Beyond Materialism: Decommodification at Burning Man

In the vast expanse of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, an extraordinary social experiment – Burning Man – unfolds each year amidst a city that rises and falls within a week. This temporary metropolis is home to a community that lives by Ten Principles, one of which is Decommodification. This principle asserts a profound break from everyday norms, creating a space free of commercial transactions, sponsorships, and advertising.

Decommodification is an attempt to step away from the wasteful patterns of society, making Burning Man a unique haven where commercial considerations do not mediate human interactions. It invites participants to explore different ways of assigning value and worth, moving beyond monetary systems and focusing more on experiences, relationships, and personal growth.

One of the most significant manifestations of this principle is Burning Man’s steadfast resistance to corporate sponsorship. Everything in this city – the art, the music, the camps, the events – is the product of the participants’ creativity and passion. There are no branded goods or advertisements, just an outpouring of expression and creativity. As stated in an article in The Guardian, “Since nothing is for sale at Burning Man, this means virtually all human interactions take place in social markets, where sharing and caring rule the day.”

The currency of Burning Man is not dollars or euros but the spirit of gifting and mutual aid. In this environment, the value of a gift does not lie in its monetary worth but in its ability to create connections, evoke emotion, and contribute to the community. A striking example is the case of a blacksmith offering her skills to help a fellow participant repair a broken bicycle, an act of service that is much more valuable than any purchased repair kit.

This environment of Decommodification provides an opportunity for introspection and re-evaluation of the values we associate with material wealth. Moving away from transactional interactions, we explore a new understanding of wealth, where personal connections, shared experiences, and active participation are of prime importance.

As we prepare for this year’s Burning Man, which will take place from Sunday, August 27 to Monday, September 4, with a theme of “Animalia Circus”, let’s continue to explore and understand the implications of Decommodification. How has being in an environment free of commercial transactions at Burning Man changed your outlook on value and worth? Please share your experiences, thoughts, and insights in the comments.