Interpersonal Processes in Nineteenth Century Utopian Communities: Shakers and Oneida Perfectionists

By Isaac, James; Altman, Irwin | Utopian Studies, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Interpersonal Processes in Nineteenth Century Utopian Communities: Shakers and Oneida Perfectionists


Isaac, James, Altman, Irwin, Utopian Studies


Traditional and emerging social values often clashed amidst the dramatic changes sweeping through the new American republic in the early years of the nineteenth century. The former colonies reveled in their freedom but had not yet fully worked out the norms of the new order; the fledgling industrial revolution created new economic opportunities and uncertainties; and political and social freedoms expanded, especially those involving rights of participants in close interpersonal relationships. For example, divorce, birth control, abortion and prostitution were more readily available, people were freer to choose their own marital partner, and women's rights were enhanced (Altman and Ginat 21; Foster 223-238; Kern 34-49).

Not surprisingly, there were reactions to some of these liberalizing trends, often based on religious ideologies that called for restoration or re-interpretation of traditional values and approaches to everyday life. The Shakers and the Oneida Perfectionists were two examples of utopian movements of the era who sought "ideal" and stable lives for individuals, families, and communities. These and other social experiments promised security and religious salvation through unique family structures based on strict behavioral norms, strong authority systems, economic self-sufficiency, and a degree of separation from society at large (Foster 1-13; Hayden 3-6; Brewer 5-6).

The present article focuses on interpersonal relationships in Shaker and Oneida movements, especially their unique attempts to restrict or prohibit close and intimate heterosexual relationships. Although differing in many ways, both Shaker and Oneida doctrine sought to eliminate monogamous marriages, or any form of enduring or permanent heterosexual relationship -- an idea that sharply contrasted with long-standing values in America and most western societies. Traditional heterosexual relationships, these groups argued, often resulted in selfishness, inattention to spiritual responsibilities, and insufficient commitment to other people and the larger community. To achieve an ideal life, the Shakers called for their members to practice celibacy and sharply curtail informal contacts between men and women. In contrast, but in order to reach the same goal, the Oneidans practiced "group marriage," in which men and women could engage in physical sexual activity with many others-albeit only in accordance with strict rules designed to prevent permanent bonds. (Later, they practiced "stirpiculture," a eugenics-like program in which more enduring relationships sometimes occurred.)

To understand the dynamics of interpersonal relationships in Oneida and Shaker communities we pose the following questions: 1. How did the Shaker and Oneida movements employ environmental design, rules for use of the physical environment, and social practices to control close heterosexual relationships? 2. How viable were their approaches to close interpersonal relationships in light of present day concepts and theory?

Our research and theory on close relationships is based on transactional and dialectical philosophies or "world views," which we here apply to an analysis of Oneida and Shaker ideologies (Altman and Rogoff 7-37; Altman, Vinsel and Brown 117-126; Brown, Werner and Altman in press). Briefly, the transactional perspective calls for a holistic understanding of interpersonal relationships. This means, first, that one simultaneously attends to multiple aspects of behavior that are inseparable, function as an integrated unity, and reflect several domains of interpersonal activity. Consistent with our earlier research, we describe how the design of homes and the physical layout of Shaker and Oneida utopian communities were related to interpersonal relationships. Next, we discuss how the two groups guided their members in the use of physical environments. Finally, we address how they prescribed a variety of social rules, norms, and behavioral practices regarding heterosexual relationships. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Interpersonal Processes in Nineteenth Century Utopian Communities: Shakers and Oneida Perfectionists
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.