Abstract

ABSTRACT:

From Tom Wolfe's "me generation" to the imputed digital narcissism of millennials, cultural critics have interpreted American neoliberalism as producing a crisis of hyper-individualism characterized by greed, selfishness, and a general incapacity to cooperate with others. This article draws on ethnographic fieldwork with an American intentional community, Oak Haven, to argue that, even as the notion of community is so often heralded as an antidote to the excesses of American individualism, understandings of community are themselves predicated on a powerful commitment to the individual. Rather than self-interested, competitive, or greedy, however, this individual is figured as a crucial component in healthy, ethical forms of being together. The form and promise of the individual thus made living collectively possible for community residents, who responded to the tantalizing promises and often acute challenges of living with others in communal proximity by intensifying calls for personal space and boundaries, on the one hand, and interior self-examination, on the other. Moreover, many Oak Haveners looked to another time and social order to imagine that "tribal" affinity could be achieved by bringing robustly volitional, independent persons into proximity, adhering to a theory of community that I call "assembly by aggregation." I conclude that this emphasis on individual independence and boundedness as a path to communal solidarity obscured how Oak Haven's most highly valued members were not those who were firmly encased, but those who were permeable to others—able to receive, respond to, and intuit the calls of others—even as this very permeability was cast as unhealthy and undesirable. Examining the dilemmas of (re)producing the individual in relation to idealized, pathologized, and actual forms of kinship at Oak Haven, this article attempts to illuminate how the unquestioned status of the individual in American late liberalism has significant effects on how collective flourishing can be lived and even imagined.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1518
Print ISSN
0003-5491
Pages
pp. 1387-1420
Launched on MUSE
2020-06-17
Open Access
No
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