Imagining a Utopian Intentional Community

Utopia

Personal Utopia Writing Project

Nancy Babbitt

Ideal Worlds: Utopian Literature

(2015SU2-CUL-224504-01)

SUNY Empire State College

 

Dr. Debra Monte

August 2015

 

Part One: Personal Utopia – Imagining a Utopian Intentional Community

Peace and Plenty Ecovillage

Intentional Community

Welcome to the website of the Peace and Plenty Ecovillage. Thank you for visiting us today. We are glad for your interest in who we are and what we do. We are an intentional community of individuals and families who embrace the philosophy of nonviolence. We are a democratically governed residential community situated on 250 rural Washington County acres in beautiful upstate New York. We organized into an intentional community in 1989 when four families joined together to purchase the Peace and Plenty farmstead. Since that time, our community has expanded and now includes over one hundred and twenty five individuals sharing land and resources. We are a child-focused community, basing our decision making on what we feel will be the best for the future generations, even unto the seventh generation from today. We also value and honor our elders, as they are the carriers of the community’s wisdom. Our core values include social, economic, and ecological justice.

Social justice, to us, takes place in a diverse community that is egalitarian in its social structure. Therefore, there is no social hierarchy based on in-group/out-group categories. All community members honor and embrace human difference including difference in racial/ethnic backgrounds, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, age, ability, size, and religion/spirituality. We practice empathic listening and nonviolent communication as a way to avoid conflicts. We attempt to resolve all differences with restorative justice practices. Our community ceremonies embrace an eclectic mixture from many ethnic and spiritual practices. Furthermore, we are a participatory democracy – one in which the voice of all community members (including the children) is required, and decisions are made by consensus.

Economic justice, to us, means that all community members contribute their special talents to the wellbeing of the community and in return, each community member/family enjoys separate living quarters, but also benefits from community meals and community activities/ceremonies based on the earth’s cycles. Each community member has access to healthcare. All are encouraged to engage in ongoing education. We sustain ourselves through self-sufficiency activities such as gardening/farming, food preservation, and arts and crafting projects, as well as teaching. We operate a cooperative retail outlet selling what we produce to the public.

Ecological justice, to us, means concerning ourselves with environmental sustainability. This means stepping away from the competitive and consuming lifestyle that surrounds us, and living instead, with enoughness. Enoughness refers to a philosophy of living life abundantly while consuming less of the world’s resources. In order to achieve this more-with-less end, we embrace an ever-present attitude of thanksgiving. We also utilize green building techniques, we conserve energy, and we use green energy technologies. We are an off-grid zero-carbon community. We reduce consumption, and we reuse, mend, and repair before we recycle. We rarely throw away, because there is no away. We are stewards of the land that sustains us, and therefore, we are caretakers of the forest, of the fields, of the waters, of the air, and of the plant and animal life.

We practice environmentally sound methods for food production (e.g. food forestry, permaculture, organic gardening and farming methods avoiding all genetically modified organisms, free-range pastured animals, sustainable hunting and fishing practices).

Our goal is to be as self-sufficient and ecologically sustainable as possible while at the same time serving the larger community. To serve the larger community we also operate as a learning center. We share our wisdom about growing and preserving food, we teach arts and crafts, and we teach peace and social, economic, and ecological justice as well. We also assist others who would like to develop a similar intentional community of their own.

In sum, the members of Peace and Plenty Ecovillage are social activists. We are active in creating the sort of society in which we wish to live. We practice nonviolence. Nonviolence consists, in part, of obstructive program – blocking the systems and structures that oppress us. However, nonviolence primarily consists of constructive program – creating alternatives to the dominant systems of inequality, oppression, and violence. Constructive program is our primary focus.

Our goals are lofty and perhaps we have not achieved paradise on earth or the perfect utopia, but we feel that our actions and our way of life make a positive difference in our own lives, the lives of those around us, as well as for the generations who will come after us. It is our hope that each future generation will experience increasing ecological diversity and abundance – the very foundation of all wellbeing. It is also our hope that each future generation will experience increasing levels of social justice, peace, and harmony. However, we have designed our governing structure in a way that each generation will be able to shaping their unique version of an ideal world according to their changing world, beliefs, and value systems.

Part Two: Constitution, Manifesto, and Laws

Laws Governing Peace and Plenty Ecovillage’s Participatory Democracy

  1. Community participation is crucial in a participatory democracy and therefore it is mandatory that all community members voice their ideas in all decision-making processes. Community elders facilitate this process.
  2. Each new community member is assigned membership to a band. Children belong to the band of their mother. Members joining from outside Peace and Plenty Ecovillage will be adopted by the band with least number of members and can begin participating in decision making after one year of community membership.
  3. There are five band names, one for each of the following elements of human wellbeing – land, water, air, plants, and animals. There will be two leaders appointed to each band, one male and one female in order to maintain power balance between the sexes. Those leaders’ focus will be on the people of their band as well as their element. Their duty will be to look after their band’s wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of their element and speak on their behalf at community meetings.
  4. Community meetings are generally held on the first Tuesday of each month at 7:00 pm. but can take place whenever there is a need.
  5. Decisions are made by consensus, and therefore community leaders facilitate consensus-building processes rather than exercising top-down management of the people.
  6. Community leaders are not elected rather they are raised. This means that community elders observe the children to see who the natural born leaders are and then begin working with them, supporting their growth and ability in representing their community. There shall always be children in apprenticeship to all leadership roles.
  7. Elders will continually observe the children, seeking to discover their unique gifts and talents and encouraging them to increase their skill and usefulness in order to strengthen and benefit the community.
  8. Community leaders speak the interests of the community. Therefore, community leaders cannot speak for or act on behalf of the community unless the issue at hand has been addressed in a meeting and approved by consensus beforehand.
  9. Leaders not acting on behalf of their community are removed from office and the process for new appointments then begins.
  10. Each community meeting or important gathering shall begin and end with a ceremony of thanksgiving. The ceremony involves expressing thankfulness for those things that are truly important for human wellbeing – community of other people, the living earth, water, air, plants and animals, as well as any other elements deemed necessary at the moment. The purpose of this thanksgiving is to focus our minds on what is truly important to us all and thus facilitate consensus building.

Part Three: Reflection

What is most appealing to you about this place?

To my way of thinking, the most appealing aspects of the Peace and Plenty Ecovillage are the lack of coercion and domination as well as (like the name indicates) it being a place of environmental stewardship that creates bounty and thus, relations that are more peaceful.

What are the most significant barriers to actually achieving this utopian community?

I do think that a somewhat utopian intentional community is possible. However, the barriers would include obtaining the land and resources necessary to build it as well as finding other like-minded individuals who would wish to join and make it happen.

How does your utopian vision connect to the utopian literature we have read this term?

My utopian vision connects to other utopian literatures in that it primarily consists of social theory. It is distinct, however, in its ability to have an eventual real-life application. I think this distinction exists because my utopian vision is for a small community of like-minded individuals, rather than a large homogenous utopian society. The reason that a large utopian society is unlikely, in my opinion, is because people who live in different regions of the world would naturally have different perspectives and needs and then consensus building would become nearly impossible.

How did the reading of utopian theory (in Kumar) shape the development of this utopia?

The reading of utopian theory in Krishan Kumar’s text Utopianismshaped the development of my own utopian vision. This is because Kumar often describes utopian literature as social theory and this is the perspective about utopian literatures that I appreciate also. Although most of the texts covered in class were rather dystopian in nature, I intentionally focused my attention beyond deficit theorizing about what is wrong in the current order or in other utopian literatures to looking for ways in which we might actually shape more ideal communities.

Did you have any difficulties creating this utopian plan? What were they?

I did not have a great deal of difficulty creating this utopian plan because I have spent a great deal of time thinking about changes I would appreciate. For this reason, I included many of my interests – peace; social, economic and environmental justice; nonviolence; non-violent communication; restorative practices, participatory democracy, consensus building, food sovereignty, cooperative sharing economies, intentional communities, voluntary simplicity, self-sufficiency, green technologies, and indigenous knowledge. Much of my utopian plans were taken directly from Indigenous authors such as Barbara Alice Mann (remembering her writing about the Corn Way of Peace and Plenty), and writings about the Haudenosaunee Peace Confederacy of Nations – their customs and their form of governance – and adapted to the purpose of this project.

Did you have any particular difficulties writing this utopian fiction? What were they?

I think the most difficult aspect of writing utopia involves creative fictional writing. Framing my writing in the form of a “home” webpage for a fictional intentional community made the creative writing project more manageable for me – a non-literary student.

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Situating Knowledge Systems – A Summary

Western thought, knowledge, and education systems differ from Indigenous ways of knowing. What this means is that there are certain assumptions that originate from Western European society’s culture, history, and ideology that are quite different from the knowledge systems that are based on the traditions, history, and philosophies of non-Western cultures. Western rationalizations have largely excluded the knowledge systems of the colonized ‘other’ in their discourse, and by this, they produce conditions of social injustice. Dr. Bagele Chilisa has intimate knowledge concerning both the dominant knowledge systems and that of the colonized ‘other’. This is because Dr. Chilisa was born and raised in Botswana, Africa (a former British colony), and educated in a Western academy at Pittsburg University, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., and is currently a social science research expert at the University of Botswana. Therefore, with a firm foundation in each worldview, and as an informed response to the prevalence of Euro-Western intellectual domination and the suffering that results, Dr. Chilisa has authored a text, Indigenous Research Methodologies (2012), in which she has placed the philosophies of these two worldviews in conversation with one another in order to form a new framework that she describes as a postcolonial indigenous research paradigm.

Situating Knowledge Systems, the title of chapter one of Indigenous Research Methodologies, provides a framework for understanding the differences between Western and non-Western philosophies and worldviews. In this chapter, Chilisa discussed the need for the decolonization of Western research methodologies, and then she examined various cultural assumptions concerning ontology (the nature of reality), epistemology (the nature of knowledge and truth), and axiology (cultural values). To do this, she compared and contrasted three research paradigms: the positivist, interpretative, and transformative, within the context of a non-Western worldview. Then, Chilisa suggested the integration of relational indigenous ways of knowing with aspects of Euro-Western research paradigms for the dual purposes of decolonizing social science research and legitimizing indigenous knowledge and value systems by constructing an indigenous research paradigm. Thus, situating knowledge systems, concerns the need to examine the cultural assumptions that shape various social science methodologies, and appropriately make changes that will decolonize the hegemonic Western approach by shaping an alternative postcolonial indigenous integrative and relational research paradigm and methodology.

The decolonization of Western research methodologies is necessary in order to give voice to historically silenced perspectives. Western research methodologies move toward decolonization when the research paradigm becomes inclusive of the relational indigenous perspective. Thus, decolonized research methodologies value relationships, and therefore, they recognize and embrace the notion of interconnectedness. They are formulated and framed within indigenous ways of knowing and they are simultaneously respectful of the Indigenous ownership of indigenous knowledge. They open discourse space to topics that have been historically invalidated or silenced. The dismissal of what might be labeled sorcery, or the avoidance of the discussion of colonization, are examples of such silencing. They also adhere to “ethical standards such as the informed consent of the researched” (Chilisa, 2012, p. 3, 4.). Thus, research approaches have a postcolonial indigenous paradigm and method when they are participatory in that they create a ‘third space’ in which to consider the history, experience, perspective, values, needs, and rights of the researched; and when they shift power in such a way as to direct it toward social justice by meeting indigenous goals including the recognition of a relational reality and the right to Indigenous self-determination.

In order to meet the goals of an indigenous research paradigm and methodology, it is necessary to establish a context for understanding how such compares and contrasts with predominant and hegemonic Western research approach. For this reason, Chilisa documented cultural assumptions concerning the nature of social reality (ontology), ways of knowing (epistemology), and ethics and value systems (axiology) within three Euro-Western research paradigms: the positivist, interpretative, and transformative. She discussed them and their associated cultural assumptions in detail by scrutinizing each paradigm’s philosophical underpinnings, their ontological assumptions, where each places cultural values in the research process, their assumptions concerning the nature of knowledge and the meaning of ‘truth’, the methodology each employs, and the techniques each uses for gathering data. Each of these cultural values are relevant, yet especially important to consider, though, is the purpose for which each research paradigm has been designed, because the purpose (and the world view that informs it) shapes what is and is not included in the other cultural assumptions. With this context, Chilisa also suggested an alternative framework for an indigenous research paradigm and she listed the cultural assumptions from which it was developed.

Thus, the positivist/postpositivist approach to social science research has been designed in order to discover natural laws that are generalizable and which are universally applicable. Chilisa (2012) described this approach as the scientific method, which is informed by the philosophies of realism, idealism, and critical realism, which in turn, state that there is one objective reality that is (because of human imperfection) only knowable and expressed in terms of probability. The scientific method, because of its universal applicability, is free from cultural values, except when choosing a research topic. Knowledge, in this way is objectively determined where the truth is based on observation and measurements that are verifiable. Positivist/postpositivist research designs use quantitative, correlational, quasi-experimental, experimental, causal comparative, and survey methods. Scientists gather data, primarily through questionnaires, observations, tests, and experiments (pp. 40-41, paraphrased.). A shortcoming of this approach is that this sort of research is designed to meet the needs and goals of the researchers, and it may not necessarily address “questions of relevancy” or issues of ethics and morality, but instead further reinforce the dominant group and their particular paradigm (Chilisa, 2012, p. 31.)

On the other hand, the interpretive approach to social science research has been designed in order to understand and describe human nature. Chilisa (2012) described this approach as informed by the philosophies of hermeneutics and phenomenology, which state that reality is socially and multiply constructed where each social group determines its own value system. Knowledge, in this way, is subjective and idiographic where the truth is dependent on context. Interpretive research designs use qualitative, phenomenology, ethnographic, symbolic interaction, and naturalistic methods. Researchers gather data, primarily by the use of interviews, participant observation, pictures, photographs, diaries, and documents (pp. 40-41, paraphrased.). A shortcoming of this approach is that this sort of research has a history of unequal power relations, where the researcher has also been the colonizer, and where the result is that indigenous knowledge is likely to be suppressed in favor of Euro-Western paradigms, thus the worldview and practices of former colonized societies might become excluded from the dominant system of knowledge production with the interpretative research paradigm (Chilisa, 2012, pp. 34-35.).

In addition, the transformative approach to social science research has been designed in order to destroy myths and to empower people to change society radically. Chilisa (2012) described this approach as informed by the philosophies of critical theory, postcolonial discourses, feminist theories, race-specific theories, and neo-Marxist theories, which state that multiple realities exist, which in turn, are shaped by human rights values, democratic and social justice values, and political, cultural, economic, race, ethnic, gender, and disability values. Knowledge, in this way, is dialectical in understanding, which is aimed at critical praxis and is informed by a theory that unveils illusions. Transformative research designs use a combination of quantitative and qualitative action research, and participatory research. Researchers gather data by using culturally responsive techniques of data collection (pp. 40-41, paraphrased.). The transformative approach to social science research has addressed shortcomings of the positivist/postpositivist and the interpretative methods, yet is still not indigenous because it is not culturally situated in Indigenous ways of knowing.

On the other hand, the indigenous approach to social science research has been designed with a very different purpose that is shaped by a very different worldview. The indigenous approach is designed to “challenge deficit thinking and pathological descriptions of the formerly colonized and reconstruct a body of knowledge that carries hope and promotes transformation and social change among the historically oppressed” (Chilisa, 2012, p. 40.). What this means is that the indigenous approach is much the same as the transformative research paradigm in that it is informed by the empowering philosophies of “critical theory, postcolonial discourses, feminist theories, critical race-specific theories, and neo-Marxist theories” but it is distinct in that it is also informed by indigenous knowledge systems (Chilisa, 2012, p. 40.). Therefore, an indigenous paradigm and methodology integrates what is useful in Euro-Western paradigms with indigenous ways of knowing in order to create a new paradigm and methodology that is uniquely designed to meet the needs of Indigenous people.

Additionally, the indigenous paradigm is similar to the interpretive and transformative research paradigms in that it assumes multiple realities, yet it holds the further distinction that communicates the indigenous worldview. Thus, indigenous assumptions about reality hold that there are “[s]ocially constructed multiple realities” that are “shaped by the set of multiple connections that human beings have with the environment, the cosmos, the living, and the nonliving” (Chilisa, 2012, p. 40.). Knowledge, in this way, holds that “all research must be guided by a relational accountability that promotes respectful representation, reciprocity, and rights of the researched” (Chilisa, 2012, p. 40.). Therefore, an indigenous paradigm and methodology recognizes interconnectedness, human rights/animal rights/environmental rights ethics as integral to the nature of ‘reality’ and ‘truth’, and this shapes the approach.

Thus, indigenous research designs are unique. They use “participatory, liberatory, and transformative research approaches and methodologies that draw from indigenous knowledge systems” (Chilisa, 2012, p. 42.). Unlike western methods, researchers using an indigenous paradigm and methodology gather data using “techniques based on philosophic sagacity, ethnophilosophy, language frameworks, indigenous knowledge systems, talk stories, and talk circles” and they use these in conjunction with techniques adapted from Western paradigms (Chilisa, 2012, p. 42.). In this way, indigenous methodology situates first, the indigenous worldview and ways of knowing and integrates this with what is useful from the Western academy when conducting social science research with indigenous and otherwise marginalized populations.

Thus, Dr. Bagele Chilisa has, in order to decolonize social science research paradigms and methodologies, put forth a postcolonial framework for indigenous research. This framework is inclusive of the Western worldview and methodologies, but it is critical in that it examines the purpose of each of three Western paradigms, understanding that each has its unique notions concerning what it values, and what is real and true. For this reason, the positivist/postpositivist, the interpretative, and the transformative paradigms are not truly effectual for Indigenous social science research, because indigenous ways of knowing are distinct. Thus, in order to give voice to traditionally silenced ways of understanding what is real, true, and valued; Chilisa has shaped a postcolonial indigenous research paradigm and methodology. This paradigm creates a space to conduct research that is not only about Indigenous (otherized) people, but instead is inclusive of Indigenous life experience, worldviews, and ways of knowing. In this way, Chilisa has situated Indigenous ways of knowing at the front, yet along with Western knowledge systems, blending the past and the present across multiple ways of knowing, in order to shape a new future where social science research methods legitimize the experience, perspective and wisdom of historically oppressed Peoples within and without the Western academy. An indigenous social science research framework fosters hope and creativity in order to shape strategies designed to meet Indigenous goals and needs.

References:

Chilisa, B. (2012). Indigenous research methodologies. SAGE Publications.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Stereotypically Objective Paradigm

To be objective is to hold assumptions about reality and the nature of truth without considering context. This is the scientific method, and it is imperfect in that it is generally understood that because of human error, truth can only be known and expressed in terms of probability when discussing human behavior. The scientific method eliminates what the researchers find to be false in order to ‘bring knowledge closer to ‘the’ truth,’ rather than proving something true. This is the reason for expressing scientific knowledge about human behavior in terms of probabilities. Furthermore, when context is taken into consideration, the generalizations that the scientific method produces may no longer hold true in individual cases. What, then, is produced by scientific objectivity in the social sciences?

Objectivity produces a mind that thinks in terms of generalizations. Classifying the world in this way also results in what social science research expert, Dr. Bagele Chilisa (2012) described as a “paradigm that becomes essentialized, compelling thought along binary opposites of either/or,” and that way of thinking underlies notions of ‘us and them’ when thinking about people (p. 25.). What this means is that when we generalize about people, thinking in terms of either/or, we are very likely to ‘otherise’ people. Otherizing takes place when we think in terms of generalizations about individuals (others), who we perceive (and maybe incorrectly so) to belong to certain groups, who we then perceive (and maybe incorrectly so) to hold certain characteristics, and this way of thinking can block the way of truly getting to know and understand individual particularity. Objectivity, then, we can reason, produces a mind that is likely perceive and classify individuals in general terms concerning characteristics that we have attached to certain groups; in other words, obective thinking likely leads to the stereotyping of individuals.

Chilisa, B. (2011). Indigenous research methodologies. SAGE Publications.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Indian Identity, Transformation, Continuity and Resilience

 

Wilma Mankiller (1045-2010), Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1985 to 1995, gave a speech at Sonoma State University in 2008, in which she spoke about the misconceptions held by many in mainstream society, of Native American Peoples.  She provided a brief review of American history in order to help clear up common misconceptions of Indian identity, transformation, continuity and resilience.

Folks in mainstream U.S. culture sometimes think of Indians as a cultural relic of the past, as rather an artifact or as people in need of ‘advancement’.  Mankiller spoke of the importance of context, such as time and place, in relation to understanding Native American Peoples. Native American Peoples are diverse groups of people still living who enjoy modern lifestyles.

Clearing up the common misconception of a singular ‘Indian’ identity, Chief Mankiller discussed some of the 550 plus tribal groups, speaking of their distinct political structures, their unique histories, languages, beliefs, customs and ceremonies. Many in mainstream U.S. culture are unaware of the cultural and historical complexity of Native American societies.

Mankiller provided her audience context for understanding Native Americans living today with a brief discourse on Indian Nation and U.S. relations. She pointed out that many people in mainstream U.S. society do not know the full details of American history, including the Native American perspective, whereas Native Americans have been compelled to learn and adapt to the dominant culture’s perspective and lifestyle. Ignorance about both the history and the current reality relative to Native American people can lead to the misunderstanding of the issues with which Native Americans currently struggle.

Native Americans embrace and hold onto their unique cultural heritage while they also work to adapt to the dominant culture. Sometimes adjusting is difficult, but Mankiller spoke of maintaining a positive attitude as key to living a happy and productive life. She stressed that it is important to remain positively focused because, as she said, “It is hard to see the future with tears in your eyes or anger in your heart (Mankiller).”  Thus, Chief Mankiller showed us that Native Americans are a resilient people; they find positive ways to adapt to change.

In this speech, Chief Wilma Mankiller demonstrated for the audience that Native Americans, are a resilient, living modern people who are adapting to their new circumstances while at the same time they embrace their unique cultural heritages and lifestyles.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.