Burning Man discussion on the Society Pages

August 15th, 2013

Sociologists Matt Wray, Jon Stern, and myself and anthropologist S. Megan Heller, aka Countess, have a round table discussion on Burning Man at the Society Pages. We have all done research at Burning Man.

Take a look at our discussion of various phenomena and research at Burning Man, which includes ideas for future studies for budding researchers.

Volunteer research opportunity for Census at Burning Man HQ

September 17th, 2012

Interested in helping the Burning Man Census quantify the characteristics of participants? See below.

“After returning from the desert to your clean bed and warm showers, are you feeling any remorse? Do you wish you could have done more to assist the amazing community that you called home for that dusty week? Is your sense of civic responsibility creeping into your default consciousness?

Fear not friends; Census needs your help!

We are seeking a small army of reliable volunteers to help us with Census forms. Our 3-day volunteering party will take place September 21-23, from 10am-5pm at the Burning Man Headquarters in San Francisco. So if you enjoy the thought of shaking some dust off of Census forms, doing some quick data entry, and sorting forms while enjoying pizza and sharing your stories from the playa, this is the volunteering job for you!

[You'll need to sign up on a spreadsheet - please contact Kristen for help]

Then please email Kristen at kristinsilver [at] hotmail [dot] com to make the final commitment to volunteer. We will follow up with day-of instructions.

Your participation will be highly appreciated in this crucial step in the Census data process. Communal effort makes our world go around!

Many Thanks!

Indiana

-Census Volunteer Coordinator”

Burning Nerds mixer Fri., Aug. 31 2:30-5pm

August 10th, 2012

It’s that time of year, when large groups of self-professed nerds unite over shared interests in understanding phenomena, large and small. For Burning Nerds who like to mingle in-person, Ashram Galactica is hosting a Burning Nerds mixer on Fri., Aug. 31 2:30-5pm. Ashram Galactica will be located at 8:15 and Edelweiss.

As always, info about Burning Man can be found here.

“Charismatizing the Routine: Storytelling for Meaning and Agency in the Burning Man Organization” now available online and in print at Qualitative Sociology

August 3rd, 2012

To update a previous post, one of my papers on storytelling and Burning Man is now available online and in print at the peer-reviewed journal Qualitative Sociology. Moreover, a photo of Center Camp Cafe activities at Burning Man appears on the cover of the print copy of that issue!

Charismatizing the Routine: Storytelling for Meaning and Agency in the Burning Man Organization

Katherine K. Chen
Qualitative Sociology
Volume 35, Number 3 (2012), 311-334, DOI: 10.1007/s11133-012-9229-1

Abstract
Expanding organizations face the routinization of charisma dilemma in which rationalization, or everyday organizing activities, drains meaning and depresses agency. Using an ethnographic study of the organization behind the annual Burning Man event, I show how storytelling can combat disenchantment by promoting consideration of agency and meaning-making. This research demonstrates how storytelling infuses organizational rationality with meaning and agency, thereby “charismatizing the routine.” Through storytelling, people can derive meaning from even the most mundane routines and inspire listeners to imagine possibilities not covered by rules or conventions. Stories also stave off bureaucratic ritualism by clarifying the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate activities, encouraging a range of actions over coercive restrictions.

Keywords Charisma – Charismatizing the routine – Meaning – Organization – Storytelling

You can also download some of my other academic and general publications and view links here.

“Organizing creativity” now available in Sociology Compass journal

July 31st, 2012

Looking for an overview of social science research on conditions that enhance or constrain creativity in organizations? See my just published Sociology Compass article “Organizing Creativity: Enabling Creative Output, Process, and Organizing Practices.” This article pulls together findings from organizational sociology (including my own research on the organization behind Burning Man), cultural sociology, psychology, and organizational studies.

Here is the abstract:
“Abstract

How individuals can exercise creativity in collectivities is unclear. We thus need to more thoroughly investigate the ‘black box’ of organizational creativity. Future research should consider creativity in a variety of organizations, rather than just those that are known for creative outputs or practices. In addition, we need to examine what I call everyday, relational, and proto-institutional forms of organizational creativity. Intra- and inter-organizational aspects can enhance or depress such organizational creativity: (1) within the organization’s boundary: internal interactions among organizational members and (2) outside the organization’s boundary: the surrounding organizational environment or field, which include competing or supporting organizations, other organizational actors, and the state. These two aspects pose dilemmas about how to organize that can constrain or enhance organizational creativity. In addressing these dilemmas, organizations must mediate between under- and over-organizing extremes. Organizations can enable creativity by incorporating changing interests and conditions. Organizations can eschew convention, increase rank-and-file involvement with corresponding authority, tolerate ambiguity and deviance, encourage improvisation, and support members’ diverse experiences and perspectives.”

“Charismatizing the Routine: Storytelling for Meaning and Agency in the Burning Man Organization” now available online at Qualitative Sociology

June 21st, 2012

One of my papers on storytelling and Burning Man is now available online at the peer-reviewed journal Qualitative Sociology. The print version of this article is forthcoming, and hopefully my photo of activities at Burning Man will be on the cover of that issue!

Charismatizing the Routine: Storytelling for Meaning and Agency in the Burning Man Organization

Katherine K. Chen

Qualitative Sociology, Online First™, 6 June 2012

Abstract
Expanding organizations face the routinization of charisma dilemma in which rationalization, or everyday organizing activities, drains meaning and depresses agency. Using an ethnographic study of the organization behind the annual Burning Man event, I show how storytelling can combat disenchantment by promoting consideration of agency and meaning-making. This research demonstrates how storytelling infuses organizational rationality with meaning and agency, thereby “charismatizing the routine.” Through storytelling, people can derive meaning from even the most mundane routines and inspire listeners to imagine possibilities not covered by rules or conventions. Stories also stave off bureaucratic ritualism by clarifying the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate activities, encouraging a range of actions over coercive restrictions.

Keywords Charisma – Charismatizing the routine – Meaning – Organization – Storytelling

You can also download some of my other academic and general publications and view links here.

Two peer-reviewed articles on (1) artistic prosumption and (2) the development of several departments within the Burning Man organization now available

May 4th, 2012

Two of my peer-reviewed journal articles about (1) the Burning Man organization and the arts and (2) the development of several Burning Man departments – the Black Rock Rangers, DPW, and the Tech Team – are now available in print and on-line.

You can also download some of my other academic and general publications and view links here. Please email me with a request if you or your institution does not have access to a particular article that is in print.

1. Chen, Katherine K. 2012. “Artistic Prosumption: Cocreative Destruction at Burning Man.” American Behavioral Scientist 56(4): 570-595.

Researchers have called for more studies of how organizations institutionalize the unfamiliar as taken for granted. This study answers this call by examining how an organization has advocated an unfamiliar activity, the prosumption of art. To show how particular means and ends become taken for granted, this research analyzes how the Burning Man organization has promoted a logic advocating the prosumption of art. Using an in-depth ethnographic study of the organization behind Burning Man, a weeklong gathering of 50,000 persons around a ceremonial bonfire of a 40-foot-tall sculpture in the Nevada Black Rock Desert, the author shows how the Burning Man organization codified and advocated what she identifies as an inclusive community logic, a set of beliefs and practices that promote artistic prosumption. Members sought to expand who may produce art by recasting producers and consumers as prosumers, what kind of art is produced by encouraging interactions via prosumption, and how art is consumed by imbuing prosumption with specific meaning via connection. However, conflicts about whether particular actions support or undercut the inclusive community logic have not only challenged the Burning Man organization’s authority to shape prosumption but also forced organizers to clarify the ambiguous contours between appropriate and inappropriate activities. This research makes three contributions: (a) It reveals how an organization can facilitate new conceptions of activities by promulgating a logic that highlights contrasts between not-yet-familiar and conventional means; (b) it delves into how an organization adjudicates among competing conceptions of appropriate activities, illuminating the promotion of prosumption specifically and the emergence of a logic generally; and (c) it synthesizes three separate literatures on the sociology of organizations, prosumption, and art.

2. Chen, Katherine K. 2012. “Laboring for the Man: Augmenting Authority in a Voluntary Association.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations 34:135-164.

Abstract: Drawing on Bourdieu’s field, habitus, and capital, I show how disparate experiences and “dispositions” shaped several departments’ development in the organization behind the annual Burning Man event. Observations and interviews with organizers and members indicated that in departments with hierarchical professional norms or total institution-like conditions, members privileged their capital over others’ capital to enhance their authority and departmental solidarity. For another department, the availability of multiple practices in their field fostered disagreement, forcing members to articulate stances. These comparisons uncover conditions that exacerbate conflicts over authority and show how members use different types of capital to augment their authority.

Omar Lizardo talk at 4pm EDT at The City College of New York this Wed., April 4, 2012

April 2nd, 2012

Back in Feb., thanks to colleague Prof. Leslie Paik, the CCNY Dept. of Sociology was lucky to have UWI Prof. Alice Goffman present on her research on how Philadelphia inner city residents’ tenuous relations with the local police.

This Wed., April 4, 2012 from 4-5:30pm EDT, University of Notre Dame Prof. and orgtheorist Omar Lizardo will give a talk on his research, titled “Liking Things, Talking Culture, and Making Friends.”

This “talk will explore the links between cultural tastes and practices, conversational interaction and social network outcomes, paying special emphasis on how this research informs our thinking about the bases of social stratification in the contemporary context.”

The talk is in the Dominican Studies Institute Library, North Academic Center (NAC) 2/202 at 160 Convent Ave. NY, NY 10031. To enter the building, bring a valid id.

Download the flier here: Omar Lizardo Flyer-Final

Next talk stop: University of Toronto on Thursday, November 17, 2011 and ARNOVA annual meeting

November 9th, 2011

My next talk stop is at the University of Toronto in Canada at 4pm on Thursday, November 17, 2011. The talk is scheduled for Room 240 of the Sociology Department, 725 Spadin at the University of Toronto, downtown St. George campus in Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 2J4. Please contact Professor Erik Schneiderhan (e.schneiderhan@utoronto.ca) to confirm the location.

I am presenting: “Commiserating and Celebrating Authenticity at Burning Man: The Bases for Interaction Ritual Chains.” I will also be meeting with students and colleagues before and after the talk.

I will also be in Toronto for the annual meeting for the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) Nov. 17-19, where I will be presenting for the first time on my newest research project on organizations that provide education, social services, or advocacy for older adults. On Fri., Nov. 18, I will also be accepting the ARNOVA 2011 “Outstanding Book” award in Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research for Enabling Creative Chaos: The Organization Behind the Burning Man Event.

I am looking forward to catching up with colleagues in Canada!

The power of collective organizing

November 3rd, 2011

One of the enduring myths of American society is “rugged individualism” which suggests that through sheer effort, any individual can surmount any challenge. Hard work is necessary, but it often isn’t enough, especially when years of emphasizing short-term corporate profitability and “small” government have eroded good jobs and decent health and retirement benefits for many people. Decades ago, sociologist Katherine Newman documented the effects of lay-offs on professionals and their families in Falling from Grace: Downward Mobility in the Age of Affluence. People suffered alone. When people believe that their circumstance are unique to them rather than widely shared with others, they may make few or no demands for larger societal change.

As Occupy Wall Street and its affiliates demonstrate, some are beginning to realize the power of collective organizing. Like Burning Man participants, some OWS participants are learning decision-making by consensus and other skills; others are applying skills, knowledge, and experiences learned elsewhere to build a collective that more thoroughly reflects their interests.

For the corporate media, the government, and individuals, OWS is difficult to comprehend because it encompasses people whose circumstances such as joblessness are seen as individual failings, rather than the result of larger societal processes. Moreover, OWS does not conform to how organizations or social movements are expected to act. People expect collectives to have one leader who make decisions topdown through a hierarchy; furthermore, people expect collectives to state just a few easily articulated goals (i.e., make a profit) and set ways of pursuing these goals. In contrast, OWS has no single spokesperson or leader and instead relies upon collective input, and it advocates multiple goals, including an emphasis on individual and collective expression. These characteristics are unnervingly different for those who are used to conventional bureaucratic rationality.

In reality, many organizations and indeed, our society, operate more like OWS than most would like to think. We have many interests and goals; it’s often hard work to reconcile how to best pursue these goals, including how to organize. Sometimes, we have to try different things before realizing our preferences. Organizing is messy, hard work – organizations do not run by themselves like machine clockwork, they require the constant cooperation of people to regularly carry out organizing activities. However, organizing offers rewards to those who enjoy working collectively and want to coordinate efforts towards complex goals.