In which tomatoes are tasted.
An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of postcapitalist, peer production model of economy. Part I : Work as a spontanous, voluntary contribution
by Katarzyna Gajewska
from P2P Foundation
In this article, I will present egalitarian communities, mainly Acorn community in Virginia, to examine whether the postcapitalist mode of production in the physical world can be introduced by establishing intentional communities. It should be noted that the opinions presented here are not necessary those of the founders or members of the community where I have done research. I interpret my findings with regard to their significance for this economic change and their reflection on the postcapitalist mode of production. Acorn community does not define itself as a peer production project so the following analysis is not an evaluation of the implementation of peer production theory into practice. It is instead an extrapolation from the practice to how peer production organizations in the physical world could operate in the current system and in the future.
The term peer production refers to various ways of organizing production that are distinct from the state and market logics. The main characteristics of this form of production are: 1) Self-selected spontaneous contribution of participants in the production process;1 2) creation of use value rather than exchange or market value, which results in free access to public goods;2 3) non-delegation and distributed coordination, in contrast to hierarchical state and market providers. While much is known about peer production in the domain of creative and intellectual work – both of which require a high level of intrinsic motivation – it is not obvious that physical work could be organized in this way.3 In this article, I will examine how these principles can be translated in production in the physical world. What kind of adjustments are needed to make this logic happen in the current capitalist system? What are the chances of expanding the model of peer production through a strategy of self-organizing from below? In this article, I will analyze one element of peer production in Acorn community, namely the self-selected spontaneous contribution of participants. What are the consequences of organizing work as voluntary, spontaneous involvement, and freely chosen self-selection?
An intentional community is usually exclusive in some way. One can only become a member of Acorn after a one-year trial period, for instance. Besides that, even if a community has a very inclusive policy regarding membership, as is the case in Longo Mai (a network of European intentional communities, similar to Acorn) where one can simply drop in and stay, being a live-in member of an intentional community requires a radical change in one’s lifestyle and often requires moving to a remote place, which is not an option for all. Most of the communities host visitors who can contribute to the work of the community without permanently changing their lives. However, one cannot simply drop by at Acorn or East Wind or Twin Oaks. Contrary to online production projects, physical world production imposes a certain degree of exclusivity by its nature. Especially when the working and living spaces are merged, allowing spontaneous contributions from a broader community seems difficult. Considerations for safety and the personal well-being of community members may impose exclusionary practices. Acorn community has low tolerance for loud people (according to an interviewee) and those unable to respect the personal space of members (BB’s post on their blog that cannot be retrieved anymore). If someone is unable to work for an extended period of time without a clear reason (such as a medical condition) it can lead to upset and resentment on the part of other members. People who have not worked have often decided to leave without being expelled.
A framework for spontaneous contributions
While currently it is difficult to implement peer production logic in the physical world, the question can be posed whether inside the boundaries of an intentional community it is possible to organize production so that it is based on voluntary, spontaneous involvement, and freely chosen self-selection. Acorn does not have many regulations regarding work involvement. The community agrees that currently members should work 42 hours per week on average. However, the actual number of hours worked are not carefully tracked or recorded and individual members are free to choose from a very broad collection of work areas to satisfy their labor obligation to the community. Acorn’s seed business and agricultural work have their own seasonal rhythm and members adjust their schedules to accommodate the needs of the business and the garden. The definition of work within the community, which evolves through long term community conversation, also determines the range of activities that can be undertaken as work. For instance, one of the interviewees wanted such activities as riding a bike (and thus saving fuel) or artistic creation to be counted in the labor quota. Some of the interviewees took the 42-hour work week seriously and resented those who do not do the quota, whereas some others saw the labor quota as a flexible measure for orientation only. Some members I have interviewed did not support the labor quota concept at all and many defined the ideal amount of working hours to be thirty hours per week. So while a frame for work is defined (the 42 hours per week labor quota and what is considered to be work) a spontaneous, self-chosen contribution is possible within this requirement. More on the labor quota at Acorn can be read here: http://funologist.org/2013/04/28/tell-him-it-is-labor-creditable/ .
Usually members undertake a couple of projects to which they are committed and the rest of the working time, they help out with the projects of others. Some tasks are announced by a person in charge of a project to which everyone can contribute spontaneously, such as preparing seeds for shipping or weeding in the garden. There is a dry erase white board where domestic tasks like cooking or cleaning can be signed up for in a weekly chart. Many of my interviewees enjoyed the time flexibility at Acorn a lot. Office work, for instance, can be pursued in a fragmented way. Some like to start working in the seed office very early in the morning and some prefer working in the evening. In this way, a lot of work in the community is organized in a decentralized system composed of short blocks of time on which contributors work at a chosen time. This is considered to be a particularly inclusive way of organizing production according to the peer production theorists.4There are some constraints to the spontaneity of involvement that are imposed, for instance, by the dates of events that the business attends or by deadlines for shipping. Taking care of animals also imposes certain time schedules. However, even business tasks that impose time schedules are completed in a voluntary and spontaneous way.
Some obstacles for full inclusion
The personality of a (self-appointed) project leader may define the inclusivity of participation. For instance, I liked to do prep work in the kitchen as my work contribution but not every cook would want me to help and I would not want to work with every cook. These little differences cannot be regulated. Some of the interviewees observed that some people once they decide to work in a certain area do not want to include others in their work. For example, the seed storage is organized in a way that is difficult for others to understand. The person in charge has been involved in this domain for a long time and knows it very well. It is also knowledge that is difficult to transfer quickly because of the huge number of varieties stocked by the business.
Expertise and finding one’s way takes its time and can be discouraging for the newcomers. One of the interviewees found it challenging at first to find her areas of activity. Before joining Acorn, she was employed in a very structured working environment. It took her one year to define her contribution to the community, learn to be an active member, and pursue her interests within the labor quota. Two newcomers still were not self-confident in their work contribution and in taking initiative after their first six months. One of them meets regularly with a more experienced member to get coaching. A welcoming atmosphere and tolerance for mistakes constitute community culture at Acorn. One can acquire various skills being in the community and perfection is not expected. For instance, another member mentioned that it [gender-neutral form chosen by the interviewee] did not know how to cook when it came to the community but it wanted to work as one of the cooks. Other members complained when they did not like its cooking but it continued to cook and learned from others to improve. This exemplifies a different relation between consumer and producer than in the employment system. It seems for this that if the peer production model were a dominant one, we would have less quality assurance but more voice in the production process.
To recap: the organization of work and production as a spontaneous voluntary contribution is possible within an intentional community and is practiced at Acorn. The labor quota and the resentments towards free-riders limit the true spontaneity in the contributed work. Similarly to digital peer production, the inclusiveness may be limited in some aspects of production that require expertise and experience. Another limiting factor may be the personality of some of the co-producers. If this organization were to be generalized in the physical world on a wider scale, it would require a culture of understanding and patience on the side of consumers so that peers can learn by doing. Whether labor quotas are necessary is not evident and needs further testing.
What is Acorn community?
Acorn community is a farm based, anarchist, secular, egalitarian community of around 32 folks, based in Mineral, Virginia. It was founded in 1993 by former members of neighboring Twin Oaks community. To make their living, they operate an heirloom and organic seed business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (“SESE”) (http://www.southernexposure.com/about-us-ezp-18.html ), which tests seeds in the local climate and provides customers with advice on growing their own plants and reproducing seeds. Acorn is affiliated to the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (http://thefec.org/ ), a US network of intentional communities that commit to holding in common their land, labor, resources, and income among community members.
Information on sources
I spent three weeks in August 2014 at Acorn community in Virginia where I conducted interviews with 15 inhabitants of this community (accounting for about half of the membership). The interviews will be used in my book analyzing a scenario of a postcapitalist mode of production from a personal perspective. It will be published in Creative Commons license. My research trip has been co-financed by a Goteo crowdfunding campaign. Some inspiration comes from four public meetings with a member of East Wind community (http://eastwind.org/ ), which I organized in October 2014, in Strasbourg, France. In total, 47 people participated in these events.
I would like to thank my interviewees, Couchsurfing hosts, and Acorn community for their hospitality and their time. The following people have contributed to the Goteo crowdfunding campaign: pixocode, Daycoin Project, Olivier, Paul Wuersig, María, Julian Canaves. I would like to express my gratitude to these and eight other co-financers. I would like to thank for the editing and suggestions from Paxus Calta (http://funologist.org) and GPaul Blundell, both from Acorn community.
Another article on a Montreal-based enterprise where I conducted interviews for the book in progress can be found here: “There is such a thing as a free lunch: Montreal students commoning and peering food services,” (http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/there-is-such-a-thing-as-a-free-lunch-montreal-students-commoning-and-peering-food-services/2014/06/30 ). A longer article on the same enterprise is published by a closed-access academic journal. Gajewska, Katarzyna (2014): Peer Production and Prosumerism as a Model for the Future Organization of General Interest Services Provision in Developed Countries Examples of Food Services Collectives. World Future Review 6(1): 29-39. http://wfr.sagepub.com/content/6/1/29
Please, do not hesitate to ask me for an electronic version at the address: k.gajewska_comm AT zoho.com
I have also published other articles related to peer production and unconditional basic income:
Gajewska, Katarzyna, “Technological Unemployment but Still a Lot of Work: Towards Prosumerist Services of General Interest,” Journal of Evolution and Technology, http://jetpress.org/v24/gajewski.htm
Gajewska, Katarzyna, “How Basic Income Will Transform Active Citizenship? A Scenario of Political Participation beyond Delegation,” Paper for 15th International Congress of the Basic Income Earth Network, June 27th to 29th, 2014, Montreal, Quebec, http://biencanada.ca/congress/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/BIEN2014_Gajewska.pdf
For updates on my publications, you can check my Facebook page or send me an e-mail to the above address to get updates by e-mail:
About the Author
Katarzyna Gajewska is an independent (unpaid) writer and social activist. In her book in progress, she explores potential psychological consequences of transformation towards a postcapitalist mode of production in the physical world. Formerly an academic (precarious) researcher, she builds upon her scientific background in industrial relations and political science and incorporates other lenses in the analysis of a scenario of a potential future. She focuses on personal and daily life in order to stimulate collective imagination and democratic debate.
1Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, Expanded Edition (London: Athlantic Books, 2008), 36. Pekka Himanen, The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age (Random House, 2002).
2Michel Bauwens and Sussan Rémi, Le peer to peer : nouvelle formation sociale, nouveau modèle civilisationnel, Revue du MAUSS, 2005/2 no 26, p. 193-210.
3This is the subject of one book but the book does not describe or examine the implementation of the theory, see Christian Siefkes, From Exchange to Contributions: Generalizing Peer Production into the Physical World. (Berlin: Edition C. Siefkes, 2008).
4 Yochai Benkler, Practical Anarchism: Peer Mutualism, Market Power, and the Fallible State, Politics and Society 41 (June 2013): 213-251. Clay Shirky, Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality. In Reformatting Politics: Information Technology and Global Civil Society, edited by J. Dean, J. W. Anderson, and G. Lovink, 35–41. (New York: Routledge, 2006). Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody. (New York: Penguin Press, 2008).
Maximus and Rejoice visit Cow and cook lunch at Acorn:
by Raven Cotyledon
In 1995 I helped found a community that became in dialogue with the FEC. So the FEC history of the nineties is more personal for me because I was involved and remember details, not only about our community’s involvement (we were Common Threads), but also what was going on for other communities at the time.
It was a busy decade, with lots of communities popping in and out. Our community lasted five years. Just after it fell apart, I saw an article in Communities Magazine that suggested five years was the average lifespan of a community. (I plan to publish a piece next week about longer lasting communities.) So here is my detailed history of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, Part Three, focusing on the 1990s and starting with the year 1990.
1990 There were two Assemblies held that year, one in May and one in November. It seems like the May Assembly was held at Krutsio. Metanokit dropped membership because they were no longer income-sharing and Apple Tree was absent. (In his Phylogenetic History of the FEC video, Maximus points out that Metanokit eventually becomes a summer camp and workshop business.) The good news at that Assembly was that the PEACH fund then held $60,000. The Ganas community attended the November Assembly, but Dandelion dropped membership and it seems that Apple Tree did as well. Twin Oaks listed its population as 65, East Wind reported 40, and Sandhill 7. Ira Wallace made an impassioned speech at the November Assembly where she said, “I’d like to see us participate in a non threatening way with people who are really different… To change our major inflow of white, ‘middle class’ people, it will take things that not everyone wants to do, but which the FEC theoretically supports. Having contact with other communities not qualifying or ‘not’ interested in FEC membership. It’s not our differences but our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences, that really comes up for me. I think being around different people will challenge us.”
1991 There was one Assembly in November, but it was very well attended. Besides Twin Oaks (population then 76), East Wind (45), Sandhill (9), Krutsio, and Ganas, Veiled Cliffs (population 7), Tekiah (5), Moon and Stars Farm, Community Evolving, Alpha, and the Communes Network all apparently were there. Sandhill was certified organic and the Nashoba building was completed at Twin Oaks. Someone also noted that Pam joined Twin Oaks. (Tekiah, which joined that year, was in Floyd, VA, and apparently was home to several former Twin Oakers.)
1992 This was an important year. There were two Assemblies (April and November). The April Assembly was sparsely attended (only four communities were listed), but the delegates listed the reasons communities fail and talked about Twin Oaks considering splitting. Twin Oaks, indeed, split, in the sense that it gave birth to a new community. A core group was formed at the Twin Oaks Communities Conference and with the help of a large loan from Twin Oaks and a lot of assistance from the FEC, Acorn came into being, just seven miles down the road from Twin Oaks. The November Assembly was very well attended, including Twin Oaks, East Wind, Sandhill, Acorn, Veiled Cliffs, north woods community, Community Evolving, Kerista, Krutsio, and Tekiah.
There didn’t seem to be an Assembly in 1993.
1994 There was one Assembly that year, in November. Attending were Twin Oaks (population 76), East Wind (50), Sandhill (5), Acorn (16), Ganas, and Tekiah (2). It was noted that the nutbutter warehouse was completed at East Wind.
1995 There was an April Assembly that year, with Twin Oaks, East Wind, Sandhill, Acorn, and Tekiah attending. There were no notes left.
1996 This was a busy year. There were two Assemblies in May and December. In May, the Assembly was held at Tekiah and the FEC celebrated its 20th anniversary. In December, Krutsio left and Terra Nova came in, and Dancing Rabbit and Common Threads became Communities in Dialogue. Dancing Rabbit folks were being housed at Sandhill. It was noted that Dancing Rabbit was not planning to be an income-sharing community, but would contain Skyhouse, with 6 adults, that would do income-sharing. The Heartwood building was completed at Acorn and the tofu business at Twin Oaks was reported as being stable. (Common Threads was, as I said, a community that I helped form, and I attended the December Assembly, which was held at Twin Oaks. I think that it was my first time visiting there.)
1997 It looked like there were three Assemblies that year, in June, October, and December. Tekiah was absent at the June Assembly, and in October it was reported that Terra Nova was no longer income-sharing (although they continued to attend the Assemblies), and Shakti reported doing outreach at the Rainbow Gathering. There was also a discussion about violence at the October Assembly. At this point, Skyhouse was the Community in Dialogue attending the Assemblies. (The original intention of Dancing Rabbit was to be a community formed of several sub-communities. Skyhouse was the only sub-community that emerged. Dancing Rabbit eventually filled up with families and houses where individuals lived.)
1998 There was only one Assembly, in April. Two new communities attended, Beacon Hill House and the Jolly Ranchers, in Seattle. At this point, the FEC was dealing with a new problem. Up until now, all the FEC members were rural communes. With Common Threads in Cambridge, MA, and Beacon Hill House and the Jolly Ranchers in Seattle, the FEC had urban members, and wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. (It was also noted that Acorn community lacked the funds to attend the Assembly that year.)
1999 Again, only one Assembly, this one in May. There was no other information listed for that year, not even who attended.
And with that, the nineties end. Next month, the ‘Oh-oh’ decade.
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by Katarzyna Gajewska
from the Post Growth Institute
I interviewed dozens of members of two egalitarian communities, rural Acorn community in Virginia, US (30 adults and one child at the time of research in 2014) and suburban Kummune Niederkaufungen near to Kassel in Germany (60 adults and 20 teens and children in 2016). You can find links to my four articles on Acorn community below this text. I share observations and insights from interviews that I conducted with some members of these communes. I will demonstrate the similarities between childhood in such communities and the conditions for optimal child development derived from research and theories based on ethnographic studies of indigenous societies.
Egalitarian communities constitute a more advanced version of experimenting with alternative economy than ecovillages. They share labor, land, and resources according to one’s needs and everyone contributes in a chosen way. In Kommune Niederkaufungen, one usually needs to integrate into one of the work collectives to be accepted. Members can spend money according to their needs but in Acorn community there is a monthly pocket money to cover extra expenses such as alcohol or cigarettes, whereas in Niederkaufungen expenses of above 150 Euros need to be announced. Both communities operate enterprises. In Kommune Niederkaufungen, some members are employed outside. In Acorn community, weekly 42-hour work contribution is required but each member decides what activities to do and no checks are in place.
In both communities where I conducted interviews raising children is considered to be a work contribution and is valued in the same way as activities that earn money. Recognition for care and reproductive work is part of the feminist philosophy of these communes and their pursuit of egalitarianism. In this way parents do not need to choose between making a living or raising children. Since work arrangement is quite flexible and many members work in the same place where they live (in Acorn community this is the case for majority of activities), it is easier to combine work with child care. Also non-parents can choose to participate in child care as a work contribution.
Thanks to these conditions parents can respond to a child’s needs without the stress of economic survival. The first three years of life define emotional development and negligence can lead to trauma and behavioural or emotional disorders. Research examining physiology and theories of child development underline the need for constant availability of an adult and touch in early childhood (see articles by such authors as Darcia Narvaez and Jean Liedloff). This is more difficult to organize in the mainstream society.
Communes provide an environment that makes it easier to pursue homeschooling or unschooling because of the close availability of many adults with diverse skills and knowledge. For example, a member of East Wind, a commune in Missouri, teaches French to one of the children by taking a walk and talking to them in this language. Children in Kommune Niederkaufungen go to school, either a public one in their neighborhood or an alternative school in the city center. However, they can tap on a vast expertise at home having access to many adults with diverse knowledge. (In Niederkaufungen, some members work in education).
Community skills and multi-age group
Children need multiple attachments, according to Peter Gray, and this is how children have been raised in indigenous communities.1 In the book “Free to Learn,” Peter Gray points to the advantages of being part of a multi-age group and engaging in free play with other children for learning and emotional development. Furthermore, he elaborates on the importance of unstructured play time with other children. Citing survey date, he mentions that one of the main obstacles for limiting such free activities with children in the neighborhood is the concern for safety. Parents prefer to occupy children with extracurricular activities because they are sure that they are taken care of. In a commune, it is easier to establish conditions for children to have free play. The children and their parents know each other and there are many trusted adults around so that children can play in safety.
Peter Gray shows that children learn skills that they observe are crucial in the adults’ world by playing. Growing up in an environment where a lot of discussions and decision-making takes place, this may encourage them to develop related skills. One of the members of Kommune Niederkaufungen said that there is a practice of exercising patience and letting someone express oneself in conflicts, which contrasts with the way his friends treated each other in his life before joining commune. This may also be an example for children.
Disputes among parents
Living in a commune requires a lot more discussions and collective decision-making than living an individualized life. For example, what parents allow to their children may affect other children more directly than in mainstream living. It can become a source of conflict. A father left the commune Niederkaufungen because of the decision of other parents to have satellite television. It was impossible to isolate this child from mainstream media influence. In this commune, at least four people needed to make a veto to block community decision. Parents in this commune gather regularly to talk about their children.
The impact on the society
Certainly the way children are raised shapes their personalities. Aggregated, it results in the human relations and values of society. Jean Liedloff considers touch deprivation in early infancy to be responsible for insatiable wants and searching for solace in consumerism. Narvaez asks what impact depriving babies of their basic human needs will have on the entire society. Peter Gray observes that inter-age education contributes to the development of empathy and compassion. Communities provide conditions to raise emotionally healthy and cooperative individuals. Hopefully, they will inspire mainstream society to create conditions that resemble communal child care.
Articles on Acorn community
Gajewska, Katarzyna (21 July 2016): An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of Post-Capitalism. P2P Foundation Blog.
Gajewska, Katarzyna (10 January 2016): Case study: Creating use value while making a living in egalitarian communities. P2P Foundation Blog.
Gajewska, Katarzyna (27 December 2014): An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of postcapitalist, peer production model of economy. Part I : Work as a spontanous, voluntary contribution. P2P Foundation Blog.
Photo credit: Jamie Taylor, Unsplash. (Creative Commons).
Katarzyna Gajewska, PhD, is an independent scholar and futurist writer (Facebook: Katarzyna Gajewska – Independent Scholar). She has been publishing on alternative economy, non-digital peer production, universal basic income and collective autonomy since 2013 and is mainly interested in psychological and emotional aspects of transition to a postcapitalist society.
Katarzyna has written 2 posts on Post Growth Institute
This article was originally published on Post-Growth Institute Blog, under a Creative Commons License.
A Live Tour with Rejoice from Acorn: