ANNE SCHNEIDER

Est. 2020 | Rotterdam 

Utopia,Ohio A Fourierist phalanx founded in 1844. Photo: 1940 Arthur Rothstein, Library of Congress 

NO PLACE, GOOD PLACE, THIS PLACE: UTOPIA IN THE AGE OF INDIVIDUALISM, NEOLIBERALISM, AND THE ANTHROPOCENE
2017-Present


No Place, Good Place, This Place: Utopia in the Age of Individualism, Neoliberalism, and the Anthropocene is a design research project that situates communal living experiments as part of a critical Utopian tradition. The research contextualizes, compares, and contrasts rural communes from the mid 1800s, the 1960s, and today with artistic and literary depictions of Utopias. Through the rigorous formal analysis of physical artifacts, drawings, photos, texts, and manifestos, unifying forms and practices emerge—a Utopian toolkit for the 21st century.




THE GOLDEN AGE Lucas Granach the Elder, 1530


We are so fervently occupied here with countless projects of social reform. There is hardly an intellectual who would not have a concept for a new community in his waistcoat pocket.

-R.W. Emerson 1840


With the anachronistic exception of “waistcoat” this could be a description of today’s scene in Berlin, Paris, or San Francisco. Liselotte and Matthias Ungers used the same quote, and the same observation, to open Communes in the New World, published in 1971—proving that the need for radical reinvention is constant and circuitous. Utopias and communes flourish during times of upheaval, war, and instability—like now.

The last year has exposed the fragility of our current neoliberal systems: climatic catastrophe, economic crisis, food system collapse, civil unrest, rampant inequality, and a global pandemic: each inextricably linked to the other. Self-reliance today is a fading possibility; we are a generation of urbanized consumers that produce content but no substance. We are entirely dependent on increasingly complex organizations and intangible technologies, aware of our exploitation and complicity but unable to decouple. We have forgotten how to do things ourselves—we are actively prevented from doing them.

Living in what feels like end-times, communes hold a special fascination—their conviction is simultaneously alluring and repellent. They question and critique every basic assumption and prevailing social norm: belief, sex, the nuclear family, property ownership, our relationship to land, production, and consumption. Their existence is proof positive of our ability to opt out and start from scratch.

Though their popularity has waxed and waned over the years, the countryside commune continues to fascinate, inspire, and provoke. Through them we can imagine alternative futures that reject today’s climate of individualism, competition, profit, and growth. No Place, Good Place, This Place is a Utopian tool kit for the 21st century—a how-to-guide for world building.

1.1 UTOPIAS OF PLENTY: ARTISTIC REPRESENTATIONS
Artistic representations focus on Edenic Utopias of Plenty: Arcadia and the Pastoral state, The Golden Age, Paradise, Elysium, The Garden of Eden, an idealized “before”. These are the images of Utopia the mind first conjures—the Utopias of Desire and Wish Fulfilment, an idealized “before”. The fall of man is our expulsion from the garden. Within the Abrahamic tradition it is the invention of agriculture as punishment—nature is no longer bountiful and giving, instead we must scrape an existence from the land by the sweat of our brows.

1.2  UTOPIAS OF SCARCITY: LITERARY REPRESENTATIONS
Plato’s Republic, considered the first Western Utopia is, unlike the Utopias of Plenty that preceded it, a Utopia of Survival and Subsistence. It is a rigidly hierarchical society, with no social mobility, strict metrics, fixed population size, and rigid rules. These Utopias of temperance or need are defined by curbed desires, restraint, and simple living—this kind of Utopia isn’t bountiful, it doesn’t grow, it sustains. It produces only what it needs in order to survive, including moral behavior. The monastery is a form of communal countryside dwelling that has existed for centuries and, like the later religious communes, it is the platonic utopian ideal—isolated and self-sustaining, an island.


























2.0  UTOPIA: ISLANDS IN THE COUNTRYSIDE
The examples collecte here are neither no-place, nor necessarily good-places,[1] they are called Utopian because their goals are not within the realm of what is, but, rather, in the realm of what could be.[2]  These are not the nonsense descriptions of Hythlodaeus or the Platonic ideal; they lay somewhere in-between. From the many island sojourns that preceded this research we will take with us only the dual nature of utopia and all its inherent conflicts; between the real and the ideal, the pragmatic and the projective, the regressive and the futuristic, the optimistic and the pessimistic.[3] Each case study, whether a 19th century homestead or a 1960s Love-In dealt with these conflicts, with varying degrees of success, and all engage the countryside as a place of radical possibility, experimentation, and pragmatic necessity—nothing short of world building.

[1]Utopia is a play on the Greek prefixes of ou-, meaning “no” and eu-, meaning “good” and “topos”, meaning place. Utopia is therefore both “no place” and “good place”
[2] Liselotte and Oswald Matthias Ungers, Communes in the New World. 1971
[3] Utopia by Sir. Thomas More is a hinge between the hierarchy and stasis of ancient utopias like The Republic and the dynamic egalitarianism of modern utopias. The book is broken in to two parts. The first part is a critique of the real and the second part is the discovery and description of Utopia, the ideal that rectifies everything that’s wrong in part one. These two parts, the real and the ideal that rectifies, define the structure of utopia to this day and this is where I would like to leave the definition of Utopia as we look to countryside communes –Utopia is both a place and a social idea: it is both a noun and an adjective describing a condition—an ideal society.



3.0 SHAPES OF UTOPIA
RELIGIOUS, TECHNO-, SOCIALIST VISIONS IN THE COUNTRYSIDE
There’s a reason Utopia was an island: geographic isolation is the first radical step towards ideological separatism and self-sufficiency. For as long as the urban / rural divide has existed, the countryside has proven itself a fertile testing ground for the utopian imagination. It has served as both a critique of the city, and an urban construct, an escape and a vital necessity. It encapsulates and contains the duelling desires and often contradictory impulses in the pursuit of utopia. The selected rural communes can be categorized as either Utopias of Scarcity (for whom survival is the goal) or Utopias of Plenty (who long for, but often fail to achieve, a return to the garden).

3.1 PLANNING FOR UTOPIA: RELGIOUS COMMUNES
Utopias of Scarcity: The religious communities of the 19th century gravitated to the countryside for largely pragmatic reasons; most were fleeing religious persecution and subsistence based agriculture was already a crucial component of their self-sufficiency and ideological isolation. Case Studies:
  • Hutterites
  • Amanas
  • Shakers
  • Moravians
  • Rappites
  • Perfectionists
3.2 BRAVE NEW WORLD: UTOPIAN SOCIALISTS
Utopias of Plenty: The Countryside appealed to the Utopian Socialists for its allegorical and metaphorical dimensions. Amongst the Fourierists, the Owenties, and the Icarians, there was the rejection of the city as the site of chaos and class inequality. The Countryside was a place they assumed would be unspoiled by prejudices and conventions, commercialization and class hatred. In short, fertile ground for new societies. Case Studies:
  • Fourierists
  • Owenites
  • Icarians

1973 Roberta with the weed harvest. Photo: David Perkins ©Roberta Price


3.3 WHOLE EARTH: HIPPIES

Utopias of Desire: The communes movement of the late 60s appeared as a radical revival of an old idea. Though stylistically different from the strict and zealous Utopians, their principles were basically the same. Each group rejected violence, wars, and the ruling social order that manifested itself as miserable competition, unrestrained profit-making and destructively applied technology. All groups abolished or restricted private property, especially the possession of land. Case Studies:
  • Morningstar
  • Black Mountain College
  • Drop City
  • The Farm
  • New Buffalo

Atlantis Sir Gerald Hargreaves