship suggest that career trajectories spanning cultural categories are likely to bring penalties and reproach to creative producers (Zuckerman et al., 2003). Producers crossing multiple domains often have a more ambiguous identity that is difficult for audiences to understand, undermining meaning extraction and legitimacy (Rosch, 1975; Zuckerman et al., 2003). Organizational scholars have also noted that producers who create narrowly focused content, or “specialist identities,” will be more likely to reap benefits (Hsu et al., 2009). Prospective consumers can more easily identify specialist identities, so maintaining specialist identities aids producers in being recognized (Ahlkvist & Fisher, 2000). Audiences may also view producers who display consistent creative content over time as personally committed to certain styles, perceiving commitment as a sign of trustworthiness, quality, and authenticity (Cattani et al., 2017). Based on these arguments and findings one should expect consecrating institutions to generally prefer professionals that evoke stability in their creative trajectory to ones that deviate from their prior work, because the former contains more predictable patterns and conforms more to implicit expectations.
On the other hand, creative careers – especially when observed retrospectively in their entirety – may well reveal erratic paths (determined, for instance, by creators’ trial-and-error learning patterns, shifts in cultural tastes, and change in socio-historical conditions) with highly variable impact (Deichmann & Van den Ende, 2014; Galenson, 2001). In fact, not only experimentation is inherent in cultural producers’ natural drive for distinctiveness but people may also actually appreciate deviation under certain conditions (Formilan et al., 2020; Stamkou et al., 2018). According to idiosyncrasy credits theory (Hollander, 1958), for instance, one could deviate from old practices after one has proven oneself capable of following them. Thus, early creative consistency allows others to develop confidence in a person’s skills and commitment, which in turn licenses deviance at a later stage.
Exploring this tension between consistency and deviation in shaping producers’ career creative outcomes lies at the core of the present track. Despite some progress in uncovering the underlying mechanisms that shape creative trajectories in fields of cultural production, we need more scholarly inquiry to deepen our understanding of which trajectories are more likely to lead to impact. Furthermore, in addition to individual producers, teams and organizations follow creative trajectories – which current research has not yet adequately investigated. We thus encourage researchers from a diverse array of academic disciplines – including organizational sociology, organizational behavior, strategy, and psychology – to submit papers that address this fundamental question. We are open to different types of conceptual and theoretically grounded empirical work based on qualitative and/or quantitative methods. We especially welcome work that aims to challenge received wisdom in the creativity and innovation literature, and recommend submitting papers that are already in advanced state of development. We will place special emphasis on innovative doctoral research that shows potential for contributing to the field in a non-conventional way. We also look forward to manuscripts whose theoretical perspectives and empirical findings allow comparing practices across different empirical settings. To this end, we would like to solicit conceptual and empirical papers addressing the following or very similar questions:

  • Why do certain actors (individuals, teams, or organizations) end up following certain creative trajectories?

  • Why do certain creative trajectories result in differing creative outcomes? And what are the characteristics of creative trajectories?

  • Are there some observable empirical regularities that distinguish specific creative trajectories from others? And what are the implications for achieving consecration in cultural fields?

  • What are the challenges and costs that cultural producers, teams, or organization face when they seek to introduce changes in their styles or products?

  • How do relevant audiences (peers, critics, or users) react to changes in the creative trajectories of cultural producers?

  • How does the production of earlier novel work stimulate or inhibit the generation of subsequent work?

  • What are the new methodological approaches that can be used to study creative trajectories?

  • Is a cultural producer’s lifetime impact dependent on whether the artist followed the same style as before or whether she deviated from her previous style? If so, how much deviation is beneficial and how frequent should it be?

  • Are there particular stylistic trajectories in an artist’s career that are more likely to lead to consecration?


Accominotti, F. (2021): “Consecration as a population-level phenomenon.” American Behavioral Scientist, 65 (1), 9–24.
  • Ahlkvist, J.A., & Fisher, G. (2000): “And the hits just keep on coming: Music programming standardization in commercial radio.” Poetics, 27 (5–6), 301–325.
  • Allen, M.P., & Lincoln, A.E. (2004): “Critical discourse and the cultural consecration of American films.” Social Forces, 82 (3), 871–894.
  • Cattani, G., Dunbar, R.L.M., & Shapira, Z. (2017): “How commitment to craftsmanship leads to unique value: Steinway & Sons’ differentiation strategy.” Strategy Science, 2 (1), 13–38.
  • Cattani, G., Ferriani, S., & Allison, P.D. (2014): “Insiders, outsiders, and the struggle for consecration in cultural fields.” American Sociological Review, 79 (2), 258–281.
  • Deichmann, D., & Van den Ende, J. (2014): “Rising from failure and learning from success: The role of past experience in radical initiative taking.” Organization Science, 25 (3), 670–690.
  • Formilan, G., Ferriani, S., & Cattani, G. (2020): “A methodological essay on the application of social sequence analysis to the study of creative trajectories.” In: V. Dörfler & M. Stierand (eds.): Handbook of Research Methods on Creativity. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 329–350.
  • Galenson, D.W. (2001): Painting Outside the Lines. Boston: Harvard University Press.
  • Hollander, E.P. (1958): “Conformity, status, and idiosyncrasy credit.” Psychological Review, 65 (2), 117–127.
  • Hsu, G., Koçak, Ö., & Hannan, M.T. (2009): “Guidance for methodology in markets: An integrative theory and two empirical tests.” American Sociological Review, 74 (1), 150–169.
  • Rosch, E. (1975): “Cognitive reference points.” Cognitive Psychology, 7 (4), 532–547.
  • Stamkou, E., Van Kleef, G.A., & Homan, A.C. (2018): “The art of influence: When and why deviant artists gain impact.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 115 (22), 276–303.
  • Zuckerman, E.W., Kim, T.-Y., Ukanwa, K., & von Rittmann, J. (2003): “Robust identities or nonentities? Typecasting in the feature‐film labor market.” American Journal of Sociology, 108 (5), 1018–1073.
Gino Cattani is Professor of Management & Organization at the Stern School of Business, New York University, USA. His research focuses on creativity, innovation, and market/industry formation and evolution. In his current research he has investigated the socio-structural foundations of individual creativity by looking at the role of audiences recognizing and endorsing creative work and individuals’ position along the core/periphery continuum of the field’ social network. Gino’s work was published in several top academic journals such as and ‘American Sociological Review’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Research Policy’, and ‘Industrial and Corporate Change’.
Dirk Deichmann is an Associate Professor at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, The Netherlands. In his research he focuses on the determinants and consequences of creative and innovative behavior, with particular emphasis on the question of how sustained and successful idea generation, development, and implementation can be achieved. Dirk’s work has been published in several top academic journals such as ‘Strategic Management Journal’, ‘Organization Science’, and ‘Research Policy’ and has also been featured in popular media outlets such as ‘Harvard Business Review’.
Simone Ferriani is Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Bologna, Italy, and Honorary Professor at Bayes Business School, City, University of London, United Kingdom. His research interests include entrepreneurship, creativity, and social networks. He has published his work in journal articles, books and book chapters. Recent publications have focused on processes of social evaluation, the origin of entrepreneurship and the social side of creativity. Simone’s research has been featured in such journals as ‘Strategic Management Journal’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, and ‘American Sociological Review’.