Ecovillage Movement: A Sustainable Holistic Way of Living?

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:00 PM
56 Barrows (Barrows Hall)
Alice Brombin, University of Padova, Padova, Italy
Ecovillages are intentional and experimental communities embracing ecological values such as food self-sufficiency, that seek to regenerate social and natural environments through communal sustainable living which is considered the best response to the global ecological crisis. The salient feature of the food style adopted by ecovillage is the claim of the right to self- produce one’s own food. This principle is linked to a wider ideological range that includes issues such as food sovereignty, social justice, the promotion of a different economic model based on the idea of reciprocity, the right to live well, in the full satisfaction of one’s own desires, managing freely the timing of work and the sharing of daily activities. So, self-sufficiency and self-food production express a way of resistance to dominant forms of cultural production. They permit not only to establish direct and not mediated links with nature, but also to build relationships of sharing and socialization both inside and outside of these communities, resulting in alternative economic networks and webs of solidarity, which are essential to ensure the survival of these communities and promote the individual and collective wellbeing. In this respect, ecovillages are described as a new countercultural phenomena proposing an alternative sustainable lifestyle, that can be included in the more board Global Alternative Society Movement as well as several initiatives such as intentional communities, Voluntary Simplicity, Community supported Agriculture, and other realities characterized for the commitment to ecological issues, green consumption, self sufficiency and social justice, Karen Litfin defines the Ecovillage Movement as a “conscious and pragmatic response to the material and ideational crisis of modernity, a response that is grounded in a holistic ontology”. She continues, “ecovillages are consciously seeking to birth new ways of living that transcend the modern dichotomies of urban vs. rural settlements private vs. public sphere, culture vs. nature, local vs. global, expert vs. lay-person, affluence vs. poverty, and mind vs. body. In this sense, they represent a postmodern perspective, but one that seeks to construct a viable alternative rather than merely  a deconstruction of modernity (Litfin, 2009:127).

Starting from these premises, this paper wants to focus on the case of Italian ecovillages aiming to understand whether and to which extent these intentional communities contribute to produce social and cultural change.  

The considerations presented in this paper refer to my PhD research. In Italy ecovillages are part of a web called Italian Villages Ecological Network (RIVE), mostly located between Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. These are small communities that often do not exceed twenty members, usually placed in agricultural settings. The research adopted an ethnographic methodology involving participant observation and the collection of oral narratives. I was hosted for several months as volunteer worker in three communities chosen as study cases, participating and sharing in all the communal activities. During the field work in these ecovilages I collected 40 biographical interviews and many informal talks.

The research questions at the basis of this paper are manifold: what is the significance of the prefix “eco” before the word village? Does it simply represent an ideological marker, or does it effectively entail the re-signification of the concept of nature and the rethinking of the ways in which to interact with it?

What are the innovative outcomes of these collective experiences of living? Do they reproduce dominant social forms and traditional production systems?

May ecovillages be considered an alternative to the global ecological crisis and to what extent do the principles of sustainability result in social change?

The paper aims to describe how sustainability is translated in daily practices within ecovillages and it points out that self-produced food, self-sufficiency, and the aestheticization of everyday life are vehicles through which to reveal a new ecological sensitivity, which has as its main goal the search for a well-being that implies the continued manipulation and reframing of the idea of nature and naturalness.