Everyday Utopia: Book of the Month November 2023

UK cover art for Kristen Ghodsee's Everyday Utopia
UK cover art for Kristen Ghodsee's Everyday Utopia

This month’s book of the month is Kristen Ghodsee’s Everyday Utopia.

First, let’s address the subtitles of this book. For the UK edition it’s ‘In praise of radical alternatives to the traditional family home’. This is good and representative of the content. In the US it’s ‘What 2,000 years of wild experiments can tell us about the good life’. This is bizarre and meaningless. The US publishers seem afraid to state on the cover what the book is actually about.

The book’s central premise is that the single family home is not serving us particularly well. It talks through examples of what we might call ‘intentional communities’ from, yes, the past 2,000 years. But it also challenges the notion that we consider single family homes ‘normal’ and alternatives ‘wild’ at all, given the variety of arrangements found across the globe and over time. And, despite alluding to ‘the good life,’ this isn’t a book about self-sufficiency or sustainability. Although these are common aspirations to some of the communities discussed, this book is mainly about who brings up the kids and where.

Putting the everyday into utopias

I’m intrigued by this book precisely because it doesn’t take a top-down view on transforming society. Instead, it looks at our domestic arrangements and considers how we might live differently from the bottom up. While I usually prefer fictional utopias for the way they fire up my imagination to consider different ways of being, this book excites me because of the sense of agency it provides. It offers the possibility of changing our everyday home lives so that our daily existence better aligns with our ideals.

These ideals might be feminist and socialist like those of the author, but they do not have to be. Some of the communities discussed are organised around more traditionally conservative religious and/or patriarchal values. The common thread is that these communities have broken away from the convention of living in single family homes. In many cases, they also diverge from the notion of living as nuclear families.

Words from the author of Everyday Utopia

For more on the book, you can read an interview with the author in Current Affairs magazine of politics and culture here.

There is also a review in The Nation here.

If you are in or near Bristol, UK and want to join an in person discussion of the book, come along to our next Utopian Book Collective meeting on 4 December 2023.