Metcalf, Bill. (1995) From Utopian Dreaming to Communal Reality. Sydney: University of NSW Press.

© Ian Hughes 2000

In Utopia, where every man has a right to everything, they all know that if care is taken to keep the public stores full, no private man can want anything; for among them there is no unequal distribution, so that no man is poor, none in necessity; and though no man has anything, yet they are all rich; for what can make a man so rich as to lead a serene and cheerful life, free from anxieties? (Thomas More, Utopia, 1515)

People have set our to construct the ideal community of their dreams before and since the Sixteenth Century English statesman Sir Thomas More wrote these words. The title of his book has entered the language to signify the idela society We know that utopian communities have risen and fallen in Australia since the 1850s. Metcalf has shown that more utopian intentional communities are dreamed of an planned, than actually come into existence. And of those that are established, few endure. The last quarter of the Twentieth Century saw the establishment of more intentional communities in Australia than the previous two centuries of European occupation. And of these a number are enduring past one generation. As post-industrial becomes increasingly fragmented, impersonal and instrumental on a global scale, small but increasing numbers of people choose to drop out, into small, personalised communities more in harmony with ecological values.

Australian intentional communities are varied. Size ranges from four or five adults to about 160 permanent residents. Religion is central to some communities and hardly tolerated in others. Many communities are rural, and others are in the cities or suburbs. A few have explicit political ideologies, some are avowedly non-political and many are indifferent to national politics. Some have shared wealth, and most are based on private ownership. But Bill Metcalf found some important similarities.

All the Australian communities described in Metalf (1995) describe spirituality as important to the lives of the communities and their members. All place important on the ecology, and most combine these two principles into a central concern which may be called 'eco-spirituality'. All intentional communities find the dynamics of interpersonal relationships presents one of their biggest challenges. Metcalf reports common tensions between 'doing' and 'being'; and between individualism and communalism. The recruitment of new members and continuation of the community beyond the original founders is a challenge. The members of intentional communities in Australia report that it hard work to make a community work, but rewarding in the long run.


Metcalf, Bill. (1995) From Utopian Dreaming to Communal Reality. Sydney: University of NSW Press.

October 31, 2003

Globalisation can be a community’s ally

Research being carried out internationally is showing that globalisation can be good for communities, one of the world’s foremost experts on intentional communities (communities which form because of similar beliefs) has said.

Griffith University’s Dr Bill Metcalf is one of ten editors of a new four-volume encyclopaedia focusing on many types of communities around the world.

Dr Metcalf said the encyclopaedia included research by him and others which showed communities could be positively influenced, or even created, by technologies and cultural change brought about by globalisation.

“Technologies such as the Internet have been developed because of the globalisation push and have served to form new types of ‘virtual communities’, such as Internet chat groups, as well as strengthen existing communities which cross national borders,” he said.

“Many intentional communities, including eco-groups, religious groups, and communes have benefited from the ability to communicate so easily with similar groups overseas.

“The ease with which people can now travel and work between different countries has meant that the communities we live in have changed and diversified to become more multi-cultural.”

Dr Metcalf said there were many ways in which globalisation could have negative impacts on communities, however the negatives were focused upon too heavily.

“It could be said that generally globalisation is anti-community. Unfortunately, most people just assume this is always the case.

“We should never assume that globalisation is always going to benefit communities, nor should we assume it is always going to harm communities. Instead, we should evaluate the positives and negatives in each case and work out how to use this to benefit community development.”

The encyclopaedia set – Encyclopaedia of Community: From the Village to the Virtual World – includes articles on all aspects of communities, from virtual to historic, with contributions by some of the world’s most acclaimed community researchers. Issues such as racism, ethnic boundaries, and the psychology of communities are also covered.

Dr Metcalf is the only editor of the encyclopaedia based outside of the USA and has also made several editorial contributions to the publication. He has been studying intentional communities at Griffith University since 1980 and is the former president of the International Communal Studies Organisation.

Media Contacts:

Dr Bill Metcalf – (07) 3844 8922
Anthony Coates (Communications Officer) – (07) 5552 8654, 0419 649 516