The Artisan and His Audience: Identification with Work and Price Setting in a Handicraft Cluster in Southern India

The Artisan and His Audience: Identification with Work and Price Setting in a Handicraft Cluster in Southern India

Administrative Science Quarterly. September
1, 2018, Vol. 63, Issue 3, Pages 637-667

Using ethnographic, experimental, and survey data from a handicraft cluster in southern India, this paper reports on a study of when and why people who identify with their work might sacrifice financial rewards in their economic decisions. Based on findings from ethnographic fieldwork, I hypothesize that the monetary value that individuals who identify with their work seek for their output depends on their audience: when they encounter discerning audiences, who are knowledgeable about and appreciative of their work, they underemphasize financial gains; transactions with non-discerning audiences, however, result in a focus on monetary rewards. I propose that the mechanism underlying this behavior is product attachment: people who identify with their work develop affection for the output of their labor and prefer to transact with audiences who will take care of their products beyond the point of sale, even if doing so results in lower monetary rewards. I substantiate this theory with a field experiment by demonstrating that handicraft artisans in India who identify with their work sell their products at different prices to discerning and non-discerning groups of buyers. This paper contributes to our understanding of economic decision making in the context of meaningful work by highlighting the moderating role of audiences and uncovering the mechanism of product attachment.