History 12 Reading Guide

Utopian Visions:  Revising Community, Family, Gender Roles

  • Yaacov Oved, "Communes and the Outside World:  Seclusion and Involvement," Communal Societies 3 (1983), 83-92.  (e-reserve)
  • Jeanette C. Lauer and Robert H. Lauer, "Sex Roles in Nineteenth-century American Communal Societies," Communal Societies 3 (1983), 16-28.  (e-reserve)

Note:  As we examine utopian and intentional communities during the semester, we will be testing the arguments that Oved and the Lauer's make in these readings.

Revising Community:

  • How did utopians (or "associationists" as Nordhoff described them) attempt to revise the structure and function of community (both relationships between members and the spatial layout and physical structures of their community) in order to achieve the vision of a better society that set them on their quest?
  • Oved describes and compares two general types of communities:  religious utopian communities and secular utopian socialist communities. What distinctions and similarities does he emphasize about these general communal impulses?
  • By what means, and for what ends, did communities (both leaders and members) envision and establish the relationship of their community to "the World"?
  • How did their experience of seclusion vs. involvement match their expectations and intentions? how not?

Revising Family and Gender Roles:

  • According to the Lauers, what range of alternative visions did communal societies bring to the discussion of contemporary gender roles? What were the limits of their visions??
  • What visions were they able to put into practice?
  • Why was their "intentional" revision of gender roles focused almost exclusively on women's roles?
  • How do the Lauers explain the "real-ideal gap"?

Further reading:

  • Rosabeth Kanter, Commitment and Community: Communes and Utopias in Sociological Perspective (1972).
  • John V. Chamberlain, "The Spiritual Impetus to Community," in Gairdner B. Moment and Otto F. Kraushaar, Utopias: the American Experience (1980), 126-139.
  • Carol Weisbrod, "Communal Groups and the Larger Society: Legal Dilemmas," Communal Societies 12 (1992), 1-19.
  • Lucy Jayne Kamau, "The Anthropology of Space in Harmonist and Owenite New Harmony," Communal Societies 12 (1992), 68-89.
  • Jon Wagner, "Sexuality and Gender Roles in Utopian Communities: A Critical Survey of Scholarly Work," Communal Societies 6 (1986), 172-186.
  • Deirdre Hughes, "The World of Poor Eve: Re-defining Women's Roles in Nineteenth Century Utopian Communities," Communal Societies 21 (2001), 95-103.
  • Beverly Gordon, "Dress in American Communal Societies," Communal Societies 5 (1985), 122-136.
  • Gayle V. Fischer, "Dressing to Please God:  Pants-Wearing Women in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Religious Communities," Communal Societies 15 (1995), 55-74.