Sharing and Collaboration in European Ecovillages
Author(s): Dicte Frost
Case study type: Local initiatives
Keywords: ecovillage, sustainability, common ownership, reciprocity
The term ‘ecovillage’ is a relatively new addition to the vocabulary. Ecovillages are human settlements of individuals who live together in community, holding shared ideals, values and/or lifestyles. At minimum common denominator is sustainability. These living communities are a growing phenomenon in Europe: we swiftly see the rise of both new ecovillages and new national ecovillage networks (the newest being the Ukranian one). Because of the three main characteristics of ecovillages, the first being an intentional community, the second being living in close proximity and the third is having sustainability as a core objective, sharing economy behaviours are vivid in these places. What makes ecovillages interesting for a collaborative economy review is the combination of both breadth and depth of sharing practices, along with innovations in collaborative institutionalisations and social processes.
Apart from the classifying traits mentioned above, ecovillages are of broad variability. They can be small or big, members can live in a single building complex or in houses separated by families, they can be an agricultural community or urban, and each member can be economically independent or the community can have a shared economy. These are just a few among the diverse spectrum of ecovillages, as they continue to be shaped and changed by their members.
Despite the diversity, some degree of ecovillage sharing and collaboration is close to universal. The most apparent way of sharing is common ownership of, or access to, facilities, goods or services. Some ecovillages share everything except for a few private belongings (like ‘one big family’), while other ecovillages share certain facilities such as kitchens, workshop rooms and agricultural lands, or common goods like tools, common groceries or a sauna. This kind of sharing delinks the access to a wide variety of facilities/ goods/services and individual financial capital. In other words, pooling resources makes ‘luxury’ items such as a pool, organic food or a sewing studio available to people who would not be able to afford it alone.
Doing ‘services’ for each other is another way that the ecovillage members collaborate and share responsibilities. A noteworthy example is common cooking and common dinners. Through these social responsibilities, the ecovillage members build social relations and deepen inter-group and inter-personal levels of trust. Other examples are common child care and consumers and producers groups. This is ‘community work’ that directly responds to a need of the community and its individual members. It is a way of expanding regular household chores to the greater community – where it is often more effectively handled. This kind of social self-organisation can also respond to community desires (rather than needs) such as self-organised yoga classes, singing circles or movie nights. In short, sharing and collaborative behaviours happen in ecovillages based on (different degrees of) common ownership and shared responsibility.
Ecovillages are also interesting for their unique diversification of sharing methodologies. Apart from common ownership, ecovillages also share goods and services through ‘free flow’/generalised reciprocity, gifting, bartering, and lending and borrowing. Each ecovillage, and each member of the ecovillage, will typically draw on multiple methodologies (alongside monetary exchanges) depending on their possibilities, structures and norms. Creating a collage of different methodologies, allows the ecovillages to be more economically resilient and to stand as a viable (or partially viable) alternative to solely wage work and monetary exchanges. The different methodologies are used within the ecovillages, as well as in the external relations of the ecovillages – in example through networks or in relation to neighbouring villages.
The study of the collaborative and sharing economy of European ecovillages was part of a larger scope of research on the economics of ecovillages. Research took place in 2018 - 2019 and included 5 ecovillage cases located in five different countries: Spain, Slovenia, Ukraine, Germany and Denmark. The cases where selected based on a diverse representation of size, age, geographical context, economic organisation and economic activities. Data was obtained using interviews and participant observations. In total, 74 interviews were carried out mainly covering individual accounts of ecovillage members. Another interview design covered enterprise and organisational accounts of representatives located in the ecovillages, while the last accounts covered the ecovillage as a whole, based on interviews with representative of the ‘economic group’ of each community.
The research primarily focusses on mapping and categorising the sharing and collaborative behaviour in the case ecovillages. It further creates a framework for sharing methodologies applied in ecovillages and proposes a model for understanding the enablers of sharing and collaboration. Focal points of discussion revolve around the role of trust, the limits to sharing, the debatable necessity of mental transitions and lastly, the adaptability of sharing and collaborative institutions.
Publication: Dicte Frost (2019). Intermediate sharing realities: European ecovillages. In: Travlou, P. and Ciolfi, L. (Eds.). Ethnographies of Collaborative Economies Conference Proceedings. University of Edinburgh, 25 October 2019. ISBN 978-1-912669-11-0. Paper No. 6