COMMITMENT AND COMMUNITY: Communes and Utopias in Sociological Perspective by Rosabeth Moss Kanter

COMMITMENT AND COMMUNITY: Communes and Utopias in Sociological Perspective

Email this review


A thoughtful, exploratory, if somewhat rosy study of America's utopian communities which compares 19th century experiments (Oneida, The Shakers, New Harmony, Brook Farm, Zoar, etc.) with today's hippie-ish counterculture communes. Kanter (Brandeis -- Sociology) finds great variety in their organization and structure -- how work is allotted and shared, property arrangements, internal self-government, housing, dress, child-rearing and sexual practices. But she is most interested in the several ""commitment mechanisms"" which guard against centrifugal tendencies and group disintegration. These include shared ideologies or religious creeds, symbols and ceremonies that bind, and strict regulation of outside contacts. Acknowledging the ephemeral nature of most communes Kanter searches for the distinguishing characteristics of those which lasted for many years. Her conclusions go a long way toward extinguishing the popular conception of these communities as hedonistic enclaves of drugs and free love; the most successful groups were also the most highly organized, institutionally comprehensive, and ideologically monolithic. The anarchistic ""do-your-own-thing"" impulse has generally proved fatal -- survival appears to require a high degree of austerity, renunciation, hard work and especially ""mortification"" -- i.e., diminution of one's sense of a ""private, differentiated, autonomous, identity."" Such a finding raises some disturbing questions about the authoritarian implications of these experiments. Kanter, who is warmly optimistic about the commune's potential to foster self-fulfillment, brotherly love, individual growth, etc., shies away from that nasty word ""totalitarianism"" and doesn't really do justice to critics of communal life or discuss the ones which degenerated into dictatorial personality cults or worse. Nonetheless, a substantive introduction to different ideals (from Jesus to Marx to Skinner) which have inspired these self-created and self-chosen communities.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1972
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press