Book Review: Ecovillages
Author: Karen T. Litfin
Publisher: Polity Books ISBN: 9780745679501
I really liked this book and truly appreciated the broad-spectrum approach of Karen Litfin’s research and chronicle of her sabbatical adventure. Ecovillages is not an egg-headed, ivory tower, theoretical diatribe, which can often be the case when talking about the environment and sustainable living. No, this book is about thoughtful, studied, objective, and first-hand analysis of communities engaging in the process of living in community with different approaches to sustainability. This approach made all the difference in the world to me and kept my mind open, listening, learning, dreaming, and hopeful.
Chapters one and two set up Litfin’s year-long journey and exploration of sustainable communities. Here she describes her personal interest and how she winnowed her selection of ecovillages to visit. The next four chapters (Ecology, Economy, Community, and Consciousness) explore significant aspects of and different approaches to living together in sustainable community.
I have been intrigued by intentional communities for several years now and have explored mostly those communities centered around spiritual values. While this has been my core value, a strong second focus has been ecological sustainability, so Litfin’s journey was of keen interest to me. I was not disappointed in the least with her recounting of her experience. I appreciated the insights and diversity of the communities especially from the multinational perspective. Additionally, the glimpses into economy and logistical challenges were a helpful inclusion for details I may not have previously considered.
Because of my primary motives for interest in sustainable communities, I was most interested (and enjoyed) the chapters on community and consciousness. It was in these chapters that Litfin really digs into the people dynamic delving into issues of governance, charism of the community, and conflict resolution. I think Karen’s words nearing the end of the consciousness chapter kind of sums up the entirety of the book for me as it relates to the journey of human community on the whole; she writes the following:
As I spoke with ecovillagers around the world, I found my mind’s dichotomies softening into a bigger picture. Science vs. mysticism, Christianity vs. evolution, simple living vs. big-picture thinking, selfishness vs. altruism – these old antinomies were making peace in my mind. As my either/or categories dissolved into a more embracive, both/and perspective, my internal experience of myself and the world felt larger and more generous. I began to see my own foibles and those of others as transitory deficiencies of consciousness, rather than irredeemable character flaws. I came to view the story of separation as a means of creating individuals capable of consciously giving themselves to the whole. In framing our contemporary predicament as a developmental process, rather than the catastrophic consequence of human stupidity or God’ punishment for our sins, I could see larger possibilities for action and compassion – possibilities that grow exponentially in the context of community. I could see that each of us has the potential to become, quite literally, a force of nature (pp. 185-186).
If you have in interest at all in ecovillages, sustainable and/or intentional community living, this book will be a helpful and insightful read for you. I continue to be hopeful for my own journey into a community of some sort and this has been a great addition to my education and preparation for that day.