Recent scholarly openings & reviews

If you landed to this page from the 2020 Survival Survey, thanks for your time! It was serious stuff during serious times. For easing that, from the bottom of this page you will find a nerdy world-premiere Burning Stories Cat Video Research review about studies investigating the impact videos.

In addition to the furry reviews and the Survival Survey data collection and recent publication on organisational science and participatory cultures, we just love to pilot a variety of methods in this sandbox of sciences. For that, Karoliina Jarenko studied Borderland as a part of her PhD, with the article published 2020 In search of a co-operation ecosystem for collaborative planning and co-governance – learning from participatory cultures

The latest methodological pilot has been the Story Sharing Cubes (more below with a publication in Dance Cult) with 30 stories shared at the Burning Stories Forum which has now developed into ambitigious Lux in Fabula science-art project, planned to be launched 2022.

If you are interested to dive deeper into our experiments, feel free to check further below a few organisational research topics, in addition to Stories Forum that applies digital ethnography for the upcoming Conference on Participatory Cultures. Next, lets dive further into Story Sharing Cubes.

The story of Story Sharing Cubes

This sub-theme pilot of Burning Stories was funded by the Borderland community (Nordic Burning Man) through a Dreams grant portal where every event participant can participate in funding projects and propose projects. Breaking news is that artist Mikko Heikinpoika has made few songs from the stories cubes collected, check out our front page news for listening it. In addition, Hilda Ruijs finished her excellent Master Thesis on new beautiful Story Sharing Cubes design to collect better data in the future. Her master thesis is available here.

The rationale with this method is to increase our understanding of the rapidly expanding culture and explore new ways of cross-disciplinary scientific working methods. Previous studies have relied on quantitative methods and the use of more conventional data collection methods. Others have been focused on specific aspects of the Burning Man culture, such as performance (Clupper 2007), rituals (Bowditch 2010), personal experiences (Magister, 2019), artworks and activities (Doherty 2004), and organization and leadership (Chen 2009). One of the existing studies, demonstrated that nearly 20% of the respondents “absolutely” had and almost 75% had at least “somewhat” transformative experience (Yudkin 2016). This data indicates the potentially transformative experiences that people go through at Burning Man. However, due to its predominantly quantitative approach, it tells us little about the complex nature and the scales of these transformations.

By adopting a novel approach, we aim to explore:

  • How the participants experience transformation during events and in what ways these experiences vary within different demographic groups?

We seek to capture the felt ‘transformation’ in situ, by using the co-created artistic Story Sharing Cubes (see pictures below) where the cubes rotate freely at events for story sharing. The novel multi-method approach allows us to understand the current state of transformational space. The results might hinder how the global participatory culture community is merging with the surrounding cultures.

The co-lead is anthropologist Terje Toomistu, her work on Soviet Hippies has been excellent grounding to this geeky adventure and tech design of the cubes was done by artist-carpeter Kalle Oja and techie Peter Tapio. There is currently a master thesis research on the design of the cubes by Hilda Ruijs from Aalto University. Meet the cubes team here.

We also seek to understand how this might work or might not work in a larger setting. Utilizing lessons learned, the cubes, can be used in collecting data in, for example, educational events in challenging settings where data collection might be challenging or time-wise even impossible.

Piloting the cubes

We found out that Borderland was a perfect place to experiment with a new type of data collection. The event is 3,200 participant strong and located in a rather small area, which makes it an ideal venue for testing approaches before getting deep into studying bigger events. With two team members, we distributed 10 wooden cubes, picture below, to circulation during the event. This starting Monday, ended Saturday with a drop off point. The approach was purely explorative, to see what is out there. These cubes were small (max 12x12cm) and held a recording device in them so anyone who comes across the cube, could share a story. Our field report is available in the Dance Cult journal.

After the successful expertiment in Borderland 07/2019 the cubes traveled to Burning Man. There were a lot of lessons learnt, mainly on the user interphase, battery life and the design of the cubes. All in all, we got some data, but in limited numbers as quite a few of the devices got stolen in Black Rock City. Not cool but happens in a city of 70,000 citizens. The usable data will be shared soon back to the community via this website and the forum so stay tuned for that. We will also continue developing this approach so you might see some cubes around also 2022!

Organisational studies

On the organisational exploration front, applying more traditional semi-structed interview and surveys, we have studied a variety of emerging topics such as:

Psychological safety in temporary organisations
by Salmivaara, V., Martela, F & Heikkilä, J-P Open access available here

We explore how psychological safety––team’s shared experience that it is safe to take inter- personal risks––is possible in temporary self-managing organisations that exist only for a limited time. The findings present teamwork practices used by a highly versatile and self-organised group that constructed a demanding art installation for the Burning Man festival. The team experienced extremely strong psychological safety that spurred commitment and compassion, because it defined the project’s concept jointly through co-creation, gave the participants complete freedom to choose their roles, and greatly challenged people as a group.

Keywords: Psychological safety, temporary organisation, swift trust, Burning Man

PhD research

Stories team member Karoliina Jarenko studied Borderland as a part of her PhD. The article In search of a co-operation ecosystem for collaborative planning and co-governance – learning from participatory cultures is surely worth reading. Abstract:

"Contemporary urban planning with linear administrative processes, based on the ideals of predictability and control, have come to its end. Even public participatory planning has struggled to incorporate the input of engaged citizens to urban development and the co-governance of common resources. Self-organized actions of urban activist and mundane everyday life have not been sufficiently addressed in the participatory urban planning processes. However, local initiatives and even the temporary use of urban space have been seen as a contribution to urban development. The problem is that so far we do not have much knowledge about the co-operation ecosystem required for new approaches to urban planning, such as the Expanded urban planning. In this article, I examine two case studies, on the basis of which a co-operation ecosystem for Expanded urban planning is outlined. I argue that such an ecosystem for co-operation can significantly help cities integrate self-organized citizen initiatives to urban and community development. It might, however, also require planners to take a stronger role in enhancing a culture of participation."

Keywords: #self-organization #self-governance #co-governance #co-operation ecosystem #expanded urban planning


The future of AI and arts - towards machine realism? Heikkilä, J-P. 1st version published in Futura 1/2021 (in Finnish), edited English version in-review.

Enter Dragon, Come Home: How Psychological Safety Turns Disconnection into Connection in the Force Field of Burning Man by Lahti, E.

Burning Man is a brand - but is that bad after all? Opening the scholarly debate on purpose-driven brands
by Koivisto, E. & Heikkilä J-P

Cat Video Research review

The groundbreaking and most referred piece of this field is by Myrick, J. (2015) Emotion regulation, procrastination, and watching cat videos online: Who watches Internet cats, why, and to what effect? Computers in Human Behaviour. Results of a 7000 - participant study reveal findings that watching online videos can lower stress and increase your happiness. Study (paywalled) is available from here a free non-academic jargon analysis can be found from The Conversation and a second media article, No Pussyfooting from this research comes with cat video links.

On the festival front, there is a piece by Burgess, D. (2015) We can haz film fest!: Internet Cat Video Festival goes viral. This study published in the European Journal of Media Studies investigates "Just for Cats" cat video festival, and with the application of a global festival framework explores the challenges of organizing a festival. How about that? An interesting additional finding is that celebrity cats such as Grumpy Cat, (GC compilation behind that link!) elevated the status of cats, where organizers could share details about cat welfare and encouraged visitors to donate financial support to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. Despite these findings, we at the Burning Stories do not advise or recommend utilizing cat videos as a fundraising model to your burner projects. Open-source article available at Ingentaconnect

Again interesting piece, from Nam, H., Kim, K. H., & Schulzrinne, H. (2016, April). QoE matters more than QoS: Why people stop watching cat videos fromThe Proceedings of 35th Annual IEEE International Conference. The research discovered that advertisements on youtube, particularly the pre-rolled ads cause people to abandon their cat video viewing activities. The study to be is available here.

Up for more? Nice! A study by Nittono et al. (2012) The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus (PLoS ONE) shows that viewing cute things improves subsequent performance in tasks that require behavioral carefulness, possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional focus. Open source journal article available here and a free non-academic jargon analysis of the study from The Atlantic

Diving finally the deepest end into the furry field, O'Meara, R. (2014) opens a scholarly discussion of power and surveillance in M/C Journal with the topic Do Cats Know They Rule YouTube? Surveillance and the Pleasures of Cat Videos. Available from here.

With the above in mind, we wish you relaxing and healthy times ahead.


Pic 1 Story Sharing Cube at Borderland 2019, pic by Hilda Ruijs


Pic 2. Cubes before Burning Man 2019


Pic 3. Cubes after Burning Man 2019