From Ecovillages and Communities to Societies and Tribes

Sergey Dmitriev
9 min readJan 8, 2023
This and all the photos below are from the Pleistocene Park

Intro

As it turned out once that my experience in simplifying life and in the countryside living turned out to be useful for a wider audience (see Social Slow Travel. Lowcost, Zerowaste), so now the research on possible new-old forms of cooperation between people that I conducted in ecovillages, may be relevant in the context of issues and tasks of finding an identity and forming new social structures both within used-to-live places and to new places and countries. And, most importantly, they can help us move beyond the patterns we grew up with that seem undeniable by definition, such as national state, business corporation, nonprofit, professional association, community of interest.

I write this text during my nomadic dwelling in the Balkans, researching how do the people in new countries that were parts of former Yugoslavia create their identity and life in general and how the people of Albania overcome the past of the totalitarian state and how evolves the situation around Kosovo and how hard it to live in the territory with the disputed status. Since last February I know how it goes when your passport becomes toxic as I was born in USSR and after it failed I inherited the citizenship of the Russian Federation, where (from my point of view) the power year by year was monopolized by a group of old men with mental diseases that resulted in bloody madness of throwing the two brotherhood nations to kill each other in the name of holy war with the West civilization and recreating the great Russian empire. Who could believe it could happen in the XXI century? Big hierarchical systems (no matter if they are states or multinational corporations) tend to start living on their own sacrificing the interests and lives of people and all living beings, so humanity needs more research and experiments with sound and healthy local and global ‘social architectures’ and designs that preserve decision making and resource management distributed in more flat, knowledgeable and peer-to-peer ways, and meantime allow dealing with big and global challenges.

Why ecovillage’s vision is not enough?

The current vision of ecovillages (see its definition by Global Ecovillage Network) as well as approaches to design and create it lacks IMHO integrity and thus are off the real-life context.

Nowadays in gathering an intentional community to start an ecovillage and to expand it with new members the key focus is still on those people who suppose to live on the ecovillage’s territory. Even more, if you don’t live there for the whole time of the year, most probably you have less authority or respect. All the other people are considered as external to the community, even if they like to visit it, have friends/relatives there, and contribute from time to time to the ecovillage development. They’re off ecovillage’s messengers’ chats and decision-making processes.

In this text I suggest, that to grow a vital, sustainable ecovillage, its founders actually need to create an entity, a ‘social organism’ of a higher order, where their ecovillage is an embodied part of a ‘creature’ that we could name ‘society’, ‘ecosystem’ or by another word, that could look more apt for it.

Yakutian horses grow thick fur in the winter. This helps them to resist even below -50C temperatures. Photo from the Pleistocene Park

Intentional Societies

Let’s take ‘society’ as a temporary term for the beginning. So we move from an intentional community to an intentional society. I borrow it from such examples as national (imperial, king’s) geographic societies founded to organize discovery missions to unknown territories and citizen/scientific societies in particular domains of biology. E.g.:

In our ‘ecovillage case’, these societies could be for example about

  • (crossborder) bioregion regeneration.
  • adaptation to climate change (flora and fauna observations, gardening techniques adaptations)
  • Laboratory for alternative approaches to education and holistic healthcare
  • Research and experiments on self-governance and self-organization

Here we can have analogies, that not all members of geographic societies go on field trips and longer campaigns, but had their interests and contributed with time and material resources.

So the broader goals attract stakeholders that do not see them as full-time ecovillagers, but who value the people involved, processes, and foreseen results that such a society can achieve. Though society’s ecovillage (or even a few ones) is one of the tools to implement projects and initiatives related to society’s goals. I also suppose that in some cases very practical-oriented off-site members could be highly important, those who e.g. want to buy organic food from people/place their know, spend summer holidays in a safe and healthy environment of an ecovillage, have a spot to organize their training, etc.

Examples close by

I know examples where this approach is partially implemented.

  • Chateau Chapiteau’ a ‘kingdom’ of world citizens in a form of a permaculture village and coliving in Georgia sells days in the year to its members,
  • Ängsbacka Course and Festival Center with an organic garden in Sweden integrates into its processes people who are called ‘external community’, those who are part of but live outside visiting the place and neighbours, who live close and cooperate.
  • Historical Karelian village Kinerma in Russian Federation has its club, whose members live mainly in Finland.

These are new endeavours, while traditional monasteries located in the countryside quite often by design were and are involved in strong off-line social and economical networks.

Kalmykian cows are one of the most cold-adapted cows in the world. It is going to be 3rd winter for them in the Pleistocene Park.

Locals: humans and non-humans

Other groups of stakeholders, whose delegates are the real need as founding members at the design and startup phase of ecovillages and, as we discuss above, for societies with projects on territory, are

  • local neighbouring people (who live there for centuries)
  • and the nature represented by nature protection organizations (both governmental and nongovernmental).

If a nature reserve is located close to a new ecovillage it could be a place to work for newcomers, while these newcomers can create projects and job opportunities for locals as well as make a better situation with kids (education for local children and give birth to new babies).

Post-tribes

Another benefit of having a horizon of ‘society’ instead of ‘community’ is that society gathers:

  • a broader type of people
  • it’s more numerous.

All these society members don’t have to live in close neighbourhoods or even in the same country, but as they collaborate within society it’s easy to find people of someone’s ‘tribe’ to be neighbours in future. So the more our society goes mature during its research, events, and other activities (e.g. visits to existing ecovillages, nature reserves, workshops and retreats) and other related projects and programs the more knowledge about particular territories appear and more people have experience in cooperating with each other. It helps society’s members to see which persons/families they want to have as neighbours and whom as guests (and want to see and meet only as colleagues, but not closer). This experience is a good common ground/’soil’ to gather ‘tribes’ or ‘post-tribes’ — people who want to have cooperative activities, share the same practices and landscapes, raise kids together and spend the last years of their lives.

Goats, sheep, bizons in the Pleistocene Park

Difference between societies and post-tribes

  • Societies are more about long-term goals, high-level values, and processes. When a society is mature it is a non-profit NGO — it has government and university relations, can work with businesses, and professional associations, participates in cross-border cooperation programs and frameworks, etc.
  • While tribes are about cooperative living (even in remote formats) with shared everyday practices, comfortable social context, and long-term relationships. It’s informal groups in most cases without incorporation.

Ecovillage definition via societies and tribes

One or a few post-tribes living close by and participating in one or a few societies whose goals and programs include nature and social restoration/regeneration of the tribe(s) territories with close cooperation with the surrounding social context (from local to global).

If an ecovillage (intentional community and territory) is already created

There are still opportunities to re-found or to update its core with this higher vision and participants who were initially out of scope or/and by joining an independently created ‘regeneration society’ (as we look at the global scale it could be societies in other countries/regions). Tasks from larger horizons can also be sought gradually, based on the experience already gained. Another option for including a village in a larger context is to include it in cooperation with national and international ecovillage networks and other associations of environmental organizations and communities. A perspective to look at the inhabitants through the following questions:

  • Did any post-tribes appear among them, can you see karasses?
  • Which ones and why, if not, what happened instead?
  • Who and how fell out of these small social formations?

makes it possible to better analyze and understand the social dynamics in an ecovillage.

Societies and post-tribes — side effects

Perhaps societies and tribes, as new middle-level institutions, can satisfy the need for belonging, security, and the feeling of a large family. This is often expected of communities, but in practice, it only partially works. States, corporations and religious organizations can only partially meet these needs, as well as clans / extended families (they are weak or do not exist at present).

In turn, strong societies and post-tribes can:

  • make states more useful and less expensive (due to the growth of trust between citizens and the ability to perform some of the functions of the state)
  • transform corporations into non-profit organizations with lower transaction costs and no need for sales and marketing (e.g. public banks — banks owned and operated by community members with the sole purpose of serving the community in terms of financial transactions without even generating additional revenue) for the community. Only services — transparent, open sourced,…). There is a Russian-language social network — Freefeed.net, which shows that such an approach is possible — at least to create a community of a developed social network. In Sweden, there is a farmer’s bank, a cooperative bank that serves the needs of farmers, among other things.
  • make kinship/family stronger and more cohesive.
  • question the real need for religious organizations (especially in cases where these organizations have become too incorporated, having lost their humanity).

As there is a noticeable increase in the number of digital nomads, as well as in the perspective of climate refugees, I suppose that tribes that were originally conceived as nomadic, or became such due to external circumstances (oppressions, wars, climate, …) may gain some popularity.

Bizons in the Pleistocene park

Examples of New Societies

  • I think that the Pleistocene Park, founded in 1996 by environmentalist Sergei Zimov, can already be an example of an emerging international society. In this reserve, with the international support of scientific organizations, businesses and crowdfunding companies, an experiment is underway to recreate the ecosystem of the Pleistocene “mammoth tundra steppes” that existed in the territories of the Northern Hemisphere during the last glaciation. Why this is important, especially now can be found on the project website.
  • Having formulated the above considerations, I understand that the initiative I am currently working on can become the basis for the creation of a society, as well as the environment for the formation of several tribes. Based on experience with universities, and years of living and researching in rural areas, I concluded that a long-term cooperation program between ecovillages and other new initiatives for nature-aware living with universities, schools, nature reserves and indigenous peoples is needed.
  • In the context of emerging initiatives to create network states, such as Plumia, which is now being grown on the basis of SafetyWing’s digital nomad health insurance business, it is the format of society (as an NGO) that can be the basis for bringing together people interested in creating networked states.

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