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A Burner Lexicon: Gift Economy

Posted in A Burner Lexicon, and Burning Man

Swag from Burning Man 2006. Photo by Sasha Lynn.

Gift Economy, –noun, Because there is no commerce (actually, very limited commerce) at Burn events, a gift economy is encouraged instead. The use of money is very limited or banned outright. Most everything is freely shared with the expectation that the playa will provide. A bar camp might raise money for booze in the default world, then serve drinks until their supplies (plus any further donations) ran out. The same would go for someone serving pancakes or a costume camp.

Most everyone who has been attending these events long enough has a story of serendipitously receiving exactly what they needed when they needed it, but the gift economy also means you often come back from events with a lot of  Swag: stickers, pendants, and plastic drinking cups emblazoned with a theme camp or Burning Man logo.

Once upon a time, there was a lot of Barter and trading at Burn events, with entire theme camps devoted to it. This has become culturally discouraged, with the notable exception of drugs — where trading, barter, and, all too frequently cash transactions are commonplace. See also: Burner Principles

Walking from camp to camp asking to pay cash for drugs will get you labelled a tourist quicker than anything. At That Thing in the Desert it might also get you arrested.

Of all the people who came by my camp at my first Burning Man just to provide some service or gift, the person I think about most was the guy who came loaded with duct tape and pushing a giant paper maché tape roll. He was everyone’s best friend wherever he went.

Thanks to ‘Teardropper’ for suggestions relating to this entry.

Other entries in A Burner Lexicon can be found at

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