Circumstantial Community - An Academic Question
From: allenbutcher (
Date: Wed, 28 Jul 1999 12:41:30 -0500
Rob's post about community awareness continues to inspire thoughts that I
would like to share.  

It has always been fascinating to me to see people recognizing and acting
upon a group awareness, which I compare with the awakening in a child of
self-awareness.  Now we also have the theory of the world's global human
population experiencing a similar awakening, called variously "New World
Order" and the "Gaia" myth.  This awakening has many parallels, and even
goes into the spiritual levels of this auspicious time at the change of
the Christian millennia, the Aztec Sun Cycles, and the astrological
transition of the ages (Piscis to Aquarius).

With regard to cohousing communities, the explicit goal of creating
community via architectural, land use and governmental design represents
an understanding of the basic dynamics involved in how our physical and
civic environments impact upon our experience of community.  Yet as Rob
suggests, there are different levels of community awareness.  

In order to grasp this concept, I constructed what I call the
"communitarian continuum," representing a range from intentional
community to "circumstantial community."  Circumstantial community I then
define as, "a group of people living in proximity by chance, such as in a
city, neighborhood or village, the residents of which may or may not
individually choose to be active participants in the pre-existing
association."  Intentional community I define as, "a fellowship of
individuals and families practicing common agreement and collective

The complicating factor is that either circumstantial or intentional
community can function as the other.  For example, an intentional
community may abandon its common agreements, causing the people to drift
apart, or a town may pull together in collective action in response to a
common threat or opportunity.  Obviously, then, over time, any particular
group of people may transition along different positions on the
communitarian continuum.

When does a group of people cross the line between circumstantial
community and intentional community?  It happens, but making that
judgement call is difficult to do via any objective criteria.  For
example, we might think that if a cohousing group were to decide to
divide up their common house into individual residential condo units,
that would be a good indication of loss of intentionality.  Yet many land
trust communities do not have common houses, and if the change were made
via "common agreement and collective action" such a move might actually
be an indication of intentionality.  The group may no longer be a
cohousing community, but it could still be an intentional community. 
Even group denial of intentional community status ipso facto evidences
intentionality, although a subsequent lack of group interaction would
warrent determination of circumstantial community status.

In the case of Aspen Cohousing, there were at least two original goals
for the community.  One was to provide affordable housing, and another to
create cohousing community.  If it happened that all of the people who
moved into the community were primarily interested in acquiring
affordable housing, with no interest in the community aspect, wouldn't
the community still warrent the distinction of being a success?  Via
"common agreement and collective action" they achieved their goal as a
community, irrespective of any judgement as to their degree of evidence
of communitarian orientation.  In this case, as long as the group
identifies themselves as a "cohousing community" their status is decided.
 Any further judgement as to their degree of intentionality versus
circumstantiality requires an objective criteria, which I do not believe
exists outside of comparative studies such as Graham Meltzer's.  

Graham's study, and similar research if such exists, could provide basic
criteria for an objective determination of gradients of communitarianism,
but would best be inclusive of all forms of community.  Personally, the
amount of work that idea suggests identifies my limit of interest in
academic discussions, yet I'd encourage others to carry on with the idea!


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