van life

The dominant narratives present "van life" as voluntarily living in a van for the adventure of it.  The duration and frequency of van stints vary.  Some folks go on week-long camping trips several times a year.  Others spend months at a time living in their vans, traveling from the US to Argentina, hitting up all of the Wanderlust festivals, or following around that one jam band.  Van life in its most idealized form (check out #vanlife on IG for the best/worst examples) is all about freedom, simplicity, and escape from the work-a-day world.  In reality, van life can also be expensive, frustrating, and politically problematic.

In the US, van life has a complicated genealogy.  Some of the core concepts and representational practices circulating within van life discourse -- freedom, wanderlust, a rejection of bourgeois consumer culture, the restorative value of nature, and the idealization of indigenous cultures -- connect it to the 1960s counterculture movement in the US and the much older wandervogel movement in Germany.  The prominence of Volkswagen Vanagons and busses within van life only serves to strengthen this connection to the history of the German back-to-nature movement that was so easily incorporated by the Nazi party after World War I.  During World War II, 80% of the VW workforce was slave labor.  (In 1998 VW created a voluntary fund to compensate slave laborers who worked at VW headquarters during WWII.)  In our current political moment, van life raises a number of other difficult questions.  Is van life a form of poverty tourism?  What does it mean to choose homelessness as a fun, temporary experience when racism, ableism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and the criminalization of addiction and mental illness render so many people involuntarily homeless?



Can I tell a story about you?

“There’s no way out, short of a radical rethinking of the research enterprise.” - Dwight Conquergood Cultural Struggles

“It is a strange science whose most telling assertions are its most tremulously based, in which to get somewhere with the matter at hand is to intensify the suspicion, both your own and that of others, that you are not quite getting it right.  But that, along with plaguing subtle people with obtuse questions, is what being an ethnographer is like.” - Clifford Geertz The Interpretation of Cultures



How do I make meaning and who am I in the meaning-making?

“In short, this history of thought, of knowledge, of philosophy, of literature, seems to be seeking, and discovering, more and more discontinuities . . .” Michel Foucault The Archaeology of Knowledge

“I don’t know about the term ‘postmodern,’ but if there is a point, and a fine point, to what I perhaps better understand as poststructuralism, it is that power pervades the very position of the critic; and further, that this implication of the terms of criticism in the field of power is not the advent of a nihilistic relativism incapable of furnishing norms, but, rather, the very precondition of a politically engaged critique.” - Judith Butler Feminists Theorize the Political


The Vanagon, one of the most popular and well-photographed vans of #vanlife, is the American name for the Volkswagen Type 2 T3 generation van.  Produced from 1979 - 1992, the Vanagon is the last in a line of rear-engine Type 2 vehicles.  The first Type 2, the T1, was known as the microbus or split-window and was first produced in 1950.  From 1967 - 1979, VW produced the Type 2 T2, known as the bay window bus.  With the T4 model, called the Eurovan, VW switched to a front-engine model.

Vanagons love to eat money, grow rust, and hatch adventures.


commodity fetishism

Oooh.  I need that thing.

"The devil has long been banished from Western consciousness, yet the issues symbolized by a contract with him remain as poignant as ever -- no matter how much they have been obscured by a new type of fetishism in which commodities are held to be their own source of value." - Michael Taussig The Devil and Commodity Fetishism

“[C]ommodities, like persons, have social lives.” - Arjun Appadurai The Social Life of Things


A VW Vanagon or Bus with a camper conversion performed by the Westfalia-Werke company is called a Westfalia or Westy.  The company and the conversion are named after the Westphalia region of Germany.  Starting in 1951, the Westfalia-Werke company began contracting with Volkswagen, producing a range of camper conversions for the VW Type 2.  Depending on the model, the conversion may include a pop-top, built-in cabinets, a rear-facing jump seat, a fold-down table, a water tank, a stove, a sink, or other features that make camping a little easier and more fun.




Glamour + Camping = Glamping.  Maybe you’re a sixteenth century monarch in the middle of a military campaign.  Maybe you’re a colonialist Brit on African safari.  Maybe you’re a trustafarian trying out the "simple life" on the family dime.  When you don’t want to rough it, but you have to leave your house, glamping is for you!  Depending on the state of your rig, van life could be considered a type of glamping.



the abject

Ew.  Get out of here.

“Abjection preserves what existed in the archaism of pre-objectal relationship, in the immemorial violence with which a body becomes separated from another body in order to be.” - Julia Kristeva Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection

“The abject identity must be constantly named in order to remind individuals of its power.  Similarly it must be constantly repudiated by individuals or groups so they can continually affirm their identities as normal and as culturally intelligible.” - CJ Pascoe Dude You’re a Fag



the self

How do I know I'm me and not you?

“I am conscious of myself and become myself only while revealing myself for another, through another, and with the help of another.” - Mikhail Bakhtin Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics

In any case, one always remains oneself, inwardly a member of one’s own society and a sojourner in a strange land. Perhaps it would be better to say that one lives in two different worlds of thought at the same time, in categories and concepts and values which often cannot easily be reconciled. One becomes, at least temporarily, a sort of double marginal man, alienated from both worlds. - E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande

michael mcdonald

The silver fox of yacht rock.  The patron saint of the BusStop.  He’s gonna help you take it to the streets.