Scalable Utopias: Reform, Rehabilitation, and Rule in Late 19th- and 20th-Century Intentional Communities and Cooperatives

AHA Session 218
Labor and Working Class History Association 4
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Centennial Ballroom H (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
Jeannette Eileen Jones, University of Nebraska
The Audience

Session Abstract

Although utopian endeavors are often characterized as anathema to political economy and antagonistic to modernity in seeking to stave of industrial capitalism and global market integration, the creators of intentional communities and cooperatives typically envisioned their work as contributing to a larger, global conversation about appropriate economic and social relations. Utopian visions and practices incorporated diverse experiences, national contexts, racial ideologies, and imperial aspirations into models utopianists hoped would be both transferable and scalable when properly aligned with specific political, economic, national, or colonial goals. This panel considers how scale operated both locally and globally in the organization of intentional communities and cooperatives established in the late-nineteenth and twentieth-century world. Each paper explores projects that, despite being rooted in highly intimate and “grassroots” forms of community building, were also entangled in much larger processes, networks, and political contexts. It was often this entanglement that led utopianists to believe their projects could become templates for reorganizing the social relations of production on a greater scale.

This session with papers calls attention to how diverse utopianists from dockworkers, migrant laborers, and farmers to colonial officials and liberal reformers imagined utopias as both physical places and imagined communities guided by principles of economic and political belonging. This was true even as the communities utopianists built frequently served as instruments and sites of resistance to governmental processes that produced exclusion or alienation. Analyzing discourses of belonging; economic and communal security; American pluralism and liberalism; local expressions of community self-help; British colonial technopolitics of humanitarian empire; social rehabilitation; and producer-consumer cooperation, papers within this panel examine how global conversations regarding political economy, race relations, state power, and economic modernity impacted utopianists’ reform practices and strategies for community building.

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