Projectraisetheroof's Blog

PhD Thesis Abstract

From ‘No Spectators’ to the Extra-Spectator: Idealized Participation and the Boutique Event


Taking festival culture as its context, this investigation explores a contemporary politics of participation characterized by the rejection of spectatorship. Chiefly concerned with small-to-medium music festivals in the United Kingdom, sometimes described as ‘boutique’, it aims to reveal a niche of events that are culturally aligned with the ideology of Burning Man in Nevada, USA. How far it is possible to claim that the democratized production credited to Burning Man is de-radicalized through commercial appropriation is presented as a question necessary to understanding its socio-political significance in Britain.

Firstly, a theoretical chapter surveys literature from interdisciplinary fields, identifying concepts previously utilized in the interpretation of festival and carnival culture. This analysis exposes the performative differences implied by contrasting carnival types, forming key conceptual frameworks throughout. Following this preliminary, problematizing uniform interpretations of festival audiences as ‘active’ reveals the impetus responsible for the resistance of spectatorship. Through the discussion of its milieu and interpretive discourses, an examination of Burning Man exposes a fusion of participative precepts and praxis. Retaining a set of indicators for extreme participation, a case study investigation of Cambridgeshire’s Secret Garden Party is then undertaken and contextualized with a broader examination of the contemporary festival industry and boutique sector. Underlining the transformation of ‘No Spectators’ into extra-spectatorship, the thesis concludes its investigation with an action research-based analysis of the author’s own festival, Raisetheroof.

These efforts confirm the assumption that Burning Man is active beyond the boundaries of its own official international network. The placement of this event as wholly responsible for similar modes of engagement and production outside of Secret Garden Party is, however, presented as problematic. This study concludes in recognizing a synergy of cultural, demographic and economic factors responsible both for the emergence of the boutique event industry, and the idealization of participation discernable within it.


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