Festivals or rituals?
Festival politics, religiosity and sociability,
The importance of the court jester.

Part V – Community, culturAL, PLACE identity and attachment.

Local culture and community life.

Festivals are connected to cultures and places, giving each an identity and helping to connect people to their communities. Similarly, festivals and other planned events can promote and reinforce group identity.

The role of festivals in challenging perceptions of identity can be particularly important. In a country with a particularly poor self-image as a tourist product, the creation of a positive identity, even if created by tourist commodification, is an important consideration.

It is important to define a sense of community and place. It is useful to assess all the key factors that contribute to effective festivals and how a sense of community and place emerge as key elements. For places to achieve distinction and status, they need to be created.

Event organizers can offer tangible and intangible experiences to connect people to places. This is why some popular events are located in spectacular locations, suggesting that this sense of place involves seven senses: the traditional five senses, the “gift of the mind” and the “interpreter of one’s faculties”, with festivals facilitating an entry into these sensual dimensions, particularly if they are outdoors or near rivers, coastal areas or rainforests. Place (and landscape) can provide a medium for community values and beliefs that are celebrated in community cultural events, through the naming of the event. A sense of community is an almost invisible, yet critical, part of a healthy community and, although difficult to define, includes the community’s image, spirit, character, pride, relationships and networking.

“Values, interests, and aspirations of indivinduals are influenced by their biophysical environment (space and place) → which leads to a sense of community → that influences how the community celebrates → that affects the community’s well-being → which in turn informs the environment in which individuals and groups define their values and beliefs. Residents share all of this with visitors (…) It is observed that communities are creating festivals and events to emphasize the value they recognize in the feelings of ownership and belonging generated by resident participants. The extra dimension of involving visitors has engaged the interest of the tourism sector. Festivals can be the gatekeepers of community values, encouraging some people in, while keeping others out.” (Derrett, 2003, p.52)

Although this idea of inclusion/exclusion is highlighted by Derrett, it is important to put it into context by recalling Falassi’s definition of a festival. In the social sciences, a festival is:

… a periodically recurrent, social occasion in which, through a multiplicity of forms and a series of coordinated events, participate directly or indirectly and to varying degrees, all members of a whole community, united by ethnic, linguistic, religious, historical bonds, and sharing a worldview. Both the social function and the symbolic meaning of the festival are closely related to a series of overt values that the community recognizes as essential to its ideology and worldview, to its social identity, its historical continuity, and to its physical survival, which is ultimately what festival celebrate. (Falassi, 1987, p.2)

In Jepson and Clarke’s proposed definition of community festivals, the inclusive dimension of these festivals is clear: “Themed and inclusive community event or series of events which have been created as the result of an inclusive community planning process to celebrate the particular way of life of people and groups in the local community with emphasis on particular space and time”.

The term festival is commonly confused with a series of shows, a party or commercial promotions, and many festivals don’t reflect its meaning or seem to forget what they celebrate, reducing them to a public entertainment program or a special time for fun, rather than a celebration. A festival is more than a series of musical performances. Festivals reveal a lot about culture, from socialization processes, learned behaviour or ways of life shaped by religion, customs, tradition and roles, and about the functioning of societies. Festivals are social support mechanisms through which people express identities, relate to place and communicate with the outside world. They provide a rich text that provides much insight into local culture and community life. As a celebration, it is a performance that involves the presentation of cultural symbols, being public, without social exclusion, and being participatory entertainment. Festivals are seen as contested spaces where symbolic practices are used to consolidate or resist prevailing norms and values. During festivals, people do something out of the ordinary, or abstain from something they normally do, they engage in extreme behavior that is normally regulated. They are rituals, taking place in an exceptional space and time, with meanings beyond their literal and specific aspects.

Social inclusion and exclusion

Social inclusion is one of the main reasons for staging events and festivals, and is mainly achieved through sociability and social interaction, which is usually facilitated by providing an atmosphere of tolerance and inclusion in which everyone is welcome. The main role of a community festival is to increase involvement and inclusion, although it is also important that the planning process is inclusive.

Although there is evidence that festivals encourage and facilitate inclusion and interaction across social strata, ethnic origin and gender divides, there are occasions when they can involve exclusionary and elitist practices. They can also operate as spaces of exclusion, whether intentionally or not. Although exclusion may be accepted in certain historical or cultural contexts, sometimes festivals fail in their attempt to be inclusive. At other times, festivals are intentionally designed as contested spaces, allowing a socially sanctioned forum to trigger social tensions, which suggests that some parties may be intentionally excluded. More often than not, exclusivist practices are either unintentional or the result of a lack of engagement with all sections of the community. Two key issues can result in exclusion: the presence of multiple stakeholders and the way they manage diversity issues. Given the diversity of stakeholders, there is a risk that there will be feelings of exclusion among those who are not fully satisfied with the organization of the festival. Some festivals exclude certain segments by protecting the sacred space of the festival from outsiders, marginalizing or excluding tourists from festival involvement, or by privileging visitors or tourists and increasing the dissatisfaction and exclusion of local residents.

While festivals can provide a platform for marginalized or minority groups, festivals can also be seen as a demonstration of power if the existing majority can use the festival as a way of exercising hegemony over less powerful groups. A festival that doesn’t adapt to the changing nature of the place can run the risk of excluding (albeit unintentionally) sections of the community. The isolation and exclusion of community groups can be increased by top-down approaches that fail to get marginalized communities on board. Lack of ownership of community festivals by the communities they are intended to serve can lay the foundations for hegemony and for a minority to exercise and maintain power within the festival planning process, contributing to apathy in large sections of the local community who are not empowered to make any changes to the festival.


Festivals emerge from the congruence of three main elements: the destination (location), the people who live there and the visitors who are attracted to the festival. All this is supported by the physical landscape in which they collaborate. These elements generate and reproduce the identities and values of each community, as they do not remain constant. Destination marketing, cultural tourism and a sense of community and place essentially manifest the commodification of a way of life. Festivals can be used to build communities and the celebration can bind a community together and can be the instrument that keeps the community in a new and constantly renewing experience. Festivals occupy a significant position in three areas of the human condition: 1) they celebrate a sense of place through the organization of inclusive activities in specific and safe environments; 2) they provide a vehicle for communities to receive visitors and share such activities as representations of values, interests and aspirations accepted by the community; and 3) they are the outward manifestation of community identity and provide a distinctive identifier of place and people.

There is a need to develop the festival as a destination in view of the potential benefits of staging an event. Considering a multi-layered approach that emphasizes place as a social construct that emerges from interaction and the two-way relationship between the individual and the place, place is a concept shaped by individual beliefs. 4 dimensions are considered to maintain this relationship: place identity (beliefs about relationships between self and place), place dependence (the degree to which it sustains behavior), place attachment (emotional bonding with a place) and place climate (atmosphere).

There are two distinct ways in which the festival site is created: festival place and place of festival. The festival place occurs when it is located in a non-specific place with little geographical relevance; the staging is responsible for creating a sense of place. Identity and attachment in this case are restricted. The identity of the place is more linked to the festival than to any geographical location, and is based on beliefs created through information sources that tend to be more abstract, which can cause dissonances between expectations and reality and, consequently, longer periods of harmonization. On the other hand, the place of festival is located in an established location. Existing independently of the festival means that a degree of identification with the place may already exist. In these situations, individuals get a more concrete idea of the likely experiences of the festival. The existence of consonance between expectations and reality allows an accurate place-based identity to develop and attachment to the place to become stronger and more immediate. There is a need to link place attachment into the marketing mix through accurate communications, with moderation in the use of visuals, and place-based expectation management, which provides a realistic image from the outset. Consistency should also be encouraged to ensure constant and expected plural experiences; emphasizing the place of festival will lead to better defined events, faster attachment and a degree of loyalty to the place. This is vital to ensure a greater number of return visits, regardless of the festival experience.

The case of transformational festivals

The characteristics of life that have led upper-middle-class, educated, liberal, spiritual but not religious people, in a neoliberal and late-capitalist modernity, to seek out and nurture the growth of utopian antitheses in the form of transformational festivals can be associated with what participants identify as a feeling of being at home in a safe and secure environment, that is, being in a supportive community that is related to feelings of openness, connection to others, joy and freedom, the opposite of being in a society where people feel isolated, disconnected from others, confined (not free) and, as a result, unhappy, an insecure, precarious society where people don’t feel at home and feel out of place. These latter characteristics are associated with globalized modernity under neoliberalism by various anthropologists who, together with psychologists, sociologists and critics of popular culture, have been investigating displacement, social isolation and unhappiness for the last 20 to 30 years. Precariousness defines the modern condition, it is the condition of being vulnerable to others, of being thrown into unplanned and changeable assemblages in an unstable world, of living within a framework of unpredictability, indeterminacy and continuous change. This is an omnipresent condition in the current context of globalization, where, without stable community structures, even the question of survival has become a reality for a large part of the world’s population.

Transformational festivals take place in remote outdoor spaces, in nature, in summer, over several days, and their main features are built around music stages and dance floors. They are time-spaces full of potential for creative collusions and sincere encounters, whose echoes linger after the festival, and question or interrupt the potentially alienating rhythms of urban cities. Transformational festivals provide an environment for all participants to engage in similar risk-taking in which they can take off the mask that hides their true intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual selves.

The community atmosphere at transformational festivals, as an example, is captured in the movement from a condition of alienation implicit in monotheism, possessive materialism, patriarchy, patriotism, and a corresponding movement towards a resolution: realization, utopia, consciousness, peace and unity. In the festival atmosphere, a deep feeling is created that includes notions of unity and acceptance of diversity (total acceptance, open-mindedness, freedom of expression), as well as an emphasis on community spaces, sociability, artistic expression, egalitarianism and love for all, ideals that are not easily found outside these communities. These notions are transformative “in its own right, invoking increased empathy, respect, understanding and peace in participants of E.D.M. communities”, resulting in participants’ worldviews being altered, which, facilitated through festival environments – combined with other mystical and transpersonal experiences – can hold immense transformative potential. This sense of community fosters an openness that can lead to the emergence of altered states of consciousness and exceptional, transformative, mystical and transcendent human experiences.

Transformational festivals are known for a sense of community that emphasizes reflection and personal growth. The aspects of community, music, dance and spirituality are still at the heart of these festivals. These festivals continue to emphasize the co-creation of an ideal space in which each individual contributes. Transformational festivals and the conscious festival movement embody ideas of community, ecology, spirituality and self-development, as well as contain aspects of inspiration, connection and healing. These festivals enable young people to imagine their own and other groups, assert their distinctiveness and affirm that they are not anonymous members of an unidentified mass, by giving them resources and opportunities for personal and spiritual development. There are very few opportunities in Western culture for people to come together as a collective and be given creative space without expectations, constriction of social structures, or rigid timelines.

Several varieties of cosmopolitanism are present in dance festivals, including the relativization of one’s own identity, positive recognition of the other, mutual evaluation of cultures and a shared normative culture, which involves relationships that are mediated by an orientation towards world consciousness. What motivates the attendance of festival participants is a love of celebrating music, dance, art, creativity and self-expression, and important aspects of the experience include connection, inclusion, community and deepening relationships, in an exploratory search for personal growth, expansion of consciousness and spirituality. At festivals, the sense of identity and purpose is nurtured and replenished by the love and solidarity they find there, where the process of co-creating and finding supportive environments provides for the reimagining and reaffirmation of life visions. Transformational festivals are time-spaces where people experiment with love-centered ways of knowing, relating and creating. At their heart, festivals can be seen as metanarratives about love.


BANNERMAN, Brittany A. (2016) Transformative, exceptional human experiences at music festivals: a transpersonal phenomenological exploration, Dissertação de Mestrado, Lethbridge: University of Lethbridge.

BOTTORFF, David Lane (2015) “Emerging Influence of Transmodernism and Transpersonal Psychology Reflected in Rising Popularity of Transformational Festivals”, Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, 17:1, pp.50-74.

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Authorship: João Carvalho [1].

Based on the project work “Business plan. Cosmic Festival. Transformational Festival”, authored by João Carvalho, under the supervision of Specialist Professor Victor Afonso and co-supervision of PhD Professor Nuno Gustavo, for completion of the Master’s Degree in Tourism, with a specialisation in Strategic Event Management, at the Estoril Higher Institute for Hospitality and Tourism Studies. Presented and defended on December 27th, 2019.

May, 2020.

[1] Master’s Degree in Tourism, with specialisation in Strategic Event Management, by Estoril Higher Institute for Tourism and Hotel Studies; Beach Break®.