Critical circles and regional reputations: the Chicago imagists and the politics of art world peripheries

Gemma Mangione, Gary Alan Fine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Current research on artistic groups suggests the career benefits of being place-based. This article examines the Chicago Imagists—a group defined by local recognition in Chicago and limited national renown—to explain the limits of these benefits when actors’ interests within a local scene diverge. Studying critical discourse on the Imagists from the 1960s to 1980s, we explain how “critical circles,” tied to the interests of regional evaluators, mediate artistic reputations. During initial group formation, Chicago artists and critics shared the goal of developing a distinct local art. However, critics’ investment in defining the boundaries of a “Chicago” style to further their careers ultimately diverged from Imagists’ investment in mastering a broader “American” style to further theirs. Chicago critics’ ensuing debates about the parochial limits of the label—and New York critics’ framing of Imagist work as provincial—further came to organize the very regionalism Imagist artists hoped to evade. We argue that attending to the divergent interests in the cultural field within which collaborative circles operate expands understanding of how affordances of place shape artistic careers. This study has further implications for theorizing the interplay of impression management and strong program perspectives on cultural wealth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)555-580
Number of pages26
JournalAmerican Journal of Cultural Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Chicago Imagists
  • Collaborative circles
  • Critics
  • Place
  • Regionalism
  • Reputations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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