Austin, RA. 2012. Burning Man Thesis.

Austin, Rachel L. 2012. “’Welcome Home’: A Study of a Regional Burn Festival.” Master’s Thesis. University of North Carolina – Charlotte.

Burn festivals as “short, secluded, outdoor gatherings based on founding principles such as self-reliance, artistic expression, and lack of consumerism” (3) – regionals as spinoffs of annual Burning Man originating in 1986.

New Social Movements as everyday activism – integrating daily behaviors and identities into directions of social change. Use of fragmented and individual identity/action to construct shared meanings, identity, goals; Melucci (1989) offers that modern conflicts link symbolism, identity, and personal expression to solutions. Festivals as understudied due to “undeserving” status and stigma applied to festival-goers (Adams 1998 – her study of Grateful Dead fans), who flaunt deviance, disorganization, drug use. Festivals may serve sociological attention due to undertones of rebellion, purposeful disorganization of social order, political undertones, development of fellowship, conviviality (Jankowiak and White 1999); festivals as site of ceremony and ritual within modern society (Shrum and Kilburn 1996) – however, many studies of ceremony/ritual/carnival as a study of individual actions instead of shared meanings and symbols (see also Jankowiak and White 1999).

Sociological looks into burning communities is very limited – photojournalism (Bruder 2007; Nash 2007) or ethnographic accounts (Doherty 2004; Sherry and Kozinets 2004).

Subculture not as core group, but as a “spread of cultural factors and collective identity through looser ties such as small, disseminated groups, information spreading, and diffusion through popular media” (13) – acknowledges fluidity of subcultural membership, meanings (Bennett 1999). Watch use and interchangeability of counter- and subculture.

Hunt (2008) –countercultural ideologies (drug use, for example) – particularly ones that are stigmatized by mainstream society, are reinforced and cast in positive light through connection and exposure to cc, which allows development of temporary communities and network maintenance.

Methods: “Notes taken included brief descriptions of appearance, verbal interactions, and non-verbal behavior and were elaborated more fully in notes at later periods not exceeding one day past the date of observation in order to preserve quality and accuracy (Mack et al 2005 here 13).”

Burn behaviors and identities are 1) “set free” – where oppressive external states repress who a person really is – burns are a site of freedom of expression; 2) burns are a place where people modify their behavior – where participants hold same identities regardless of context, but are heightened through burn participation.

Gender and sexual identities as more prominent, queered in burn contexts – revealing of “true” selves, receiving positive feedback for stigmatized identities.

“Turning to NSM, Melucci (1989) contends that modern day society (as he calls it, “complex society”) exhibits three qualitative differences from earlier time periods. First, he contends that power is no longer obtained primarily by the control of natural resources but rather the control and dissemination of knowledge and information. Secondly, our society and larger frame of reference has become global and interdependent. Lastly, Melucci contends that social actors are moving towards individualization, that is, we do not consider ourselves as coherently defined by structural social groups (such as class, race, or religion) as we once did, leaving present-day social actors grasping at individual meaning. In short, our destiny as a human race is no longer as determined by natural occurrences so much as by the choices that we make. Melucci states that this logic impacts the individual, leading us to seek our destiny through our personal choices (e.g. a lifestyle) and participation in social change” (here 82).

Chen’s (2009) study of changes and authenticity in Burning Man as a reflexive process, offering adaptation and carryover into mainstream venues – fragmentation that is gaining sway in larger society.

Maffesoli 1996 – exclusivity, secrecy, and limitation can contribute to solidarity of group; urban living promotes dehumanization, people seeking emotional experiences.


Adams, Rebecca. 1998. “Inciting Sociological Thought by Studying the Deadhead Community: Engaging Publics in Dialogue.” Social Forces 77(1): 1-25

Bennett, Andy. 1999. “Subcultures Or Neo-Tribes? Rethinking the Relationship between Youth, Style and Musical Taste.” Sociology 33(3):599-617

Bruder, Jessica. 2007. Burning Book: A Visual History of Burning Man. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Chen, Katherine K. 2009. “Authenticity at Burning Man.” Contexts 8(3): 65-67.

Doherty, Brian. 2004. This is Burning Man: The Rise of a New American Underground. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Hunt, Pamela M. 2008. “From Festies to Tourrats: Examining the Relationship between Jamband Subculture Involvement and Role Meanings.” Social Psychology Quarterly 71(4):356-378

Jankowiak, William and C. T. White. 1999. “Carnival on the Clipboard: An Ethnological Study of New Orleans Mardi Gras.” Ethnology 38(4):335-349

Mack, Natasha, Cynthia Woodsong, Kathleen M. MacQueen, Greg Guest, and Emily Namey. 2005. Qualitative Research Methods: A Data Collector’s Fieldguide. Research Triangle Park, NC: Family Health International.

Maffesoli, M. 1996. The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society. London: Sage.

Melucci, Alberto. 1989. Nomads of the Present: Social Movements and Individual Needs in Contemporary Society, edited by John Keane and Paul Mier. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Nash, A. Leo 2007. Burning Man: Art in the Desert. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

Sherry, John F. and Robert V. Kozinets. 2004. Contemporary Consumption Rituals: A Research Anthology. Edited by Cele C. Otnes and Tina M. Lowrey. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Sacred Iconography in Secular Space: Altars, Alters, and Alterity at the Burning Man Project.

Shrum, Wesley and John Kilburn. 1996. “Ritual Disrobement at Mardi Gras: Ceremonial Exchange and Moral Order.” Social Forces 75(2):423-458


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