What are Intentional Communities?
Intentional communities (ICs) have a long and established history, most notably as religious foundations, but all are characterised, to some degree or another by certain common features, primarily:
A disquiet about or dissatisfaction with some aspects of the society within which they live
A shared belief or value system
A conviction that there is a 'better' way of living
In the UK, the Diggers movement of the 17th century was rooted in, as Gerrard Winstanley in 1649 wrote an 'ecological interrelationship between humans and nature, acknowledging the inherent connections between people and their surroundings'. This ethos has underpinned many of the ICs that have been established in the subsequent centuries, and is strongly evident in many present-day developments.
The 21st century has seen a significant increase in interest in how ICs might contribute to a new vision for society: they seek to address the two interrelated concerns of housing and community, both of which are under increasing pressure in a rapidly changing society. Many are also underpinned by environmental concerns reflecting a societal shift towards issues of sustainability and reduced usage of finite resources.
ICs are not a particularly British or even European phenomenon, but are found in all continents and across a range of cultures. They range from co-operatives, to co-housing, eco-villages, communes, and religious/spiritual communities, though other types also exist not easily classified. Some have endured and flourished, others have been more transient, and yet others have remained an ideal or vision, never reaching fruition.
Although the academic community has started to engage with some of the emerging research questions, there is no coherent overarching centre of research and enterprise established, as yet, in the UK. Understanding ICs poses challenges for a range of disciplines, not least architecture, sociology, community studies, housing/planning, health/social care and psychology.
There is a rich tradition of Utopian literature which describes and debates alternative and 'better' societies. Utopian studies connect the social sciences with (amongst others) philosophy, creative writing, art and design, history and English literature. The proposed research group will be interdisciplinary, drawing the boundaries of intentional communities as widely as possible.
Cardiff Metropolitan University is in an excellent position to be at the forefront of research and enterprise initiatives in relation to ICs. A partnership with Bron Afon Housing Association has provided a funded PhD studentship that is looking at co-housing models for social housing in Wales. The Welsh Government have made clear their support for new ideas linking housing and community, and The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 contains provisions designed to assist in the establishment of Co-operative Housing Associations.