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An intentional community is a voluntary residential community which is designed to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork from the start. The members of an intentional community typically hold a common social, political, religious, or spiritual vision, and typically share responsibilities and property. This way of life is sometimes characterized as an "alternative lifestyle". Intentional communities can be seen as social experiments or communal experiments. The multitude of intentional communities includes collective households, cohousing communities, coliving, ecovillages, monasteries, survivalist retreats, kibbutzim, hutterites, ashrams, and housing cooperatives.
Ashrams are likely the earliest intentional communities founded around 1500 BCE, while Buddhist monasteries appeared around 500 BCE. Pythagoras founded an intellectual vegetarian commune in about 525 BCE in southern Italy. Hundreds of modern intentional communities were formed across Europe, North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand out of the intellectual foment of utopianism. Intentional communities exhibit the utopian ambition to create a better, more sustainable world for living. Nevertheless, the term utopian community as a synonym for an intentional community might be considered to be of pejorative nature and many intentional communities do not consider themselves to be utopian. Also the alternative term commune[a] is considered to be non-neutral or even linked to leftist politics or hippies.
Additional terms referring to an intentional community can be alternative lifestyle, intentional society, cooperative community, withdrawn community, enacted community, socialist colony, communistic society, collective settlement, communal society, commune, mutualistic community, communitarian experiment, experimental community, utopian experiment, practical utopia, and utopian society.
|B. Shenker||1986||"An intentional community is a relatively small group of people who have created a whole way of life for the attainment of a certain set of goals."|
|D. E. Pitzer||1989||Intentional communities are "small, voluntary social units partly isolated from the general society in which members share an economic union and lifestyle in an attempt to implement, at least in part, their ideal ideological, religious, political, social, economic, and educational systems".|
|G. Kozeny||1996||"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."|
|W. J. Metcalf||2004||An intentional community is "[f]ive or more people, drawn from more than one family or kinship group, who have voluntarily come together for the purpose of ameliorating perceived social problems and inadequacies. They seek to live beyond the bounds of mainstream society by adopting a consciously devised and usually well thought-out social and cultural alternative. In the pursuit of their goals, they share significant aspects of their lives together. Participants are characterized by a "we-consciousness," seeing themselves as a continuing group, separate from and in many ways better than the society from which they emerged."|
The purposes of intentional communities vary and may be political, spiritual, economic, or environmental. In addition to spiritual communities, secular communities also exist. One common practice, particularly in spiritual communities, is communal meals. Egalitarian values can be combined with other values. Benjamin Zablocki categorized communities this way:
Members of Christian intentional communities want to emulate the practices of the earliest believers. Using the biblical book of Acts (and, often, the Sermon on the Mount) as a model, members of these communities strive to demonstrate their faith in a corporate context, and to live out the teachings of the New Testament, practicing compassion and hospitality. Communities such as the Simple Way, the Bruderhof and Rutba House would fall into this category. Despite strict membership criteria, these communities are open to visitors and not reclusive to the extent of some other intentional communities.
A survey in the 1995 edition of the "Communities Directory", published by Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC), reported that 54 percent of the communities choosing to list themselves were rural, 28 percent were urban, 10 percent had both rural and urban sites, and 8 percent did not specify.
The most common form of governance in intentional communities is democratic (64 percent), with decisions made by some form of consensus decision-making or voting. A hierarchical or authoritarian structure governs 9 percent of communities, 11 percent are a combination of democratic and hierarchical structure, and 16 percent do not specify.
The central characteristics of communes, or core principles that define communes, have been expressed in various forms over the years. The term "communitarian" was invented by the Suffolk-born radical John Goodwyn Barmby, subsequently a Unitarian minister.
At the start of the 1970s, The New Communes author Ron E. Roberts classified communes as a subclass of a larger category of Utopias. He listed three main characteristics: first, egalitarianism – that communes specifically rejected hierarchy or graduations of social status as being necessary to social order. Second, human scale – that members of some communes saw the scale of society as it was then organized as being too industrialized (or factory sized) and therefore unsympathetic to human dimensions. And third, that communes were consciously anti-bureaucratic.
Twenty five years later, Dr. Bill Metcalf, in his edited book Shared Visions, Shared Lives defined communes as having the following core principles: the importance of the group as opposed to the nuclear family unit, a "common purse", a collective household, group decision making in general and intimate affairs. Sharing everyday life and facilities, a commune is an idealized form of family, being a new sort of "primary group" (generally with fewer than 20 people although there are examples of much larger communes). Commune members have emotional bonds to the whole group rather than to any sub-group, and the commune is experienced with emotions which go beyond just social collectivity.
With the simple definition of a commune as an intentional community with 100% income sharing, the online directory of the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) lists 222 communes worldwide (28 January 2019). Some of these are religious institutions such as abbeys and monasteries. Others are based in anthroposophic philosophy, including Camphill villages that provide support for the education, employment, and daily lives of adults and children with developmental disabilities, mental health problems or other special needs. Many communes are part of the New Age movement.
Many cultures naturally practice communal or tribal living, and would not designate their way of life as a planned 'commune' per se, though their living situation may have many characteristics of a commune.
In Australia, many intentional communities started with the hippie movement and those searching for social alternatives to the nuclear family. One of the oldest continuously running communities is called "Moora Moora Co-operative Community" with about 47 members (Oct 2021). Located at the top of Mount Toolebewong, 65km east of Melbourne, Victoria at an altitude of 600–800 m, this community has been entirely off the electricity grid since its inception in 1974. Founding members still resident include Peter and Sandra Cock.
The first wave of utopian communities in Germany began during a period of rapid urbanization between 1890-1930. About 100 intentional communities were started but data is unreliable. They often pursued nudism, vegetarian and organic agriculture, as well as various religious and political ideologies like anabaptism, theosophy, anarchism, socialism and eugenics. Historically, German emigrants were also influential in the creation of intentional communities in other countries, like the Bruderhof in the United States of America and Kibbutzes in Israel. In the 1960s, there was a resurgence of communities calling themselves communes, starting with the Kommune 1 in Berlin, without knowledge or influence by previous movements. A large number of contemporary intentional communities define themselves as communes and there is a network of political communes called "Kommuja" with about 40 member groups (May 2023).
In the German commune book, Das KommuneBuch, communes are defined by Elisabeth Voß as communities which:
Kibbutzim in Israel, (sing., kibbutz) are examples of officially organized communes, the first of which were based on agriculture. Other Israeli communities are Neve Shalom, Kvutza, Yishuv Kehilati, Moshavim and Kfar No'ar. Today, there are dozens of urban communes growing in the cities of Israel, often called urban kibbutzim. The urban kibbutzim are smaller and more anarchist. Most of the urban communes in Israel emphasize social change, education, and local involvement in the cities where they live. Some of the urban communes have members who are graduates of zionist-socialist youth movements, like HaNoar HaOved VeHaLomed, HaMahanot HaOlim and Hashomer Hatsair.
In 1831 John Vandeleur (a landlord) established a commune on his Ralahine Estate at Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare. Vandeleur asked Edward Thomas Craig, an English socialist, to formulate rules and regulations for the commune. It was set up with a population of 22 adult single men, 7 married women and their 7 husbands, 5 single women, 4 orphan boys and 5 children under the age of 9 years. No money was employed, only credit notes which could be used in the commune shop. All occupants were committed to a life with no alcohol, tobacco, snuff or gambling. All were required to work for 12 hours a day during the summer and from dawn to dusk in winter. The social experiment prospered for a time and 29 new members joined. However, in 1833 the experiment collapsed due to the gambling debts of John Vandeleur. The members of the commune met for the last time on 23 November 1833 and placed on record a declaration of "the contentment, peace and happiness they had experienced for two years under the arrangements introduced by Mr. Vandeleur and Mr. Craig and which through no fault of the Association was now at an end".
In imperial Russia, the vast majority of Russian peasants held their land in communal ownership within a mir community, which acted as a village government and a cooperative. The very widespread and influential pre-Soviet Russian tradition of Monastic communities of both sexes could also be considered a form of communal living. After the end of communism in Russia, monastic communities have again become more common, populous and, to a lesser degree, more influential in Russian society. Various patterns of Russian behavior — toloka (толока), pomochi (помочи), artel (артель) — are also based on communal ("мирские") traditions.
In the years immediately following the revolutions of 1917 Tolstoyan communities proliferated in Russia, but later they were eventually wiped out or stripped of their independence as collectivisation and ideological purges got under way in the late 1920s. Colonies, such as the Life and Labor Commune, relocated to Siberia to avoid being liquidated. Several Tolstoyan leaders, including Yakov Dragunovsky (1886-1937), were put on trial and then sent to the Gulag prison camps.
In 1991, Afrikaners in South Africa founded the controversial Afrikaner-only town of Orania, with the goal of creating a stronghold for the Afrikaner minority group, the Afrikaans language and the Afrikaner culture.  By 2022, the population was 2,500. The town was experiencing rapid growth and the population had climbed by 55% from 2018.  They favour a model of strict Afrikaner self-sufficiency and have their own currency, bank, local government and only employ Afrikaners.
A 19th century advocate and practitioner of communal living was the utopian socialist John Goodwyn Barmby, who founded a Communist Church before becoming a Unitarian minister.
The Simon Community in London is an example of social cooperation, made to ease homelessness within London. It provides food and religion and is staffed by homeless people and volunteers. Mildly nomadic, they run street "cafés" which distribute food to their known members and to the general public.
The Bruderhof has three locations in the UK. In Glandwr, near Crymych, Pembrokeshire, a co-op called Lammas Ecovillage focuses on planning and sustainable development. Granted planning permission by the Welsh Government in 2009, it has since created 9 holdings and is a central communal hub for its community. In Scotland, the Findhorn Foundation founded by Peter and Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean in 1962 is prominent for its educational centre and experimental architectural community project based at The Park, in Moray, Scotland, near the village of Findhorn.
The Findhorn Ecovillage community at The Park, Findhorn, a village in Moray, Scotland, and at Cluny Hill in Forres, now houses more than 400 people.
Historic agricultural examples include the Diggers settlement on St George's Hill, Surrey during the English Civil War and the Clousden Hill Free Communist and Co-operative Colony near Newcastle upon Tyne during the 1890s.
There is a long history of utopian communities in America which led to the rise in the communes of the hippie movement—the "back-to-the-land" ventures of the 1960s and 1970s. One commune that played a large role in the hippie movement was Kaliflower, a utopian living cooperative that existed in San Francisco between 1967 and 1973 built on values of free love and anti-capitalism.
Andrew Jacobs of The New York Times wrote that "after decades of contraction, the American commune movement has been expanding since the mid-1990s, spurred by the growth of settlements that seek to marry the utopian-minded commune of the 1960s with the American predilection for privacy and capital appreciation." The Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) is the best source for listings of and more information about communes in the United States.
While many American communes are short lived, some have been in operation for over 50 years. The Bruderhof was established in the US in 1954, Twin Oaks in 1967 and Koinonia Farm in 1942. Twin Oaks is a rare example of a non-religious commune surviving for longer than 30 years.
We use commune only when referring to communities that share their income and resources completely, or nearly so
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We are a community of homeless people and volunteers living and working together in a spirit of love, acceptance, tolerance and understanding. We aim to reach out to support and campaign for people who are experiencing homelessness, and particularly those for whom no other provision exists
The Lammas project has been created to pioneer an alternative model for living on the land. It empowers people to explore what it is to live a low-impact lifestyle. It demonstrates that alternatives are possible here and now.
The Findhorn Community was begun in 1962 by Peter and Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean.