[sixties-l] Books Reviewed: T. Miller, _Search for Utopia,_ _60s Communes_

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Date: Mon Jul 09 2001 - 16:12:55 EDT

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    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


    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."[1] 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.[2]

    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.[3]

    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.[4] 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
    saved us.

    _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
    often did
    not forsake their idealism, but rather adapted it to changed circumstances,
    including their own advance through the life cycle.[5]

    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
    authenticity on
    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.,
    Univ. of
    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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