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Co-presence, social phenomenology and dynamic intentions: 'growing' community groups of cohousing in the UK, USA and Australia

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Helen Jarvis


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Current interest is directed toward community-led housing at a time when mainstream options are widely condemned as unsustainable and unaffordable. Yet there is a tendency for public and political debate to adopt a purely instrumental approach to ‘growing’ the necessary community groups and civic action. This paper focusses specifically on what happens when a group of people, who are little known to each other, actively pursue enduring co-presence through intentional community. Primary concern with ‘intentionality’ is not with the substance of those intentions (goals and values), although common themes of low-impact conviviality in more ‘neighbourly neighbourhoods’ coincide with emphasis on the cohousing concept. Attention is drawn instead to the ‘dynamic’ lived experience of rehearsed living-togetherness in ‘growing’ groups. A social-phenomenological framework is advanced to challenge person-centred accounts of orientation and encounter. Deeper recognition of co-presence (proximity and trust) sheds light on circuits of influence and learning that introduce experimentation and disorientation. The aim is to move beyond identifying ‘tensions’ (as a source of attrition and group dissolution) to focus instead on the social interactions and dialogical constructions implicated in learning interpersonal competence. Discussion draws on historical and ethnographic data selected to represent pockets of IC development for the UK, Australia and the USA to provide concrete examples of groups ‘getting started’.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Jarvis H

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Unpublished


Year: 2013

Print publication date: 01/07/2013