Ranganathan (2018). The Artisan and His Audience: Identification with Work and Price Setting in a Handicraft Cluster in Southern India


Aruna Ranganathan – Stanford GSB


Hui Sun – Northwestern University

Xuege (Cathy) Lu – Cornell University

Article link: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0001839217725782

Question 1. In the paper, you demonstrate that people who identify with their work prioritize financial gains when they face undiscerning audiences, but disregard financial gains when they face discerning audiences. You also suggest that the underlying mechanism of this behavior is worker’s attachment to their product. This is a really interesting theory, but we wonder:

a).Would it be possible that higher product attachment might be a behavioral indicator of higher identification with work rather than an explanation of it?

Thank you for this question. As you rightly point out, I argue that people who identify with their work care less about financial gains when they encounter discerning audiences because they develop attachment to their products and want their products to go to a good home. In so far as identification with work is difficult to observe, but product attachment is more easily discernable, product attachment might be seen as one of the many indicators of identification with work. Having said that, it would be hard to explain prices charged by creative workers to different audiences without the mechanism of product attachment. Even among individuals who identify with their work, the price that they charge for a given product depends on how attached they are to that product. As such, I see product attachment as an important mechanism underlying economic decision-making rather than simply an indicator of identification with work.

b). How would you relate your theory to the concept of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in OB and psychology literature?

Workers who identify with their work will often go above and beyond the requirements of their job and will exhibit behaviors such as product attachment which can lead to economic patterns like the ones I document in this paper. In recent work, Ryan and Deci (2000) move beyond classic definitions of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to delineating a spectrum of types of motivation and on this spectrum lies identification. Ryan and Deci (2000) define identification as “conscious valuing of activity” and “self-endorsement of goals” and theorize that the locus of control is internal here. My theory on the economic implications of identification with work builds on Ryan and Deci’s (2000) theorization of identification. In this way, the concepts of identification with work and product attachment are quite related to theories of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Question 2. When comparing the initial prices offered by artisans to different customers, traders’ initial prices were treated as the market price. But interestingly, traders also offer different initial prices when they face different audiences, and they also seem to identify with their work (“take pride in the ability to sell even a broken product”, p.2, Appendix A). Would your theory apply to traders as well?

In my context, traders charge prices based on willingness-to-pay of different buyer groups. For example, discernibly wealthier buyers are often quoted higher prices. In order to quantify the deviation of artisans’ prices from this traditional notion of price-setting, traders offered a very useful reference. I therefore use traders’ prices to each buyer group as the market price for that group. Having said that, I’m quite excited about the implications of my work for explaining the behavior of those workers who might seemingly be purely financially motivated. For example, traders in my context, cared not just about what price they obtained but also about obtaining high rates for potentially defective products and in coming on top in a particularly difficult bargaining situation. The very act of seeking greater financial reward offered a source of identification for these market actors! One can imagine how other similar professions like Wall Street traders, real estate brokers etc. who operate under strong financial incentives might derive meaning from the work that they do in this way. I think this is a topic ripe for future research.

Question 3. The idea of full-cycle methodology has been circulating for a while, and we are really excited to see a paper incorporating both inductive and deductive approaches. What prompt you to start this project? Did you go to the field with a question and a research design in mind?

I was interested in studying occupations in developing countries that are low-income despite the members of the occupations possessing unique skills. While working on a different project, I became aware of handicraft artisans, who are steeped in craft traditions and constitute the second largest employment group in India (only after agriculture workers) but yet are positioned in the bottom deciles of India’s income distribution. I was keen to study how artisans understand their work and how they make work-related decisions. I began this project with fieldwork in several artisanal clusters across India (in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa) before picking Channapatna in the state of Karnataka as my main fieldsite. While doing fieldwork in Channapatna, I uncovered an interesting observation – artisans’ unique price-setting pattern to different buyers. Conversations with faculty members at MIT (thank you especially to Susan Silbey and Ezra Zuckerman!) led me to the idea of testing this observation quantitatively using a field experiment and surveys. In this way, I ended up developing my theory inductively and then causally testing it deductively, even though I did not enter the field with a concrete plan of the methods I would use to conduct this study.

Question 4. The field audit design is quite amazing to us. Would you elaborate a little bit on how you did that? What would be your advice to researchers who are interested in this method but don’t really know how to implement it?

Thank you for your kind words about my field audit design. I was interested in quantitatively testing the hypothesis that artisans who identify with their work offer discounts to discerning buyers who they think will take care of their products beyond the point of sale. I had been following the growing adoption of field-experimental methods in development economics and was inspired by some research (Iyer and Schoar 2010) that specifically adopted a field audit design. With the guidance of faculty members at MIT (thank you, Tavneet Suri!) and support staff in Bangalore, I designed my field experiment and piloted it in the field, before commencing data collection.

My advice to researchers who are interested in using field experimental methods would be to first conduct fieldwork in the settings where they hope to set up their field experiments. In line with the full cycle approach, fieldwork helps generate novel hypotheses, but also provides valuable insight into the setting that facilitates the design and implementation of an experiment. Additionally, I would encourage researchers to school themselves in field experimental methods (Duflo, Glennerster and Kremer (2008) is a useful starting point) and pilot their experiment before commencing data collection. From my experience, a pilot run is an excellent time to iron out any kinks in the experimental design and helps to anticipate the various things that could go wrong in the experiment. Finally, I would urge researchers to not be deterred by the magnitude of work required to set up a field experiment. While there will surely be significant learning on the ground, using field experimental methods can also be fun and rewarding!

Question 5. What do you think is the most important message of the paper? How would you situate your findings in our current global economy where customers are increasingly farther away from the producers?

I think the most important message of the paper is that workers in a wide variety of occupations can identify with their work and develop attachment to their output, and that this product attachment can influence how they make work and economic decisions for different kinds of audiences. In our current global economy, while customers are increasingly farther away from producers geographically, online platforms are bringing producers and customers from around the world closer together than they have ever been before. For example, artisans in India are beginning to put their products up on platforms like Etsy, and sell directly to a wide array of customers across the world. As such, I believe that my findings are particularly important in this highly connected world where producers might modify their prices, marketing and perhaps even their creative decisions in response to different kinds of audiences.

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