Civilised Tribalism: Burning Man, Event-Tribes and Maker Culture

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14 Citations (Scopus)


Otherwise known as Black Rock City, Burning Man is an artistic event, that, mounted annually in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, has become the inspiration for a global cultural movement. While it has been the subject of considerable attention from ethnographers and sociologists, Burning Man has persistently resisted classification. In this article, I undertake a tentative approach to Burning Man via a concept integral to Maffesoli’s postmodern social philosophy popular within Anglophone sociology: the neo-tribe. Ethnographic attention to Burning Man illustrates spectacular aspects of neo-tribalism. It is cyclical, immediate, sensual, enchanted, collaborative and offers multiple sites of belonging for participants, many of whom will self-identify as ‘tribal’ or ‘neo-tribal’. And yet Burning Man is also demonstrative of an optimising modernist ‘project’ complicating, if not incongruent with, postmodern tribalism. With Black Rock City theme camps, art projects and build teams echoing a design-orientated maker culture, and an organisation – the Burning Man Project – dedicated to propagating and scaling (making) the ethical, civic and progressive dimensions of this culture, this article demonstrates the paradoxical proclivities of Burning Man’s tribal character. The objective of the article is to forge a fuller understanding of Burning Man and other ‘transformational’ events illustrative of an alternative tribalism, and to explore ways the phenomenon both approximates and deviates from Maffesoli’s thesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-21
Number of pages19
JournalCultural Sociology
Issue number1
Early online date1 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


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