Alternative society  

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This page Alternative society is part of the politics series.Illustration:Liberty Leading the People (1831, detail) by Eugène Delacroix.
This page Alternative society is part of the politics series.
Illustration:Liberty Leading the People (1831, detail) by Eugène Delacroix.
 This page Alternative society is part of the publication bias list of the Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia, presented by Alfred Jarry.
This page Alternative society is part of the publication bias list of the Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia, presented by Alfred Jarry.

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Alternative societies have been proposed in the 19th century when Proudhon (1809 – 1865) and Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) represented two factions for alternative visions of social change.

But even before that, there were philosophers who suggested alternative models for society: Charles Fourier (1772-1837), Robert Owen (1771-1858), Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881), Louis Blanc (1811-1882) and Wilhelm Weitling (1808-1871). The background of alternative social thinking stems largely from the history of utopianism.

There is a considerable overlap with the history of counterculture.


Alternative alternatives

Other models of alternative societies turn up in the writings and discussions of anarchists, pacifists, libertarian socialists, occultists and others. All of these movements, collectively, struggling away throughout the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950's, are influences upon the hippie/new age movements of the 1960s, 1970s and the present day.

The underground press

The underground press of the 1960s and 70s, varying from nationally or internationally distributed newspaper to small local zines or Samizdat proposed various alternative societies. Some of the publications had particular areas of special interest. Oz magazine leaned toward sex, drugs, rock'n'roll. Country Bizarre was more concerned with radical environmental philosophy and practical information for organic gardening.

A current day incarnation of the underground press is Indymedia.


Environmentalists discuss reshaping the relationships and bonds at the roots of society to create an alternative system of Eco-anarchism which would respect our resources, both human and elemental. Various models of sustainability have been put forward and tried. Among the most successful environmentalist restructurings of social structure are the permaculture movement.

Building alternative services

As a result of the interest, throughout the underground culture, in theories of alternative societies, movements and intentional communities began all around the world attempting to provide alternative housing by such means as organised squatting, tipi making, house sharing and a system called, in hippy jargon, Crash pad networks. This latter involves keeping a list of participants' addresses on file at an alternative information centre and then when someone is travelling and, upon arrival in a different city, wants a place to sleep (crash) they could go to the information centre and get an address. Upon arriving at the address they can get free accommodation (maybe a bed, maybe a floor - it is potluck) and, in exchange, when they are back in their own home (pad), they can offer similar accommodation to another traveller (see also Couchsurfing for an equivalent of this, boosted by the internet). Another alternative solution to housing problems is thought by some to be possible through the construction of geodesic domes, a structure which can be built quite quickly from widely available materials such as scaffolding and tarpaulins.

Alternative travel services are arranged by car sharing networks or simply by hitching. The emphasis is on creating social structures from the bottom up. Alternative soup kitchens are arranged, free bookshops, shops where everything is free (see also give-away shop) or for swap and free festivals sprang into existence. Since the mid-sixties the beginnings of a free society have begun to flourish. People are searching for tools and methods to take control of their own lives and reclaim power from the establishment.

Examples of Alternative Information Centres in the seventies include bit (which was named after the binary information transfer in computers) in London. Bit was founded by John Hopkins (Hoppy) who also founded International Times and distributed a contact list which put UK Underground activists in touch with each other. The style of these information centres varied according to location. The style of the ones in London reflected urban social concerns while the one in Glastonbury was mostly concerned with introducing travellers to the local legends and mysticism.


Christiania, a partially self-governing neighborhood in the city of Copenhagen, Denmark, which has established semi-legal status as an independent community, was founded in 1971, when a group of hippie squatters took over an area of abandoned military barracks. The community there has continued happily and peacefully ever since.

Religious and pseudo-religious groups

The alternative society is often characterised as a society of alternatives and this includes a great interest in pseudoscientific theories such as pagan religion and romantic mystical speculations. Religious and pseudo-religious groups are on the alternative society's mental map of the world and the existence of ashrams, kibbutzim, Buddhist monasteries, Rastafarians, Hare Krishna free food distributions and various churches and gurus' meeting places around the world provide an existing framework upon which the alternative society can grow. The relationship is symbiotic. The Movement for a New Society developed from Quaker roots. Some self-styled gurus were seen to jump on the bandwagon. The religions and pseudo-religious cults have gained lots of new members from the alternative society scene. Therefore, if the left wing of politics can be broadly said to empower the public sector and if the right wing can be broadly said to empower the private sector, then the alternative society could be considered as the political empowerment of the voluntary sector.

The relationship with religious groups also generates deep concerns amongst politicised travellers wary of becoming brainwashed by some cult or other.

International Situationism

There was a very active anarchist group in the Netherlands, known as the Kabouters, (translated as dwarves or trolls). The underground press in Britain attempts to keep everyone in touch with everyone else, publishing news of what other groups in different countries are doing. When the Kabouters advocated the Provos' white bicycle plan as a free community resource (painting some bicycles white and leaving them around the city where anybody could use them for free and then abandon them again until the next user would find them) the underground press in Britain passed the news on in hopes of getting a similar thing going. There is always a strong situationist theatrical element to the alternative society.

One theatre group which had a significant role in the development of the alternative society was the Diggers in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco. They were named after the nickname of the True Levellers movement in 17th century England.

The end of an era

From the late seventies onward there was less fervour and less organisation and the energy took other forms such as the New age movement, punk and the Green party. The legacy of the 60s and 70s can be seen in the continued usage of the word "alternative" in all three of these. There are still people attempting to build new societies from the bottom up and the concept of alternative currencies is still alive and kicking (See LETS).

Meanwhile, all over the world, many local communities (such as Somaliland) struggle to create viable alternative structures of society in the wake of collapsing previous governments.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Alternative society" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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