Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Everything you wanted to know about community but were afraid to ask
What is a commune?

This is not an easy question to answer, since there is no authoritative definition of the term. One dictionary gives the following: "A relatively small, often rural, community whose members share common interests, work and income and often own property collectively".

Internationally recognized researcher of the history of communes and kibbutz member, Prof. Yaacov Oved, defined the term as "an autonomous community whose members have agreed, by free choice, to live a life of sharing by the principle 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his need' ."

In his illuminating book, Shared Visions, Shared Lives, world authority, Australian Dr. Bill Metcalf, ex-President of ICSA, explains, "Communal living takes place in either a commune or an intentional community, the distinction depending on the degree of intimate sharing. Commune members place the group ahead of the nuclear family unit, generally maintain a 'common-purse' and collective household and make intimate as well as general decisions as a group."

Here are some of Bill's further thoughts: "I think that 'commune' should be retained for the more extreme dramatic forms of communal living, those with a high level of commitment to the community. (This) is shown in one of two ways, and in the purest case, in both ways. These ways are economic and social. Of course almost no groups make it all the way to the end of the spectrum on either of these dimensions..... There is a spectrum from commune to neighbourhood, with intentional communities toward the former end".

Kibbutzim - Bill Metcalf again - went "a long way down the track on the economic sharing line but never so far on the social line, still retaining nuclear families, sexual bounds, etc.... The early kibbutzim were very extreme in their material sharing, but this wasn't so difficult when they had next to nothing. In recent years, more and more kibbutzim are retreating from the principle: 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his need' ".

More from Bill: "Some groups, who I feel deserve the title of commune, do not share so much on the material plane but much more on the social plane, and this is where, in the ideal notion, the family and the commune almost become one. I think of groups like Oneida, Twin Oaks, ZEGG, Commonground, etc.".

"And then I have found groups whom I would clearly classify as 'communes' who reject the term, as it conjures up images of hippies, and/or Jonesville, Manson etc.... Then there are other groups who want to be known as 'communes' but are really just a close-knit group of friends".

How can they be "kept out" if there is no clear definition? Then again, does it really matter if they're in? Perhaps the best answer is that a commune is a group that defines itself as such.