3 Dec 2008, 5:42pm

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Some concluding thoughts on Ecotopia Revisited

I had the privilege of opening this blog series, and will now offer a few brief thoughts as our research nears its conclusion.  I’d also recommend you view some attached presentations Evan and I made to our Ecotopia Revisited expert committee, including a background on the project and summaries of our surveys and interviews.

First and foremost, a huge thanks to Amber, Evan, and Meagan for their hard work and great ideas all summer and fall: it has been such a pleasure working with each of you, and I’m excited with what we have learned together.  Second, another huge thanks to the communities and individuals throughout Oregon who participated in our interviews: we have come through this experience all the wiser from having spent time with you.  The insights I share below are the result of the collaborative efforts of our research team and the input of our fellow Oregonians.

  • One very provocative result Evan mentioned in his recent blog involved the similar values we found among members of intentional communities vs. other communities in Oregon.  (A pretest of our survey actually revealed broadly similar values among respondents throughout the United States; we hope to look into this further.)  This result is surprising: in terms of values, at least, you can apparently find Ecotopianism throughout a variety of communities in (and outside of) Oregon.  Of course, there is always a degree of self-selection among research participants, but our invitation and interview procedures were designed to include a wide swath of perspectives.  One certain implication: Ecotopianism is alive and well in the early 21st century.  Whether this is a good thing or not, whether Ecotopia is our hope for the future or a hopelessly outdated vestige from our recent past, is open to interpretation, and I plan to write about the implications of this and related findings in future.
  • Another important result Evan mentioned is the connection between spatial scale and our dream and nightmare worlds.  It boils down to this: “think globally, act locally” has increasingly become “think dystopically globally, act utopically locally.” Evan covers this finding well, but again the result bears greater interpretive scrutiny: how empowering is it to focus on action at ever smaller scales?  how efficacious is this mode of action, at local (and especially larger) scales?  In the three-plus decades since publication of Ecotopia, the magnitude of—and arguably our awareness of—global political, ecological, and social crisis has grown.  Has this sent us more and more toward envisioning better worlds at smaller and smaller scales, effectively giving up on global possibilities?  We’ll all need to think, and talk, about this profound connection between scale and utopia/dystopia much further.

There are lots of other surprising results we are gradually uncovering as our analysis proceeds. But Evan’s blog concludes with a framing question I asked toward the outset of our research project, and I’d like to end by repeating the paragraph in which this question was embedded, originally presented in my initial blog:

Most utopian and dystopian discourse points outward to the worlds it describes—in the ecological realm, for instance, the dream of a sustainable society and the nightmare of global warming typically emphasize how to achieve sustainability, how to stop global warming.  Yet the key question we ask in Ecotopia Revisited is: what do our contemporary utopias and dystopias tell us about ourselves?  There can be no lasting resolution of the questions these utopias and dystopias raise unless we attend both to the outer and inner worlds they connect, the worlds we inhabit and the worlds we imagine.  These worlds of object and subject, reality and desire, are ultimately inextricable, yet what this project offers is a corrective to the tendency to only point outward as we consider our ecological dreams and nightmares, ultimately contributing toward the self-understanding late-modern societies require to move forward as they justifiably flee nightmare worlds and pursue more ideal worlds in which to live well.

It is my hope that, in whatever small way, the contribution of Oregon communities via Ecotopia Revisited will indeed help us move toward worlds in which we may all live well.

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