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Alternative Community


Alternative communities, collectives, communes, and alternative societies are some of the most popular terms used to describe what many consider to be non-traditional community arrangements. For the most part, they are often used interchangeably and for the purposes of this article the term alternative community is broad enough to include all of those listed above.

What is an Alternative Community?

An alternate community is a group of people who have chosen to live together with a shared or common purpose.

They aspire to work together to create a lifestyle that reflects the core values they share. Alternative communities are not new phenomena nor are they ephemeral or transitory. In many ways, the idea of seeking to live in an alternative community mirrors the essence of early Utopian thought. They believed that humans had the potential for goodness and that they could attain it if they lived in a proper kind of society. The concept of an alternative community can be traced back to Plato’s Republic and the works of Sir Thomas More.

Alternative History

The 19th century is thought to have been the golden age for alternative societies. In an effort to create perfect communities, over 100,000 individuals formed intentional societies in the first part of the 19th century. Manyalternative communities in that era were founded by European immigrants. These separatists wished to build a more perfect community by offering an alternative to capitalism and encouraging communal living. The promise of religious liberty, combined with plentiful and affordable land with limited government regulations, forested a suitable environment for these alternative societies continues to resonate with people to this day.

Many of the earliest alternative societies were religious. The Shakers are one of the most enduring and well-known religious alternative communities. They settled in New York state in 1776. Shakers believed in social isolation, gender equality, productive labor, pacifism, celibacy, and communal living.

The Oneida Community is another well-known alternative religious community. Founded in Oneida, New York in 1848; Oneida practiced pure communism. Additionally they practiced what was referred to as “Complex Marriage”. Complex Marriage was essentially a form of free love where every man was married to every woman and vice versa. The eastern United States was dotted with various other alternative societies during this era.

One on the most successful was founded by German Pietists escaping persecution in Europe.

There were also secular alternative communities, dedicated to visions of economic and social reform. New Harmony is a prime example. This alternative community believed in progressive systems of education and communal living. The Brook Farm community is another key example. It was based on the ideals of Transcendentalism and attracted many key intellectuals as visitors and residents.

Alternative Communities Today

Industrialization and increasing urban development in the late 19th century led to some changes in the idea of alternative communities. Social revolution is a common prominent thread in the new alternative societies. Various other aspects have persisted throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

Today, alternative communities come in different varieties. Student co-ops, hippie communes, ecovillages, spiritual communities, residential land trusts, social trusts, and online communities among others. The nature of these various alternative societies varies based on the group’s mission and the criteria chosen to define the community.