Gift Economy Case Study: Burning Man // #chimesthesis – life+running

Gift Economy Case Study: Burning Man // #chimesthesis

Once I learned about gift economies, I needed to know if this concept worked in real life — as in … does this crazy gifting thing work in 2016? I set out to find a few modern-day examples of gift economies at work.


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First, I found the Burning Man Festival. Burning Man is an annual festival dedicated to:

“community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance.” (according to the Burning Man website)

Although the gift economy is only active during the time of this festival, it is seeded in the same principles that I talked about in my previous post about gift economies. Burning Man summarizes the festival principles on the website, which include things like:

“Anyone can be a part of Burning Man”

“Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving … Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value”

“… our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising”

(in fact, they feel these interventions are exploitative to what Burning Man represents)

and, finally:

“Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration”

Although these principles seem idealistic, according to the Making Contact podcast episode “Burning Man and the Gift Economy”, the system works. In fact, those interviewed in the podcast say that when people broke the rules of the gift economy Burning Man was not successful in creating and maintaining a sense of community. They thought that this was because some community members felt taken advantage of by those who were looking to commoditize the event.

In short: Burning Man proves that gift economies can create the feeling of community in modern-day society.

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