Burning Man, Transformation, and Heterotopia

  • Graham St John University of Fribourg
Keywords: Burning Man, heterotopia, festival, Black Rock City, liminality


Foucault’s concept of heterotopia is adapted to comprehend events with intentional transformational agendas. An ephemeral community installed annually in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, Burning Man is an exemplary evental heterotopia. With the shortcomings of the romantic-utopian “transformational festival” label identified, the article considers Black Rock City as a heterogeneous threshold and contested space. This hyperliminal weave is redolent in a complex ethos known as the “Ten Principles.” Informed by Michel Foucault’s ambiguous entry on heteroclite spatialization, the article explores the paradoxical “other space” of Burning Man in which the “default world” is simultaneously neutralized, mirrored, and resisted. If Burning Man is transformative, this is therefore an enigmatic aesthetic. Adapting Foucault’s six “principles of heterotopia” and modulating Victor Turner’s “liminality,” the article navigates the hyperliminal dynamics of Burning Man. In the process, a provisional framework is suggested for the study of transformative events.

Author Biography

Graham St John, University of Fribourg

Graham St John (PhD) is a cultural anthropologist specializing in transformational event cultures. He is the author/editor of eight books, including Mystery School in Hyperspace: A Cultural History of DMT (North Atlantic Books, 2015), Global Tribe: Technology, Spirituality and Psytrance (Equinox, 2012), Technomad: Global Raving Countercultures (Equinox, 2009), and the edited collections Victor Turner and Contemporary Cultural Performance (Berghahn 2008), Rave Culture and Religion (Routledge 2004), and Weekend Societies: Electronic Dance Music Festivals and Event Cultures (Bloomsbury, 2017). He is the founding executive editor of Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture. He was recently Senior Research Fellow for the project "Burning Progeny: The European Efflorescence of Burning Man" (2016–20) in the Department of Social Science, University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Website: http://www.edgecentral.net/

How to Cite
St John, Graham. 2020. “Ephemeropolis”. Journal of Festive Studies 2 (1), 289-322. https://doi.org/10.33823/jfs.2020.2.1.48.