An intentional community or communal society is a voluntary residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. The members of an intentional community typically hold a common social, political, religious, or spiritual vision, often follow an alternative lifestyle and typically share responsibilities and property. Intentional communities can be seen as social experiments or also communal experiments. The multitude of intentional communities includes collective households, cohousing communities, coliving, ecovillages, monasteries, communes, survivalist retreats, kibbutzim, hutterites, ashrams, and housing cooperatives.
Ashrams are likely the earliest intentional communities founded around 1500 BCE, while buddhist monastries appeared around 500 BCE. Pythagoras founded an intellectual vegeterian commune in about 525 BCE in southern Italy. Hundreds of modern intentional communities were formed across Europe, North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand out of the intellectual foment of utopianism. Intentional communities exhibit the utopian ambition to create a better, more sustainable world for living. Nevertheless, the term utopian community as a synonym for an intentional community is considered to be of pejorative nature and many intentional communities do not consider themselves to be utopian.
Additional terms referring to an intentional community can be commune, alternative lifestyle, intentional society, cooperative community, withdrawn community, enacted community, socialist colony, communistic society, collective settlement, mutualistic community, communitarian experiment, experimental community, utopian experiment, practical utopia, and utopian society.
|B. Shenker||1986||"An intentional community is a relatively small group of people who have created a whole way of life for the attainment of a certain set of goals."|
|D. E. Pitzer||1989||Intentional communities are "small, voluntary social units partly isolated from the general society in which members share an economic union and lifestyle in an attempt to implement, at least in part, their ideal ideological, religious, political, social, economic, and educational systems".|
|G. Kozeny||1996||"An 'intentional community' is a group of people who have chosen to live together with a common purpose, working cooperatively to create a lifestyle that reflects their shared core values. The people may live together on a piece of rural land, in a suburban home, or in an urban neighborhood, and they may share a single residence or live in a cluster of dwellings."|
|W. J. Metcalf||2004||An intentional community is "[f]ive or more people, drawn from more than one family or kinship group, who have voluntarily come together for the purpose of ameliorating perceived social problems and inadequacies. They seek to live beyond the bounds of mainstream society by adopting a consciously devised and usually well thought-out social and cultural alternative. In the pursuit of their goals, they share significant aspects of their lives together. Participants are characterized by a "we-consciousness," seeing themselves as a continuing group, separate from and in many ways better than the society from which they emerged."|
The purposes of intentional communities vary in different communities. They may include such as a feminist, spiritual, economic, or environmental purposes. In addition to spiritual communities, secular communities also exist. One common practice, particularly in spiritual communities, is communal meals. Typically, there is a focus on egalitarian values. Other themes are voluntary simplicity, interpersonal growth, and self-sufficiency.
Some communities provide services to disadvantaged populations. These include, but are not limited to, war refugees, homeless people, or people with developmental disabilities. Some communities operate learning and/or health centers. Other communities, such as Castanea of Nashville, Tennessee, offer a safe neighborhood for those exiting rehab programs to live in. Some intentional communities are also micronations, such as Freetown Christiania.
Many communities have different types or levels of membership. Typically, intentional communities have a selection process which starts with someone interested in the community coming for a visit. Often prospective community members are interviewed by a selection committee of the community or in some cases by everyone in the community. Many communities have a "provisional membership" period. After a visitor has been accepted, a new member is "provisional" until they have stayed for some period (often six months or a year) and then the community re-evaluates their membership. Generally, after the provisional member has been accepted, they become a full member. In many communities, the voting privileges or community benefits for provisional members are less than those for full members.
Christian intentional communities are usually composed of those wanting to emulate the practices of the earliest believers. Using the biblical book of Acts (and, often, the Sermon on the Mount) as a model, members of these communities strive for a practical working out of their individual faith in a corporate context. These Christian intentional communities try to live out the teachings of the New Testament and practice lives of compassion and hospitality. Communities such as the Simple Way, the Bruderhof and Rutba House would fall into this category. These communities, despite strict membership criteria, are open to visitors and not reclusive in the way that certain intentional communities are.
A survey in the 1995 edition of the "Communities Directory", published by Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC), reported that 54 percent of the communities choosing to list themselves were rural, 28 percent were urban, 10 percent had both rural and urban sites, and 8 percent did not specify.
The most common form of governance in intentional communities is democratic (64 percent), with decisions made by some form of consensus decision-making or voting. A hierarchical or authoritarian structure governs 9 percent of communities, 11 percent are a combination of democratic and hierarchical structure, and 16 percent do not specify. Many communities which were initially led by an individual or small group have changed in recent years to a more democratic form of governance.