Dramatic heterotopia: The participatory spectacle of Burning Man

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Burning Man is a city-scale participatory arts gathering reassembled annually in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, and an inspiration for satellite events worldwide. Based on qualitative research, the chapter adapts heterotopia with the goal of comprehending the hyper-liminal “other space” of Black Rock City, a frontier carnival with a threatened heteroclite ethos (the “Ten Principles”). Informed by an understanding that heterotopias are dramatic stages for the performance of contradictions, the chapter illustrates how paradox is the dynamic currency of Burning Man. Tracing the exchange between two archetypal figures – the artist and tourist – the event’s stature as a participatory spectacle is interpolated. Attention is directed to the community’s response to an undermining “culture of convenience” – a crisis exposing tensions between “participants” and “spectators.” Victor Turner’s “social drama” model serves to illustrate how the community have negotiated this crisis in art projects that dramatise paradox. Three projects demonstrate how this redressive artopia holds the potential to transform eventgoers and enable “burner” identity by navigating boundaries separating the artist/tourist, producer/consumer, participant/spectator, self/other. This event-city case study evaluates heterotopology for the study of intentionally transformational events.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHeterotopia and Globalisation in the Twenty-First Century
EditorsSimon Ferdinand, Irina Souch, Daan Wesselman
PublisherTaylor and Francis Inc.
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9780429290732
ISBN (Print)9780367259563, 9781032238654
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


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