KATHERINE K. CHEN
City College of New York; Graduate Center, City University of New York, USA
In 1986 Burning Man started as an intimate San Francisco beach bonfire. This annual event now attracts more than 69,000 people to the Nevada Black Rock Desert, where they form the week-long Black Rock City. Named after the celebratory bonfire of a neon-lit wooden statue located at the city's center, Burning Man espouses 10 principles of radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, Leave No Trace, participation, and immediacy. These countercultural guidelines emphasize forming relations with others; event goers, dubbed “participants,” collaboratively produce the event's activities. Eschewing corporate sponsorship, the event and its organization's US$26 million budget are fueled by ticket sales and donations. The Black Rock City LLC, a for-profit organization led by one of the event's original cofounders, coordinates the year-round activities, such as working with volunteers, law enforcement, government officials, and suppliers. With its large volunteer ranks, the organization operates more like a voluntary association than a for-profit organization.
Studies of various Burning Man phenomena all highlight participants' agency in meaning-making activities. Burning Man's emphasis on expression encourages participants to expand their identities through prosuming ...