Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rehabilitation Education (PhD)

Degree Level



Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders


Brent Williams

Committee Member

Ed Bengtson

Second Committee Member

Stephanie Lusk

Third Committee Member

Keith Vire


Burning Man, Disability, Ethnography, Festival, Qualitative, Social Network


Individuals with anxiety and depression have always been marginalized and stigmatized. Individuals with “hidden” disabilities are encouraged by society to keep them hidden, or face ridicule and persecution. Society decreases their sense of self-worth, and self-efficacy by destroying any perception of normalcy. Social support resources are vital for individuals with anxiety and depression’s continued mental health. As time goes on the individuals experience a decrease in the amount of available resources, at the same time the need for them increases. These individuals need a way to quickly replenish their social resources and the Burning Man regional network creates a unique opportunity to rebuild in safe place free of societal judgements.

Despite this lucrative opportunity for social network understanding, there is a significant gap in the research. There is little research on the topic of social networking in festivals and even less so in regards to Burning Ban events. The limited research that does exist is specific to the origin event, Burning Man, with little about the regional network; comprised of smaller events around the globe.

This study employs ethnographic methods to examine the benefits of Burning regional Network and determined there are significant benefits for individuals with psychiatric disabilities. This project examined the social networking that occurred during and between events, and determined the most common resource is emotional support and it is indeed enduring, after and between events.

Social networks are built very quickly because of the 10 principle framework that guides Burn organization, activities, and behaviors. Burners approach each other with trust and compassion and allow each other to define themselves however they want free of judgement and stigmatization. This allows honest intentions and communication. Each participant lowers their barriers and bonds very quickly with each other, without trying to show they can provide value, other than cultural enrichment. Relationships are not based on a system of reciprocity, unlike those in the default world. Everyone is equal and people are free to explore themselves and each other.