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.
A while back, in response to a Burner’s request, I queried some of my colleagues and posted a short list of recommended readings for newcomers to the disciplines of sociology and anthropology.
But what if you want an easy-to-read overview of sociological classics, as well as recent research? Jay Gabler’s Sociology for Dummies (Wiley, 2010) is a good place to start.*
In addition, the quarterly magazine Contexts, published by the American Sociological Association, features short articles on a variety of contemporary topics (immigration, consumption, aging, gender roles, etc.). Written for a general audience, it’s a compelling introduction to recent research and the sociological imagination.
*: Gabler also is the co-author of Reconstructing the University: Worldwide Shifts in Academia in the 20th Century (with David J. Frank, Stanford University Press, 2006).
See this website, which has reports on data collected on arts activities between 1998 and 2000.
“How the public participates in and consumes the arts is expanding. The arts participation measure is on the increase. Personal arts creation by the public is growing steadily (making art, playing music). Attendance at mainstream nonprofit arts organizations, however, is in decline.”
As part of my service responsibilities to the Community and Grassroots Associations (CGA) section of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA), I am also blogging here. We haven’t made an official launch yet but will do so soon. In the meantime, if you are interested in research and practice on community and grassroots associations, you can sign up to receive email notifications about posts or subscribe to the facebook fanpage. In addition, please consider joining ARNOVA and the CGA section as a member! (Unfortunately, I cannot directly link to the membership page, but click on this page and then click “join ARNOVA” in the horizontal menu.) The annual conference is a fun way of connecting with other researchers and practitioners.
To start things off, at the CGAP blog, I’ve blogged about online videos available from a recent conference that brought together leading social science scholars who each briefly presented on which hard problem social science research should pursue. Of particular interest to Burners is Ann Swidler’s call for deeper insight into “how societies both create and restore institutions,” including the nation, government, marriage, university, etc. Burners, consider how your activities with Burning Man have impacted your skills and experiences (both positive and negative) with organization. Then think about how these experiences have, in turn, affected your involvement in the workplace, other community-based organizations or voluntary associations, etc.
My next talk is Thur., April 15, 2010, 4:30-5:30pm EST, “Enabling Creative Chaos: Inside Burning Man” talk at the Willard Smith Library, Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. I will also be visiting several classes.
Recently, some urban planners and politicians have touted nurturing artistic, creative professionals as the means for revitalizing or gentrifying urban areas. However, poorer and less politically powerful locals may eventually be displaced as rents and property values rise. In addition, funding for the arts is still relatively scarce, and art galleries and museums tend to favor star artists with international reputations. Artists thus face several challenges in producing their art – getting resources to do the art, developing relations with supportive colleagues and institutions, and finding places to share their art.
While alternative art venues like Burning Man can help with such issues, community-based collectives are also important to supporting local artistic activities, as argued by Yasmin Ramirez of Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY). Last night, I attended a talk by Ramirez, who discussed the importance of local networks in supporting the arts. She also presented the results of a survey of artists of color who had applied for an arts grant from the Urban Artist Initiative. Her report is available here.
My first “author meets critics” session is this Fri., March 19, 1:45-3:15pm at the Eastern Sociological Society annual conference at Boston Park Plaza hotel, 50 Park Plaza at Arlington St. Boston, MA 02116. The talk is on the fourth floor in the “Franklin Room.” Critics are David Grazian (UPenn), Carmen Sirianni (Brandeis), and Debra Minkoff (Barnard College). Presider is Robin Leidner (UPenn).