Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program
Johns Hopkins University
3400 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
I attended and studied over two-dozen celebrations in six countries, including Carnival in Venice, Italy; Burning Man in the Nevada desert; a New Year’s Eve lantern parade in rural South Africa; and several commercial music and arts festivals across Europe and the United States. Through participation and observation, I studied how temporary communities form through shared, joy-based experiences during these events. These spaces allow participants to engage beyond the superficial consumption of spectacle and to experiment with alternative ways of structuring personal interactions, economies, and social hierarchies. In so doing, participants practice the concrete techniques necessary to transform the arrangements that define culture and society. Therefore, at their most heightened sense of intentional abandon, celebrations not only challenge us to play with the boundaries between individual and collective identities, but also encourage us to play with the boundaries between reality and utopia, possible and impossible.