• Nicole Reinders

Community: Illusion or Reality?

Updated: Jun 14, 2019

Is Burning Man a real life utopia? Read more to find out.


Burning Man Campground

From an airplane or helicopter 'the campground', as it is referred to by all who stay, resembles a semicircle, comprised of tents, vans, and RVs. Event goers, known as burners, participate in a wide range of activities to free themselves from the past and get in touch to who they are now. It’s an escape from the present world, one which houses, “collective facilities that fully accommodate individual desires”.[1] At Burning man, all things are free, with gifting from one person or group to another. The monetary system encompasses acts of service and according to the ten principles, as established by the co-founder Larry Harvey, all gifts are an act of self-expression from the giver and yet should be respectful of the recipient.[2][3] This event is a, “systematic objection of human life accomplished in other spheres”[4] in which certain aspects are completely rejected while others are rejoiced and celebrated.

The community formed at Burning Man has become notorious and as time has moved on, the collective has ensured, “individual liberty and the advantages of collective action,”[5] to which one can find true inner peace while also indulging in sensory and pleasurable group experiences. Besides the ten principles, not many rules are established within Burning Man as they are not needed. Collective groups are formed based upon shared common beliefs with selfish intentions being eradicated from the campground, as the main theory of understanding oneself better to help those around them is practiced freely.[6] By stating there are only principles which can be applied to create an atmosphere in which self-expression, decommodification, inclusion, and communal effort are celebrated, “a utopian dimension that is emphatically social” [7] is formed.


one can find true inner peace while also indulging in sensory and pleasurable group experiences.”

For most, Burning Man is a far-off distant world that is hard to imagine. It is a culture in which all expectations, “supersede present economic and technological conditions through schematic extension of them towards what appears to be their most extreme and logical conclusion”.[8] The ban on cars, first introduced for the safety of all who visited the playa now interweaves itself into the identity of the event. People whiz past on bikes, trekking far off into the dust to find their own adventure, discover more about themselves, or share a deeply reflective moment with fellow attendees. Through this, the campground eases itself seamlessly out of the traditional American life and supersedes into the foreground of a new world, a better community.


Thus, this creates an illusion to a utopian society by juxtaposing what one already knows against a different background. It is a paradox. One escapes from the mundane consistency of everyday life, yet experiences the same when enjoying this new world, just in a different form. In the example of Disneyland, people are not waiting hours in a traffic jam, their foreheads accumulating sweat from the warm Florida air, instead they are standing on foot, their excitement of their upcoming ride overruling and masking any discomfort they might feel. The same goes for Burning Man in which there is no currency, at least that in the form of paper, instead everything is deemed free. Superficially it appears to be a revolution against the United States government and the life that resides outside this gated event. Yet, as far as these participants might turn away from everything they were raised up to believe, Burning Man’s, “narrative depends on motion, and in which one is placed in a position of spectatorship of one’s own spectatorship”.[9] Thus, meaning that as far as one might go to find a utopia, they will continuously be substituting what is familiar and deemed unnecessary, for something of the same category hidden beneath the silhouette of progressive newness.


"One escapes from the mundane consistency of everyday life, yet experiences the same when enjoying this new world, just in a different form."



[1] Rem Koolhaas/OMA (with Bruce Mau), “Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture,” in S, M,L,XL (New York: Monacelli Press, 1995):6


[2] Robinson, Melia, and Leanna Garfield. "Surreal photos from Burning Man take you deep inside the madness." Business Insider.


[3] . https://www.businessinsider.com/burning-man-2017-festival-photos-2017-8.


[4] Reinhold Martin, “7: Architecture: Utopia’s Ghost” in Utopia’s Ghost: Architecture and Postmodernism, Again (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010): 147


[5] Nathaniel Coleman, “Introduction: utopias and architectures?” and “Chapter 4: Varieties of architectural utopias,” in Utopias and Architecture (New York: Routledge, 2005): 2


[6] Robinson, Melia, and Leanna Garfield. "Surreal photos from Burning Man take you deep inside the madness." Business Insider. 2017. https://www.businessinsider.com/burning-man-2017-festival-photos-2017-8.


[7] Nathaniel Coleman, “Introduction: utopias and architectures?” and “Chapter 4: Varieties of architectural utopias,” in Utopias and Architecture (New York: Routledge, 2005): 3


[8] Nathaniel Coleman, “Introduction: utopias and architectures?” and “Chapter 4: Varieties of architectural utopias,” in Utopias and Architecture (New York: Routledge, 2005): 79


[9] Michael Sorkin, “See You in Disneyland,” in Design Quarterly No. 154 (Winter, 1992) Walker Art Center: 9



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