H-NET BOOK REVIEW
Published by H-Communal-Societies@h-net.msu.edu
Timothy Miller, _The Quest for Utopia in Twentieth-Century America._ Syracuse
Univ. Press, 1998. xxvi + 254 pp. Notes, bibliography, and index. $34.95;
ISBN 0-8156-2775-0 (cloth).
---------, _The 60s Communes: Hippies and Beyond._ Syracuse Univ. Press,
1999. xxviii, 329 pp. Appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $49.95 (cloth),
0-8156-2811-0; $24.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8156-0601-x.
Reviewed by Tim Hodgdon (Tim.Hodgdon@asu.edu), Ph.D. candidate, Arizona State
"TO BE OF USE": RESOURCES FOR A SOCIAL HISTORY OF TWENTIETH-CENTURY
Until quite recently, sociologists, anthropologists, journalists, and
have dominated the study of communes in the twentieth-century United States.
Historians are only now beginning to grapple with this topic. Temporal
affords historical perspective, and the prodigious expansion of intentional
community in the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s has only recently
to the point at which historians feel the urgency to move the phenomenon, in
David Farber's words, "from memory to history." Second, chroniclers of "the
sixties," many of them participants in the New Left, at first slighted the
counterculture and its communal dimension, judging it to have lacked _gravitas_
relative to the contemporary leftist and cultural-nationalist movements seeking
social change via mass organization.
Now that historians are beginning to assess the counterculture as a significant
phenomenon in its own right, they find themselves in need of scholarly tools
that will assist them in placing their particular research subjects in broad
contemporary perspective. Timothy Miller's _The 60s Communes_ proves
as just such a tool. They also feel the need for help in placing their
in longer historical perspective, and Miller's _Search for Utopia_ offers an
important corrective to the popular belief that hippie communes appeared _sui
generis_ on the American landscape.
Miller emphasizes in _Quest for Utopia_ that it is his primary purpose to
tools that will facilitate the research of others, writing that his goal is "to
provide hitherto elusive basic data to those who will interpret and place
the larger culture that special type of applied idealism that is communal
living" (1998, xiii). Such a goal might seem to call for the organization of
that data in encyclopedia form. Yet he also wants to show "that, contrary to
some assertions, intentional community is not so much an episodic series of
isolated occurrences as it is a continuous, if small, ongoing theme in American
life" (1998, xiii). Therefore, he has sacrificed the convenience of
alphabetical entries in favor of a narrative format that emphasizes continuity.
Some readers may not find that choice satisfactory, since they will have to
heavily on the indices to both works. Other readers, in search of a more
interpretive approach, may confound Miller's narrative with a monographic
approach to his subject, and then find inadequate his modest yet insightful
interpretive commentary--as has one reviewer. Having utilized these works in
my own research, I know that those who come after will owe Miller much
appreciation for the enormous amount of spadework that his labors have
_Quest for Utopia_ is organized in an unswervingly chronological fashion:
marches the reader from the turn of the twentieth century forward, decade by
decade. In _The 60s Communes,_ he adopts a more complex organizational scheme,
facilitated by the extensive oral-history interviews that he and his associates
conducted for the Sixties Communes Project. He first treats the pattern of
chronological development, and then turns to broad topical themes. Chapters 5
and 6 discuss, respectively, communes organized for spiritual and secular
purposes. Chapter 7 highlights questions of communal organization, governance,
and economics. Recruitment is the focus of chapter 8, while the following
chapter reunites these distinct themes in a survey of the wide variations of
everyday life in different sorts of communes. The final chapter explores
individual motivations for moving on to post-countercultural life when
individuals and groups came to realize that the much-anticipated apocalyptic
collapse of "straight" society was not immediately in the offing. This final
chapter, incidentally, makes for an interesting comparison with the findings of
sociologists Jack Whalen and Richard Flacks in their study of New Left
activism in Santa Barbara: as with those radicals, Miller's communards
not forsake their idealism, but rather adapted it to changed circumstances,
including their own advance through the life cycle.
By bringing the reader close to the far-flung sources on twentieth-century
intentional community, Miller affords them in _Quest for Utopia_ a somewhat
experiential sense of the diversity and marginality of communes in the earlier
decades of the century. In _The 60s Communes,_ Miller's bilateral organization
of the manuscript affords the reader a constant engagement with the
contradictions inherent in a counterculture organized around principles of
autonomy on the one hand, and community on the other; individual
the one hand, and the longing for _communitas_ on the other; free form,
of hierarchical authority, and an ethic of generosity on one hand, and the
rigorous demands for efficiency and productivity imposed by marginal living on
the other. The counterculture generated a broad continuum of efforts to
these countervailing principles and claims, making it an extremely complex
historical phenomenon. These books, the fruit of more than a decade of
scholarship, will assist immeasurably as historians turn to the challenge of
making a usable past from that vast complexity.
1. _The Sixties: From Memory to History,_ ed. David Farber (Chapel Hill:
Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1994).
2. For an incisive historiographical analysis of this literature, see David
McBride, "On the Fault Line of Mass Culture and Counterculture: A Social
History of the Hippie Counterculture in 1960s Los Angeles" (Ph.D. diss.,
California, Los Angeles, 1998), 21-24, 32-36, 44-71.
3. Miller's article, "The Roots of the 1960s Communal Revival," _American
Studies_ (Lawrence, Kan.) 33, no. 2 (1992): 73-93, deserves mention as the
first flowering of his project to create these scholarly tools.
4. Dominick Cavallo, review of Miller, _60s Communes, Journal of American
History_ 87, no. 4 (March 2001): 1580-81.
5. Jack Whalen and Richard Flacks, _Beyond the Barricades: The Sixties
Generation Grows Up_ (Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 1989).
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