Inside Festival Cultures: Fields, Bodies, Ecologies

University of Birmingham
Thursday 16 May (09:00) - Friday 17 May 2019 (17:00)

For further information about the conference, please contact Dr Jeremy Kidwell or Dr Maria Nita.


This conference will investigate the forces shaping festivals, such as tradition, commemoration, commercialisation, globalisation and innovation. In particular, this event will focus on the role festivals have in processes of cultural transmission in the contemporary world.

How have festivals made use of traditional cultural practices? Are festivals acculturative hubs, thus assisting society to make sense of change? Are festivals laboratories for cultural change and innovation? Might festivals present us with opportunities for ‘an ecological reconciliation’?

Modern festivals emerged in the context of significant social and cultural change in the 1960s. Over the past five decades, festival networks have developed a model based on oral traditions, drawn from the memorialisation of the free festivals of the 1960s. Woodstock’s and Glastonbury’s iconic naked festival bodies signalled a profound societal change, whilst displaying a nostalgic re-enactment of and yearning for a simpler past and community. In recent years, trans-national festival networks, like the Burning Man festival, have consciously promoted community-oriented spiritual practices. Our proposed conference wishes to illuminate the facets of these varied dynamics inside festival cultures.

There will be a preliminary online workshop scheduled for Monday 18 February 2019 (16:00-18:00 pm), which will consider a proposal for an edited collection and contribute towards the design of the conference.

For further information, please contact the conference convenors, Dr Jeremy Kidwell and Dr Maria Nita.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Marion Bowman (Open University)
  • François Gauthier (University of Fribourg)
  • Sharif Gemie (University of Chichester)
  • Graham Harvey (Open University)
  • Jacqui Mulville (Cardiff University)

Call for papers

We invite abstracts for 20-minute papers that could include, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Festival fields as sites of commemoration
  • Music, orality and tradition in global encounters
  • Festival bodies: change and cultural transmissin
  • Greening and consumerism at festivals

Please submit proposals of about 200 words together with a short biographical note (50 words) in Word or PDF format to Dr Maria Nita ( by 4pm on Thursday 7 February 2019.

Further information

Modern festivals represent a new and exciting area of study reflected by both the rising scholarly interest and the continuous growth of this phenomenon in the West during the past five decades. This era of late modernity or postmodernity was marked by important cultural, social and environmental changes, such as increased globalisation, and the environmental and societal effects of anthropogenic climate change. Modern festivals have to be considered in conjunction with these developments. Hence the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert is seen by some scholars as an experiment in community resilience in response to climate change, whereby the arid climate of the desert represents a projection of the future of mankind. Perhaps following the earlier transatlantic route of the 1960s, that of Woodstock and Glastonbury, Burning Man is currently extending in Europe.  Such developments should be investigated against the backdrop of other significant global trends, such as the decline of institutionalised religious traditions as well as political, economic and socio-cultural changes. The conference will develop a scholarly conversation around the wider implications of festival culture in Britain and abroad.

More specifically the conference will explore the interplay between two areas of investigation, namely the development and transmission of tradition/s on one hand and, and on the other, the roles festivals have in showcasing innovation and experimentation with cultural change. Many scholars have argued that increased mobility and globalisation in our contemporary world is impacting on the established channels for cultural transmission, thus leading to increased secularisation and a loss in traditional cultural values. Others have shown that festivals can represent important commemorative spaces, and that the transmission of religious and other cultural elements may continue despite decline or disruptions in such institutions as the church, communities of place, the traditional family and so on. At the same time we increasingly live in a world dominated by change, uncertainty and risk, and scholars recognised that the implications of living with unprecedented global risk in a detraditionalised society involve the development of new types of subversive social movements. Festivals appear to have developed in this context and against such global trends, yet during the past five decades they have themselves changed significantly, with some public and academic voices deploring their decline into an increasingly corporate ethos.

We expect the conference will attract broad interdisciplinary participation, which will help us explore broader themes in this field of research and begin a dialogue on the role festivals have in shaping an emerging global culture, as well as their role in mediating change and promoting cultural innovation.

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