“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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
This past weekend, I joined over 50 other researchers and practitioners at a conference held at the Harvard Business School in J. Richard Hackman‘s honor. To celebrate several decades’ worth of research on group and teamwork, we divided into groups to collectively discuss and identify directions for future research in particular areas. We then presented our findings or recommendations to the larger group.
Here’s a sample of our preparations for our topic on “Performing in real time: What is special (or especially interesting) about artistic performances and athletic competitions, with special attention to the dynamics of real-time improvisation”:
Our claim: we can benefit from understanding a major variation among artistic and athletic groups: level of practice – some might say preparation – leading up to performance – such as a game or concert. Some groups don’t practice together at all, like improvised jazz or pick up basketball; others practice in moderation, like community orchestras or athletic groups; a few practice intensively, like professional athletic teams and orchestras. This variation in level of practice can help us also understand other groups that practice/prepare for conventional or unusual situations, such as disaster preparedness.
To illustrate our points, we co-presented the material while accompanied by improvised jazz by Daniel Wilson on the drums and Colin Fisher on the trumpet.
Another group discussed the topic “dealing in real time with “bad actors,” team members who are slowing team progress or undermining the team. Here’s their definition of a bad actor:
They used two clips from the tv show The Office to illustrate their points. They then showed a 2 by 2 typology based on an actor’s position in the authority (low vs. high) and amount of power (too little vs. too much) to identify 4 categories of bad behaviors.
Interestingly, unlike the sessions at the 5th annual Burning Man Regional Leadership Summit, the presentation was too short to offer tools for how to deal with actors who engage in these behaviors. I spoke with one of the group members afterwards, and she reported that although some of the group advocated moving the bad actor around to other groups in the hopes of a “better” fit, others worried that this would contaminate other groups with bad behavior. This suggestion of moving a person around to different groups sounds a little like what Burning Man organizers call “repurposing.” However, in the Burning Man organization, repurposing may be more about making sure that volunteers’ interests fit the task/group. For more on this, see chapter 4 “Radical inclusion”: Attracting and Placing Members of my bookEnabling Creative Chaos.
For those of you in San Francisco, you have the chance to celebrate Burning Man’s history via film. Films include a documentary about the artist David Best, who constructed the temple that appears on the cover of my book!
Please read the official press release below:
“Burning Man Film Festival-San Francisco: A Unique Two-Day Film Retrospective to Commemorate 25 Years of Burning
(San Francisco, May 26th, 2010)—The Official Burning Man Film Festival will showcase 20 short and feature length films when it takes place on June 12-13, 2010 in San Francisco. The Film Festival will offer theatergoers a unique look at Burning Man through the eyes of filmmakers who’ve documented various aspects of the Burning Man event and culture throughout the years. Saturday’s “Then” line-up will feature films shot between 1991 and 2004 and Sunday’s “Now” queue boasts an array of films shot from 2002 to 2010. The festival will be held at the Red Vic Movie House at 1727 Haight Street, SF, CA 94117.
“This festival is a rare and unique opportunity to see Burning Man from the beginning,” said festival co-producer David Marr. “[The Film Festival] is a chance to see how [Burning Man] was created and what effect it has on us today.”
Program highlights include a Midnight screening of Juicy Danger Meets Burning Man by David Vaisbord on Saturday evening with a cocktail party, roving performers, and a grand raffle. On Sunday, David Best, known for his elaborate temple structures at Burning Man will be available for a Q & A before the screening of The Temple Builder, a film by Dearbhla Glynn and April Blake that looks closely at David Best’s life and work.
The Burning Man Film Festival-San Francisco is one of several special events coming up in June to kickoff a year-long celebration of 25 years of Burning Man. For more information on upcoming events, please visit www.burningman.com.”
In the past two days, both the NYTimes and Wall St. Journal have reported that with the recent massive layoffs, a deluge of highly skilled volunteers are now available to help non-profits and voluntary associations. How can organizations best integrate these new volunteers and tap their talents, while meeting volunteers’ interests?
My studies of the Burning Man organization revealed that this organization excelled at tapping volunteers’ interests and (lack of) skills. Rather than being pigeonholed into certain tasks, volunteers could develop their own roles, and they also develop skills. Some volunteers spearheaded projects, such a recycling center, a question and answer service, and a message service, that became part of the organizational infrastructure.