Two Parallel Cultures of Cofamily Partnership and of Nuclear Family Patriarchy
A cultural ideal of plenty has always existed in parallel with the dominant culture of scarcity. There are many forms of plenty-paradigm lifestyles of gifting and sharing, as opposed to taking and exchanging in the scarcity-paradigm of the dominant culture, accessible to anyone wishing to live their highest spiritual beliefs and ethical values. Among these are the cofamily alternative to the nuclear family, along with ecovillages, cohousing community, co-operative housing, community land trusts, communal societies, class-harmony communities, and other forms of intentional community, each representing a form of the Collective Dream.
People seek in the small-group cofamily the gentle strength, security, and meaningful engagement in the company of like-minded friends, afforded in collective methods of survival through uncertainty. This can be found in the patriarchal nuclear family as well, yet for those who have not had such good fortune in their experience of family, building a small-group cofamily of less than ten adults and children of both unrelated and related people is a viable and accessible alternative. In the best survey of intentional communities in the U.S.A., 40% of the listings in the 2010 Communities Directory are of 3-to-9 adults and children, or cofamilies.
Collectivization is an effective method for creating a lifestyle of mutual aid amongst a group of people sharing common affinities, understandings, and agreements, as well as a natural response to threat. While much may be taken for granted among relatives in the patriarchal lifestyle, creating a collective family, or cofamily, requires deliberate effort with regard to finding compatible friends and making and keeping necessary agreements among them. Such cofamilies have always existed. Using the partnership culture model developed by Riane Eisler of the Center for Partnership Systems and other sources, there is much information and assistance available for creating and enjoying the cofamily lifestyle. (Eisler, passim; http://www.ic.org; http://www.centerforpartnership.org)
The Religious Left and the 7th Wave of Intentioneering in the 4th World
In my study of communitarian movements I recognize our current time as another period of awakening to the community ideal, with the 2020s evidencing the 7th wave of communitarian “intentioneering” in at least the U.S.A. I believe a good indicator of this new wave is the increasing confusion in the use of terms referring to specific forms of community, which can be considered an indication that a lot of new people are talking about and getting involved with intentional community.
Intentional communities are typically village-scale, gifting and sharing cultures, often created as ideal societies or utopias in reaction to or separate from perceived inadequacies of the dominant culture. All of us have tribal culture in our ancestry, and intentional community is neo-tribalism in which people choose their preferred tribe. Indigenous peoples comprise the largest part of the Fourth World decentralized, locally-based economics, governance and culture, with the smaller part being of people who have at least figuratively left the First World, global, market-based, dominant culture, to join the non-indigenous, intentional community wing of the Fourth World.
Expressing the ideals of social and of environmental responsibility results in varieties of the ecovillage lifestyle, which is simply intentional community with a sustainable, regenerative, ecological focus. Mutual aid among a group of people reinforcing the rights and responsibilities of community, evidences social permaculture when emphasizing the ecofeminist idea that gender roles in partnership culture are best designed to emphasize sharing and cooperation among people, and a human stewardship of creation, or a symbiotic co-existence with nature.
The cofamily concept of small groups of people formed around shared affinities creates the partnership form of family for the Religious Left, contrasting with that of the patriarchal nuclear, extended, and blended families. Gender-equal, partnership-oriented cofamilies of both non-related and related persons enjoying gifting and sharing lifestyles, provide the partnership solution to abortion, as alternative to the patriarchal family solution advocated by the Religious Right. As another storm is brewing over abortion, clashing again in America’s culture war in the present election cycle, the Religious Left’s partnership spirituality can offer the cofamily as an additional or optional form of family to help reduce the need or demand for abortions.
The issue of abortion, as well as the issues of racial justice and of environmental concern, are all tied to the economic well-being of individuals and the population in general. In particular, abortions are more likely to be sought when times are hard and the American Dream appears unattainable. Issues of family design and lifestyle aspirations are likely to be part of the reason why the patriarchal Christian religion is in decline in the U.S.A. In 2015 the Pew Research Center reported that, “… the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christian has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in … 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated—describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular”—has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%.” These changes in the religious attitudes of Americans suggest opportunities for a partnership spirituality ministry, an Early Christian Church revival, or even religious crusades emphasizing gender-equal partnership spirituality in the Religious Left! (Pew Research Center, 2015, p. 1)
Co-Evolution of the American Dream and of the Collective Dream as Parallel Cultures
The United States is in a long-running period of economic challenges, making the American Dream ever more elusive for much of the population. In 2020 the Pew Research Center reported that while the number of lower-income American households stayed around 10% from 1970 to 2018, in each intervening decade the number of adults living in middle-income households shrank, from 61% in 1971 to 51% in 2019. Thus, prior to the Covid pandemic, the war in Europe, and corporate-greed-induced economic inflation, the middle class has been shrinking while the upper classes have been growing, such that, “The richest families are the only group to have gained wealth since the Great Recession.” (Pew Research Center, 2020, p. 20)
Suggesting that the American Dream co-evolves with the Collective Dream as two parallel cultures is not so radical an idea considering that the definitions of both the American Dream and the Collective Dream have continually evolved with the development of the country.
In the Gale Student Resources paper How the American Dream Has Changed Over Time it is explained that the concept of the American Dream began with the founding of the country on the premise that, “people could break free from class restrictions and pursue the life they chose … [and] people had the chance to work their way up through their own labor and ingenuity.” This was justified by a seemingly limitless frontier, until the early 20th century when the Great Depression sandwiched between two World Wars revised the American Dream, to involve government assistance in helping citizens to “work together to make life better for the American masses.” (Gale Student Resources in Context, p. 1)
Around the turn of the 19th century into the 20th century there were two American Dreams, one for the patriarchal culture “closely tied to home ownership … with products to help improve life at home,” as explained in the 2016 Gale Student Resources paper, and another described by Dolores Hayden in her 1984 book Redesigning the American Dream. Hayden coined the term “material feminist” to refer to those who believed that, “women must create new kinds of homes with socialized housework and child care before they could become truly equal members of society.” (Hayden, p. 29)
Between 1870 and 1920 there were many experimental “neighborhood networks” in theory and practice in which women shared domestic work, yet none survived the 1930s Great Depression and 1940s World War II. While in the 1960s the common-property, communal egalitarian communities created a successful balance of common and private space, in which men and women shared both domestic-household labor and income-generating labor, it was not until the late 1980s in the U.S. with the arrival from Denmark of the cohousing community design, that the private-property community “intentional neighborhood” created the same kind of balance of private and common space-use and shared gender-roles. It is amazing that just a few years after Dolores Hayden published her book everything that the material feminists wanted began to be realized in the cohousing movement! At the same time, the terminology used to describe the evolving Collective Dream changed, transforming terms such as “socialism” and “material feminism” into: “social ecology;” “ecofeminism;” and “social permaculture.” (Hayden, pp. 67, 72-3)
With the increase of working from home during the Covid pandemic, home-based income labor has become much more common, making the gender-equal Collective Dream lifestyle much more attainable. In the 2010 Communities Directory, 28% of the listings claimed the cohousing identity (i.e., 192 classic cohousing plus other groups using the cohousing name ÷ 679 U.S. listings = 28%), with a total population of 7,967 cohousers in 2010.
Today, in the early 2020s, there are about 165 classic cohousing communities in the U.S. (www.cohousing.org), with the typical classic cohousing community comprised of about 35 households each. The average U.S. household is now comprised of only about 2.5 persons (Pew Research Center, 2019). Doing the math: 165 classic cohousing groups x 35 households each x 2.5 persons = 14,438 people in classic cohousing community in 2022.
As there are currently as many cohousing groups in development as there are established communities, and as it takes five-to-seven or more years to build the classic cohousing model using the condominium legal, land-use, and space-use designs, then by 2030 there will likely be 30,000 people in classic cohousing communities in the U.S. However, since the term “cohousing” is being used synonymously with “intentional community,” the cohousing numbers game could explode in the same way as has the ecovillage movement. Reasons why the term “cohousing” is being used to refer to a wide range of intentional communities include: people new to the communities movement do not know about the classic cohousing design; people want to associate their community with a dynamic movement; and the people who grew up in cohousing can not afford it for their own families, so their parents recommend less expensive forms of community and call them “cohousing” regardless of their design.
Comparison of the American Dream Nuclear Family with the Collective Dream Cofamily
After World War II the growing middle-class affluence was invested in the American Dream housing design of the isolated nuclear-family home. In the early 1970s the economy started to weaken due to the assaults against the labor union movement, and due to the economic changes which effectively devalued the U.S. Dollar by leaving the determination of international currency exchange rates to the markets. These changes were explained by the British economist Susan Strange saying that “the casino capitalism that emerged in the mid-1980s was the creation of American policies and preferences.” (Strange, pp. viii, 5)
In his 2015 book When Corporations Rule the World David Korten explains American economic “policies and preferences” as being that corporations have become the dominant governance institutions, such that, “Increasingly, it is the corporate interest rather than the human interest that defines the policy agendas of states and international bodies. …The Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz suggests that economics as currently taught and practiced is less a science than it is “The West’s prevailing religion.” Economists bear major responsibility for promoting what Pope Francis calls “the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”” (Korten, pp. 34, 76)
The trend toward purchasing the American Dream on credit was enabled by rising home equity, until the Great Recession beginning in 2007 drastically reduced middle-class family wealth. The upper classes became the primary beneficiaries of the American worker’s digital-revolution-enabled, increasing productivity rate, until the concentration of wealth among the top 1% of the population in the early 21st century began to resemble that of the Gilded Age “robber barons” of the early 20th century. As stated in the Gale Student Resources paper the shrinking of the middle class causes the younger generations struggling to get started in life to think that “the American Dream is dead.” (Gale, 2016; http://www.thoughtco.com/robber-baron-definition-1773342)
The 2016 U.S. Census snapshot of American family statistics reveals the recent state of the American Dream:
• The number of married-adult households has been steadily dropping to now about half of all households. (“Families and Living Arrangements” Table AD-3b)
• The number of adults living alone has been steadily raising to now nearly a third of all households. (“Families and Living Arrangements” Tables AD-3a and HH-4)
• Births to unmarried women comprised 40% of all births in 2014, resulting in about a quarter of all households being of single-parent families, with half of all single-parent children living in poverty. (“America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016” Family and Social Environment and List of Tables; also, “Families and Living Arangements” tables HH-1 and CH-1)
These points about declining marriage rates, living alone, and single-parenting indicate a trend of the increasing atomization of society, and the growing isolation of people in the contemporary American Dream. The devolution of American culture into the smallest possible units suggests the need for a Collective Dream featuring the gender-partnership of the cofamily, as an available alternative to the cultural assumptions and experiences of the patriarchal American Dream.
To find out how prevalent are the small-group communities of 3-to-9 people, considering that there is no cofamily community movement, one must turn to the Communities Directory published by the Foundation for Intentional Community (FIC). (For an online version of the FIC directory see: http://www.ic.org)
As the FIC directory is the only representative sample of the intentional communities movement, omitting Catholic monasticism, Hutterite, Amish, and most other Christian and other religious communities, I have done a statistical analysis of the 2010 FIC directory to see the occurrence of cofamily community in the movement. I skipped the 2016 FIC directory since the FIC has been generating sufficient cashflow lately to print a new directory sometime soon, as their 2021 annual report stated they are planning. Following is what I found:
• 40% of the community listings in the 2010 printed FIC directory reported membership of 3-to-9 people (presumably adults + children). That is 268 cofamilies out of the total 679 U.S. intentional community listings, with the total of 1,523 people in the 268 cofamilies. (Fellowship for Intentional Community, 2010).
• Of the 268 cofamilies: 29% said they are spiritual; 19% share income, either total or partly; 35% involve the land owned by one person or a small group (called “class-harmony community”); 36% are community land trusts; 21% said they are “cohousing” communities; and 7% rent their land. These do not add up to 100% because there is overlap of the categories, and some groups did not answer all the questions. (Fellowship for Intentional Community, 2010)
• Consider the 55 cofamily groups (21% of the total 2010 directory) claiming to be “cohousing.” Originally, what I call the “classic cohousing“ community design had a definition involving six criteria having to do with decision-making processes, and specific land-use and space-use parameters, usually using the condominium legal design. Today, people use the term “cohousing,” like “ecovillage,” and “coliving,” and even “commune,” to mean what ever they want, or whatever type of community is at hand. (Fellowship for Intentional Community, 2010)
Since the classic cohousing communities are comprised of about 35 housing units each, the only way that small groups of 3-to-9 people can be called a cohousing community is by stretching the definition. To understand something about the 55 cofamilies listed among those groups claiming to be cohousing communities in the 2010 Directory, consider how they hold their land:
» 38% had an individual or small group owning the land (which I call “class-harmony community”);
» 16% said that their community owned their land, usually as a nonprofit organization although also a few as cooperative corporations;
» 11% said they are land trusts, which is a specific form of nonprofit or cooperative organization;
» 35% said other or unknown.
These total to 100% of the 55 “cohousing” cofamilies.
Using the term “cofamily” to refer to 3-to-9 people living in community works around having to define a group until it grows to 10 or more people, since the nature of a community can change substantially in its first few years. By the time a community group reaches ten people it will likely developed sufficient agreements to fairly clearly define itself as one of the pre-existing forms of intentional community listed in the first paragraph of this paper.
The ideal of the Collective Dream being a non-patriarchal, partnership lifestyle addresses the concerns of: mutual aid reducing the need for abortions through the support of a cofamily; ecological responsibility through designing our material world to be sustainable, renewable and regenerative; cultural awareness and inclusiveness of diverse races, genders, ethnicities, and abilities; economic cooperation following the cooperative principles; and sharing resources and skills in community.
Community is important and necessary for preserving and developing our humanity in both good times and bad. While some are enjoying good times today, others are not, and many of those having good times worry that it may not last for themselves or their children. Intentioneers of the Collective Dream can co-create gifting-and-sharing lifestyles that can make available to all a material and social life consistent with our highest spiritual beliefs and ethical ideals.
“America’s Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016.” Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from: http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/glance.asp > America’s Children at a Glance > Family and Social Environment, and List of Tables > Table FAM2.B at: http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables.asp; or http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables/fam2b.asp?popup=true
Eisler, Riane & David Loye. (1990). The partnership way: New tools for living and learning, healing our families, our communities, and our world. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
“Families and Living Arrangements,” United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/adults.html > Living Arrangements of Adults > Table AD-3a at:
http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/files/graphics/AD3a.pdf; and http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/files/graphics/AD-3b.pdf; also > Households > Table HH-4 at: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/files/graphics/HH-4.pdf
“Families and Living Arrangements” United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 17, 2016 from: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/households.html > Households > Table HH-1; and “Families and Living Arangements” > Living Arrangements of Children > Table CH-1.
Fellowship for Intentional Community. (2016). Communities directory: The guide to intentional communities and cooperative living. Rutledge, MO: The Fellowship for Intentional Community.
Gale Student Resources in Context. “How the American Dream Has Changed Over Time.” Gale in context online collection, Gale, 2016. Gale In Context: High School, link.gale.com/apps/doc/EJ2181500191/SUIC?u=clov94514&sid=bookmark-SUIC&xid=76f376d4. Accessed: 8 Dec. 2016.
Hayen, Dolores. (1984). Redesigning the American Dream: The future of housing, work, and family life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Korten, David C. (2015). When corporations rule the world (2nd Ed.). Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Pew Research Center. (May, 2015). America’s Changing Religious Landscape. Retrieved March 19, 2022. https://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/
Pew Research Center. (October, 2019). The number of people in the average U.S. household is going up for the first time in over 160 years. Retrieved March 20, 2022. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/10/01/the-number-of-people-in-the-average-u-s-household-is-going-up-for-the-first-time-in-over-160-years/
Pew Research Center. (January, 2020). Most Americans say there is too much economic inequality in the U.S., but fewer than half call it a top priority. Retrieved March 10, 2022. htttps://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/01/09/most-americans-say-there-is-too-much-economic-inequality-in-the-u-s-but-fewer-than-half-call-it-a-top-priority/
Strange, Susan. (1986). Casino Capitalism. Broughton Gifford, Great Britain: Cromwell Press Ltd.