4 minute read

Intentional Communities

Historic Commual Utopias, Contemporary Intentional Communities, Family And Intentional Communities

Intentional communities, utopian communities, communes, alternative communities, collectives, cooperatives, experimental communities, communal societies, and communitarian utopias are some of the more popular terms used to describe what many consider to be nonconventional living arrangements. The definitions of these terms vary from study to study but, for the most part, the term intentional community is broad enough to encompass all of those listed above. These terms are often used interchangeably.

According to Geoph Kozeny, "An 'intentional community' is a group of people who have chosen to live together with a common purpose, working cooperatively to create a lifestyle that reflects their shared core values. The people may live together on a piece of rural land, in a suburban home, or in an urban neighborhood, and they may share a single residence or live in a cluster of dwellings" (1995, p. 18). Lyman Tower Sargent defines an intentional community as a "group of five or more adults and their children, if any, who come from more than one nuclear family and who have chosen to live together to enhance their shared values or for some other mutually agreed upon purpose" (1994, p. 15). Timothy Miller identified the following seven criteria as necessary ingredients to be considered an intentional community: "(1) A sense of common purpose and of separation from the dominant society; (2) some form and level of self-denial, of voluntary suppression of individual choice for the good of the group; (3) geographic proximity; (4) personal interaction; (5) economic sharing; (6) real existence; and (7) critical mass" (1998, p. xx).

Contemporary intentional communities come in many different varieties including communes, ecovillages, urban housing cooperatives, residential land trusts, student co-ops, co-housing developments, monasteries, kibbutzim, and spiritual communities. The nature of intentional communities varies depending on the criteria selected to define the community and the group's mission. Housing cooperatives, ecovillages, and co-housing developments are the most popular types of intentional communities listed in Communities Directory: A Guide to Intentional Communities and Cooperative Living (Fellowship for Intentional Community 2000).

Intentional communities are not new phenomena nor are they transitory or ephemeral. Those who seek to live in community mirror, in many ways, the essence of early utopian thought which stated that human beings had the potential for goodness and that they could attain that goodness if they lived in the proper kind of society. Philosophers and writers throughout the centuries have shared their thoughts on how these societies should be constructed. In his book Utopia, Thomas More ([1516] 1965), a sixteenth-century British humanist, attacked the economic and social conditions as well as the other evils affecting the society of his time. He was particularly critical of the ruling elite in the government and the church officials who were abusing their powers at the expense of the commoners. More designed an imaginary society based on a shared life and called this society Utopia. His book, which is a critique of the Elizabethan social order and status quo, has become one of the most read and cited works in literature. More's Utopia inspired hundreds of other thinkers throughout the centuries to share their visions of an ideal society.

Benjamin Zablocki (1980) identifies three varieties of utopias: exhorted, imposed, and communitarian. Exhorted utopias, such as those discussed in More's Utopia and B. F. Skinner's Walden Two, are fictional places. These utopias have been created with no practical plans for implementation. Imposed utopias are actual attempts sovereign powers have made to provide citizens with a better-functioning communal structure. Examples of imposed utopias include Calvin's City of Geneva, the Jesuit order in seventh-century Paraguay, and the New Town movement in England and the United States. The Chinese communes are probably the most ambitious of these utopias. In 1949, after the defeat of Chiang Kaishek and the ascendancy of Mao Tse-tung, 80 percent of the Chinese were peasants. Mao organized 500 million peasants into 24,000 communes. His goal was to create a socialist utopia through collective agricultural communes. In 1977, Deng Xiaoping came to power in China and revealed that Mao's experiment with communes had failed (McCord 1989). Communitarian utopias are those that develop from the combined interests and intentions of their participants. The majority of utopian experiments have been communitarian utopias.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1972) believes the origins of American utopias and intentional communities, in particular, can be traced to one of three major themes: a rejection of the established order and a desire to follow religious and spiritual values; a willingness to reform society from corruption, injustice, inhumanity, and evil, especially within the realms of economics and politics; and a rejection of the alienation and isolation of society by promoting the psychosocial growth of the individual within community. These three themes compare favorably with the three historical waves of development and growth among communitarian utopias. The first wave of communitarianism began in the early years of the United States and lasted until approximately 1845. Religious themes were popular during this time. The second wave began in 1820, peaked in the 1840s, and continued until 1930. It emphasized economic and political issues. The third wave, or the psychosocial period, emerged following World War II and peaked in the late 1960s.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of Families