Reviews / Comptes rendus
Neo-bohemia: Art and commerce in the postindustrial city (2nd ed.) by Richard Lloyd
Article first published online: 4 JAN 2013
© Canadian Association of Geographers / L'Association canadienne des géographes
The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien
Volume 57, Issue 1, page e5, Spring / printemps 2013
How to Cite
Mathews, V. (2013), Neo-bohemia: Art and commerce in the postindustrial city (2nd ed.) by Richard Lloyd. The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien, 57: e5. doi: 10.1111/j.1541-0064.2012.00468.x
- Issue published online: 22 FEB 2013
- Article first published online: 4 JAN 2013
Neo-bohemia: Art and commerce in the postindustrial city ( 2nd ed. ) by , Routledge , New York , 2010 , v + 328 pp., paper $34.95 ( ISBN 9780415870979 )
Richard Lloyd's Neo-bohemia guides its readers through Chicago's Wicker Park neighbourhood at street level, offering a lively record of the production and consumption of a local arts scene in the postindustrial economy. There is much to be gleaned from this grounded perspective and the complex arrangements and social relations that support and circulate the identity of Wicker Park. This reinstatement of materiality is especially important in the current context of fast policy transfers, where global replicas and repetition in arts and culture policy and planning have become the norm.
The book is separated into three main parts. The first part deploys a rich discussion of the culture of bohemia beginning with its roots in 1920s Paris, to its modern incarnations, and presents a base line history of Wicker Park. Part two shifts bohemia into a postindustrial setting, marking out various stages of urban change: the displacement of Latino residents by bohemians and the displacement of bohemians by urban professionals attracted to cosmopolitan chic. Part three highlights how the bohemian lifestyle is appropriated by the culture industry for its productive labour, and to manufacture “hip” for export.
Intellectually, the book contributes a modern revision for the term bohemia, adding the “neo” prefix “to highlight the important ways in which contemporary bohemias are historically distinct from their predecessors” (p. 240). Neo-bohemia is defined as a distinct urban locale and a state of mind: “a mode of spatial practices” that are embedded in neoliberalism, globalization, and the postmodern economy (p. 72). As a set of practices, bohemia has mutated in accordance with the shifting cultural economies of cities, at times becoming more of a “bohemian-themed entertainment district” (p. 71) than Paris in the 1920s.
A major contribution is Lloyd's account of the diversity of actors involved in producing and maintaining the scene. The participants of the aesthetic economy display an incredible range in their levels of power, systems of identification, and cultural or economic capital. The role of artists as service workers, and the role of service work to artists as supplemental income, expresses the limitations of the aesthetic economy: not every cultural object or cultural producer attains economic or cultural success. Lloyd describes Wicker Park as a “farm league” where “an unknown number of products and producers will ascend to the big leagues of marketable cultural production” (p. 168). The majority of products will circulate between several hands, and the majority of producers will commit to a life of sacrifice, tolerating exploitative labour conditions and risky behavior (drugs, alcohol) for a chance at fame.
The second edition of Neo-bohemia released in 2010 offers readers a new preface and afterword that bookend the original text (2006). The additions offer some updates on the scene and some general reflections on bohemian culture in the global economy. In the preface, Lloyd reflects on the emergence of art and culture in “non-Western” case studies, remarking that “bohemia has gone global” (p. xi). Without providing context, the global reach of neo-bohemia is left to interpretation: is Wicker Park's aesthetic economy and its brand of neo-bohemia an anomaly or a prototype within the global economy? The afterword reflects Lloyd's return to the neighbourhood following the 2008 market crash, where he collects evidence of the latest signs of gentrification: the Bank of America replacing an offbeat café, artists who can no longer afford rents, and “a reduction in expressivity” (p. 253). Here Lloyd marks his contribution to gentrification as “a consideration of dynamic urban districts not only in terms of displacement and yuppie consumption, but also as postindustrial production sites” (p. 260).
Although Lloyd argues that “the neo-bohemian construct was necessarily inadequate in ‘explaining’ gentrification outcomes” (p. 258), he highlights throughout how bohemia as an edgy urban place and an unconventional state of mind works to catalyze gentrification. The process of gentrification is underdeveloped in the book despite its centrality to the narrative of Wicker Park. Greater engagement with the literature on artists and gentrification, including expressly cultural approaches, would add depth, and provide a more nuanced engagement with the role of art in the cycle of urban change. Neo-bohemia marks a valuable contribution to the expanding collection of works on the relationship between cultural production, place identity, and urban change. Written in accessible prose, Lloyd's experiences walking the streets of Wicker Park provide an intimate understanding of postmodern bohemia.