"Different strokes for different folks" in egalitarian intentional communities: searching for the good life in practical utopias
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This thesis explores egalitarian social experiments in a section within the Intentional Communities (ICs) movement in the United States of America. The central ethnographic investigation of the thesis concerns an analysis of egalitarianism in self-proclaimed “egalitarian” ICs—a social movement that can be conceived of as cases of practical utopian experiments, “real utopias,” or “everyday utopias”. “ICs” are groups of people who have chosen to live together with a common purpose or are motivated by shared values. The main argument is that the expression of egalitarianism in the movement can be seen as a type of processual knowledge creation that develops skillsets. The thesis contributes to the necessary and continuous unpacking of concepts, such as egalitarianism, and frames this particular expression of egalitarianism as practical egalitarianism. Further, this thesis argues that egalitarianism as such a prism or mode highlights egalitarian paradoxes that structure utopian social organization and inform new experiments and intentions. This thesis makes its argument in six chapters and builds on multi-sited participating observations during 17 months of fieldwork in various ICs in Virginia, USA, from 2015 to 2018. This thesis departs from different discourses and tensions within the paradoxes of equality and equity in the experiments of a small group of ICs. These ethnographies of practical experimental “real” utopias, where I highlight events and topics where egalitarianism is unpacked in its various forms and processes, and the study shows how these processes anti-hegemonize unjust hierarchies and introduce new ways of navigating social life without reproducing social injustices and oppressive hierarchies. This thesis delves deeper into some of the most important and highlighted experiments where, these ICs have made significant efforts to produce egalitarian social values and organization. I show how these issues also touch on environmentalism, frugality, asceticism, feminism, and various forms of political activism, and how these emerge as common tropes of egalitarian intent in these “social laboratories”. By examining the initiation process and some of the exclusionary processes of unwanted behavior or members, this thesis explores the skills developed within an egalitarian norm and value system and argues that “good egalitarian” emerges as an ideal type committed to egalitarian social conduct and the community. This thesis then explores how they go about what is often referred to as the “radical sharing” of income and property to create egalitarian futures while tackling the country and its peoples’ colonial past and current political insecurities. This study explores such radical sharing as a method toward sustainable redistribution. Another experiment studied here is how members go about “consent norms” to establish safe spaces and self-determination, personal empowerment, and communal boundaries. The sixth chapter reviews how issues related to experimental labor systems that generate equality among members create new ways of being equal, but these can also create new inegalitarianism. Throughout the thesis, I show how communards address ambiguities and paradoxes of equality, equity, justice, and liberty through everyday acts, mediations, conflicts, and tensions as self-proclaimed “egalitarians”.