Fourierist Communities

Movement – France, United States

1808 – 1968

Charles Fourier (1772-1837) was a French social theorist who, in a series of texts published between 1808 and his death in 1837, elaborated a vision for a utopian society organised along principles of sexual liberation, co-operative organisation, women's liberation and human interaction. Derived from his ideas on the different types of human personalities and the importance of all to find a partner suited to them, Fourier calculated 1,620 to be the optimum number for people living and working together. These groups of people would live communally in what he termed a phalanstère, consisting of a building arranged in a u-shape with a wing on either side. The phalanstère included large meeting rooms, private rooms and gardens and is commonly considered a forerunner to Ebenezer Howard's garden cities. For Fourier the phalanstères were communities set up in direct opposition to both the industrial revolution and its attendant bourgeois society. He realised that industrial society may generate wealth but its working conditions were alienating and unjust; he advocated instead a radical vision where people would only do the work they enjoyed.

In France these ideas were put into practice by the industrialist Jean-Baptiste Godin (1817-1888) who wanted to create a society where everyone had equal wealth. In 1859 Godin founded a communal settlement called the Familistère or Social Palace that was linked to a stove factory and included amenities such as co-operative shops, a wash house, nurseries, schools and a theatre. The buildings were designed according to Fourier's principles with inner courtyards and recreational gardens. Godin's experiment lasted in co-operative form until 1968, when parts of the site were sold. It is now subject to an EU funded restoration project.

Fourierism was also influential in the US where the ideas were promoted by Albert Brisbane (1809-1890), who established the North American Phalanx in New Jersey in 1843 to bring community members together in varied social interactions and activities. The members themselves believed in participation in the design process, allowing buildings to be developed gradually as an expression of community, and carrying out the building work themselves. They constructed their own, locally inspired, versions of Fourier's phalanstère with communal spaces balanced with individual rooms and provision for families to build private cottages. The community finally came to an end in 1857 following a fire that destroyed many of the buildings on site, and which was preceded by an ideological split over women's rights, the abolition of slavery and the desire of some members to include religious affiliation for members of the phalanx.

Other Work

Charles Fourier, Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinées générales (Theory of the four movements and the general destinies) (Lyon: printed annonymously, 1808).

---, Design for Utopia: Selected Writings (New York: Schocken, 1971).

Fourier: The Theory of the Four Movements, ed. by Gareth Stedman Jones and Ian Patterson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

'Le Familistère de Guise - Une utopie réalisée', http://www.familistere.com/site/index.php [accessed 3 March 2010].

'The Charles Fourier Internet Archive', http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/fourier/index.htm [accessed 3 March 2010].

References About

Jonathan Beecher, Charles Fourier: The Visionary and his World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

Martin Parker, Valérie Fournier and Patrick Reedy, The Dictionary of Alternatives: Utopianism and Organisation (London: Zed Books, 2007).

Paul Reuber, 'Paris: interior pleasures', Canadian Architect, 43 (6)(1998): 38-39.

Quotes

"Equality of rights is another chimera, praiseworthy when considered in the abstract and ridiculous from the standpoint of the means employed to introduce it in civilisation. The first right of men is the right to work and the right to a minimum [income]. This is precisely what has gone unrecognised in all the constitutions. Their primary concern is with favoured individuals who are not in need of work."

- Charles Fourier; http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/fourier/index.htm

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