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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Welcome to Black Rock City: Ephemeral Homes, Built Environments, and Participatory Negotiations


By applying Bourdieu’s ideas of habitus and doxa, this paper explores how Burning Man participants negotiate ideological and pragmatic limitations in transforming a vast desert landscape into an urban physical and social space. The ephemeral city serves as a model for radical self-expression with an internal society that creates an engaging participatory experience among differing and sometimes conflicting social institutions. Black Rock City LLC, committed to democratically and collaboratively engaging with festival participants in the production of space, demonstrates a realistic possibility for successful negotiation of pragmatics and ideologies while still allowing ample room to foster freedom and community. In examining these dynamic negotiations and their resultant influences on the physical landscape through varied lenses, this article suggests how Black Rock City might be a portable adaptation for other spaces of insurgency.

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