Cohousing in the United States : utopian ideals in the twenty-first century
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The United States has a long history of being home to utopian communities. Early ones were based on religious beliefs, but by the 1820s utopian socialist and other kinds of secular communities were founded. There have been several waves of such foundings, most recently the communes of the 1960s and 1970s. However, there is disagreement about whether these were really utopian, and if the idea of utopia is dead. This dissertation explores a recent variant from Denmark, cohousing, to compare it to past utopian ideas and ideals; in particular, I compare aspects such as architecture, process, relationships with the outside world, and membership. Cohousing is a community of individual living units and a shared common house that residents have planned and that they manage. I explain what formal consensus is, how it developed through the 1960s, and how cohousing uses this process for most decision making. Next, after being a participant observer for over a year, I describe the formation of a new cohousing group in Austin, Texas, and the difficulties and interactions that such a group must grow through to succeed. Finally, cohousers in many parts of the country provide insight into what living in cohousing is like and how much commitment and idealism it requires. I find many links to the communes of the 1960s and vii many similarities to older secular and religious utopian communities. There is more continuity between waves of communalism, at least in the last century, than much of the literature indicates. Today’s intentional communities, including cohousing, are generally less radical; less likely to separate from the larger society; and more involved with the outside world, particularly the environment, than earlier communities. They are therefore more likely to be accepted by and to be able to influence that larger society and outside world.