A Wild Ethnography Appears

During the final semester of my undergraduate career, I worked on a small ethnographic study of the housing cooperative I lived in. I can’t actually publish it (I think) but I’m fond of the analytic structure I set up.

I analyze continuity of organizations on three axes:
Continuity of Ideology: the organization should maintain interest in and keep working towards its goals, based on shared beliefs and values.
Continuity of Institutions: the community passes along rules, procedures, history, traditions, and objects.
Continuity of Fellowship: members maintain goodwill and friendliness among themselves.

I argue that in order to persist optimally, a community or organization must have healthy instantiations of all three types of continuity; a lack of any one can obviously cause problems, but each can also be realized in what I call “toxic modes.” For instance, the type of doctrinal rigidity that characterizes schisming religions is a toxic type of ideological continuity.

The bulk of the ethnography analyzes problems in “Squirrel Burrow” through this lens, showing how difficulties with all three continuities were interconnected by the effects they had on members’ interactions.

And here it is.

Following the analytical part, I have included some advice to the community based on the problems I lay out, including an excerpt on consensus decision-making from David Graeber’s Democracy Project (I also draw on his work to make my arguments in the body, so it was close to hand).

My hope is that the analytical framework I’ve set up can be useful to communities and organizations outside my sphere of experience. 🙂


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