The ecovillage (EV) movement has received considerable attention in the literature. For example, scholars have looked at how EVs, as a particular form of ‘intentional community’ and lifestyle movement, have emerged and evolved over the years, and at various barriers experienced in the process of establishing and maintaining such initiatives, which have often failed. Forster and Wilhelmus [1
] (p. 378) for instance observe that 80 per cent of ecovillage communities have ceased to exist within two years of starting.
Typically, EV initiatives articulate an intention to change society by promoting and practising sustainable living. A substantial part of the academic work on EVs has focused on the shared values underpinning these initiatives, which constitute the essence of such projects for sustainable living. A central and overarching idea observed among EVs which is often articulated within the movement itself is the notion of ‘connectedness’ between, for example, human beings today and those of the future, or between humans and nature. Looking at how EVs are maintained and changing over time, Sargisson [2
] (p. 398) points out that EV members are, on the one hand, often attuned to opening themselves spiritually and socially. On the other hand, to sustain their identity and purpose as a group, they need to maintain a social, ideological and normative distance to the surrounding society (‘estrangement’) (Ibid.).
Working from a sociotechnical transitions framework, Boyer [3
] treats the relationship between niche initiatives such as EVs and mainstream society. The study of this relationship is key for understanding how the diffusion of niche practices occurs. Several studies have focused on understanding the process of translation by which niche practices influence or become adopted by mainstream society. Translation “involves changes in a dominant set of interdependent social, physical, or regulatory structures that accommodate the niche” [4
] (p. 34).
] argues that the success of niches at influencing the mainstream rests on the ability of the niche to form intermediate projects where the sociotechnical contexts between the niche and mainstream society might bridge. The conditions for such intermediacy are “when a niche shares some, but not all, properties of a regime it prefigures” [4
] (p. 32). Other studies put forward the importance of the political and social contexts surrounding the lifestyle projects or the niches for them to develop successfully [6
]. As Seyfang concludes: “Socio-technical transformations cannot be achieved by niches alone” [6
] (p. 7632). Hence, the local context matters to the success of these niches, as does the initiator’s ability to network with other grassroot movements [8
As an example of niche practices, this paper examines Hurdal Ecovillage in Norway with a particular focus on how the relationship between Hurdal EV and mainstream society was maintained and redefined over a period of 15 years. The objective is to contribute to understanding: (i) the significance of the local context in terms of defining the EV; and (ii) the tensions that may arise as the EV needs to maintain a unique identity and distance from the local context at a point in time where mainstream society is turning towards values of environmental sustainability.
We first explore how and to what extent residents of the EV express political and moral concerns when accounting for their choice and practising their lifestyle. We ask whether residents of Hurdal EV perceive themselves as being associated with a wider EV lifestyle movement, the intention of which is to produce social change. We follow Holland et al.’s [10
] (p. 97) definition of a social movement’s collective identity as “participants’ shared sense of the movement as a collective actor—as a dynamic force for change—that they identify with and are inspired to support in their own actions”. Second, we focus on how the collective identity of the ecovillage in question changed over time. We acknowledge the possibility that there are multiple intentions, practices, and (partly shared) identities within the EV. Furthermore, following Sargisson’s [2
] observation of the need for an EV to distance itself from the surrounding society, we are particularly interested in examining the relationship between the EV, the local community, and mainstream society, as it evolved over time, and which contributed to forming Hurdal EV’s identity (cf. the notion of ‘alter-versions’ treated by Holland et al. [10
] (p. 106)). This perspective resonates with classical anthropological work [11
] (p. 10) on group identity and belonging. To social groups, maintenance of boundaries (distance to other groups) is an enduring concern.
This study primarily reflects various groups’ perceptions of each other and does not seek to trace structural influences which the EV may potentially on mainstream society (which may be changing for different reasons). Thus, we do not provide a full account of the translation process which ultimately leads to diffusion. However, we show how the EV relates to mainstream society and argue that this micro-study of the dynamic relationship between an EV and its surroundings provides some insights into understanding translation processes in general. As we will show, a key feature in this process involves a certain level of tension in terms of ecovillagers’ need to handle and balance two contradictory concerns: their wish to influence mainstream society on the one hand, and maintaining their own, unique identity on the other. For these purposes, we examine various types of relationships that have contributed to the creation of Hurdal EV. This includes internal relationships in the EV, and the ecovillagers’ relationship with the local population in Hurdal and with mainstream society. We draw on in-depth interviews with residents, representatives of the local population, and with the developer/architect of the EV.
The next section presents a brief review of the literature on EVs and intentional communities. Section 3
accounts for the methods used in this study. In Section 4
, we present Hurdal municipality and two key phases in the development of the EV. Section 5
presents the motivation of today’s ecovillagers for moving to Hurdal EV, and accounts for various types of relationships that have contributed to the creation of Hurdal EV. In Section 6
, we discuss the findings, and Section 7
presents a conclusion.
2. Literature Review
Intentional communities are defined by Kozeny [12
] (p. 18) as:
[…] a group of people who have chosen to live together with a common purpose, working cooperatively to create a lifestyle that reflects their shared core values. The people may live together on a piece of rural land, in a suburban home, or in an urban neighbourhood, and they share a single residence or live in a cluster of dwellings.
The current EV movement forms part of what has been described as the fourth wave of ‘intentional communities’ [13
]. Smith [13
] draws on Kanter [14
], who identified the three earliest periods of intentional or communal development in the United States: the first wave was devoted to communities with a religious theme (continued up to 1845), the second emphasized economic and political issues (lasted up to 1930), and the third focused on psychosocial issues (peaked in the late 1960s). The current movement of intentional communities, including the growing number of EVs, is characterised by eclecticism and is “not as alienated from mainstream culture as were their predecessors; and they appear to be more adept at balancing individual and community needs” [13
] (p. 111).
Globally, the increasing concern for climate change and the environment over the past decades has spurred renewed interest in intentional communities as potential models for sustainable living [15
]. EVs tend to highlight four ‘pillars’ on which the movement is based: environment, economy, community, and consciousness [16
]. Because EVs vary considerably in terms of which pillars are emphasized, Litfin uses the metaphor of ‘the windows of a house’ to highlight how different EVs embrace the four pillars to varying extents and in different ways [16
] (p. 31). One example is the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland, which started as a spiritual community in the 1960s but which—since the 1980s and negotiations surrounding the Rio Summit—came to include environmental sustainability as a central pillar or ‘window’. Renewed interest in EVs should thus be understood in the context of increasing concerns about the environment. Kaspar [17
] considers the EV movement as an attempt to create an integrated ethic in which both humans and nature are considered to have a value in their own right. Moreover, dissatisfaction with societal trends towards further segmentation of people and nature, development away from community principles, and withdrawal from political participation, appear to motivate the formation of EVs [17
Current EV initiatives may also qualify as ‘lifestyle movements’ [3
] (p. 2). By introducing this concept, Haenfler et al. [19
] (p. 2) aim to bridge theories associated with social movements on the one hand, and lifestyles on the other. They seek to place the analytical focus on the “intersections of private action and movement participation, personal change and social change, and personal identity and collective identity”. Lifestyle movements (in line with political consumerism and socially conscious consumption) represent ways in which individuals express political and moral concerns outside explicitly political realms such as voting and protesting practices [20
] (p. 452). Here, lifestyle choices constitute the protagonists’ main strategy to obtain social change, and personal identity work plays a key role [19
] (p. 8). Lifestyle movements and scholarly literature pertaining to this subject are closely linked to studies of grassroot movements and niches which, in part, form sources of systemic change or societal transformation (see for instance, [5
Through their oft-articulated intention to change society by promoting and practising sustainable living, an important question is whether EV practices are diffused to mainstream society. Summarising works by different scholars [5
], Boyer [3
] points to three different pathways in which niche projects diffuse their practices to mainstream society:
Replication, meaning that practices (for instance the building of straw bale houses) spread through a network of dedicated activists, but are limited to that networks.
Scaling up beyond a network of activists—for instance diffusion of photovoltaics—and spreading to different groups in mainstream society.
Translation, where practices from the niches diffuse into mainstream society at a higher institutional level; for instance to municipal planning or building practices.
] considers specifically the last point on translations between niches and mainstream society, analysing the interactions between them. He shows how niche diffusion requires sufficient common ground between the niche and the practices of mainstream society to impact the latter. Three different types of translation between the niche and the regime are identified: (1) How a societal problem guides the principles of the niche; for instance, how pressing issues of sustainability motivate the establishment of lifestyle movements and their guiding principles; (2) How interactions between the niche and mainstream society modify practices and strategies of the two; for instance, by adapting niche practices to lessons learnt about the mainstream; and (3) How pressing societal problems alter the context of the mainstream, bringing the latter closer to the conditions in the niche. Furthermore, Smith [5
] (p. 440) proposes that niches that are too much in line with mainstream society will lead to little change, while radical niches too divergent from the mainstream will become detached and will only diffuse their practices to a limited extent. Hence, he concludes that translation most likely happens in intermediate projects where the sociotechnical contexts between the niche and mainstream society might be bridged. Niches such as lifestyle movements might need to compromise elements of their ideology in order to engage with mainstream actors and facilitate the translation from niche to mainstream [3
] offers an account of the conditions that underlie diffusion pathways. It draws on in-depth studies with founders of cohousing initiatives in the US. While the cohousing movement articulates a socio-environmental critique and provides an alternative that mitigates some of the adverse effects of mainstream society, it also works in and with institutions in mainstream society [23
]. Boyer [4
] illustrates the importance of this pragmatic strategy in the translation process towards mainstream society. He also shows how the intermediacy of cohousing initiatives helps the translation process by its pragmatism. For instance, it does not demand that the residents abandon their economic independence or adhere to specific values or belief systems. The factors of success and the failure of grassroot initiatives like the lifestyle movements are investigated in the study by Seyfang [6
]. She studies grassroot initiatives as strategic green niches with a potential for diffusion into mainstream society. Through studying community-based sustainable housing initiatives in the US, she points to the challenges of diffusing their ideas and practices beyond the niche. This is due to the fact that grassroot movements might need to invest a lot of effort into maintaining their community and ideas. However, she also points out that the translation processes of niche practices into mainstream society require certain political and social contexts in order to occur: “Socio-technical transformations cannot be achieved by niches alone” [6
] (p. 7632). The factors for success and failure of niches are also investigated by Feola and Nunes [9
]. They define success according to how niches manage to create social connectivity and empowerment, and contribute to improved environmental performance, also externally. The authors show that many of the members in these initiatives tend to focus on internal factors rather than external ones to secure their own development. The members also tend to pay little attention to material resources, which may be because of their heavy reliance on volunteers (also pointed out by [1
]). Further, an initial incubation period seems to be an important explanatory factor for the success of these movements, as is a simultaneous interaction process between the niche and mainstream society, as also pointed out by Smith [5
]. Feola and Nunes [9
] emphasize that the local context matters for the success of the initiatives, and that geographical location and place attachment may also play a role. Urban grassroot initiatives are apparently less successful than their rural counterparts, which they suggest can be explained by a weaker local place attachment [9
]. In line with this, but also expanding on the focus of Feola and Nunes [9
], Nicolosi and Feola [8
] studied a suburban grassroot initiative in the US. The local context played an important role in its success, but so did networking with other grassroot movements, cultivating an environment where they could perform experiments of social and environmental change.
] also studies the dynamic relationship between a grassroot initiative such as an EV and the mainstream society that surrounds it. She conducted a joint analysis of identity formation among ecovillagers on the one hand, and the macro-political structures on the other. The author showed that some of the studied ecovillagers (in the United States) projected a collective identity by attempting to be ‘a model of sustainable living’ for mainstream society [7
] (p. 49). However, the ecovillagers had no unified vision of how to achieve this goal. Ergas [7
] (p. 43) also found that the ecovillagers’ relationship with the dominant cultural structure is interactive. Here, mainstream society both provided opportunities for and posed constraints on sustainable living (e.g., local housing codes). In response, the ecovillagers sought to push back by modifying the limiting structures [7
] (p. 50). This is an important type of relationship that will be examined in the present work.
Moreover, pointing to the importance of the political and social contexts for a successful translation of niche practices into mainstream society, North and Longhurst [24
] argue that proximity to larger power structures may lead to more visibility and possibilities to transfer niche practices to other places. They thus challenge Feola and Nunes’ [9
] conclusion that grassroot initiatives face more challenges in urban settings. North and Longhurst [24
] argue that urban areas have a diversity of actors who are able to work on developing grassroot initiatives, and hence, add more robustness to the movement. Sager [25
] elaborates these arguments by showing how intentional communities in urban areas may succeed in using activist planning to influence their position vis-à-vis municipalities, and in bringing their ideas to political decision-makers as a result of their proximity to these actors.
The potential mutual influence between conventional, mainstream architecture and traditional ecological architecture has been studied from the perspective of science and technology studies. Ecological architecture (often employed in EVs) aims at low-tech alternatives using local resources, and often demands active involvement from the inhabitants when building the houses [26
]. Berker and Larssæther [27
] refer to the architecture used in the first phase of the Hurdal project as “experimental building projects within and outside of the ecovillage movement” [27
] (p. 103). As we will discuss later, the project consisted of low-tech, self-built houses using local materials, and confirmed the idea of traditional ecological architecture as home-spun and low-tech [26
]. The majority of architects in Norway perceived this type of architecture as rather uninteresting and poorly designed [28
]. Drawing on the work of Ryghaug [28
], Sørensen [26
] notes that, in the realm of architecture, it is the concept of sustainability associated with traditional ecological architecture that has been mainstreamed. This is in contrast with technologies like electric cars where the materials, practices, and processes are mainstreamed, and not the concept. However, as we will show, Hurdal EV went through different phases with radically different architectural designs; we will discuss how this affected the relationship between the EV and the local population.
We selected Hurdal EV as our case because it is the largest ecovillage in Norway. It also has an interesting historical trajectory, in that some of its characteristics as an ecovillage have changed over the years. As we elaborate below, the ecovillage shifted from a reliance on jointly owned, self-built houses and self-sufficiency to a pragmatic approach with ready-made houses and less emphasis on subsistence. By studying this shift and how interactions between various types of actors contributed to shaping the ecovillage, this case provides insights into how the ideas and concepts associated with an ecovillage are formed through a dynamic relationship with mainstream society. This relationship is important for understanding processes of translation.
Our main empirical material derives from interviews, as presented below. We also reviewed reports and visited previous studies and websites focusing on the Hurdal case. Two sources were particularly useful for understanding the history of the EV ([30
]), and our account in Section 4.2
relies on a triangulation between information deriving from these sources and material collected during interviews. We also reviewed the general literature, previous studies, and online material. In the scoping phase, we searched scholarly databases for relevant literature using keywords such as ‘ecovillage’, ‘intentional communities’, ‘sustainable living’, ‘community’, and ‘Hurdal’. In the revision phase, we received useful input on additional references from two anonymous reviewers. We participated in the Hurdal Sustainable Valley Festival in 2015. The festival is an annual event organised by Hurdal municipality and attended by national politicians and well-known NGOs. During this event, we observed how the municipality representatives spoke about sustainability as a central element of Hurdal’s collective identity, and how they presented the EV as a central part of the municipality’s way of achieving sustainability. This event also gave us the opportunity to mingle informally with both participants in the EV and outsiders. To gain insight into the EV movement, we visited Findhorn Ecovillage, regarded as one of the first of its kind and often termed ‘the mother of all EVs’, in the UK in May 2016. We draw upon observations made by the research team on their frequent visits to Hurdal EV, as well as on reports and information retrieved online about Hurdal EV. The ecovillage also has two Facebook groups, one public and one private.
Hurdal EV has received substantial attention in the popular media. In 2015, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation [32
] produced a television documentary about Hurdal EV which claimed to document some of the challenges and conflicts experienced in the process of establishing the community. Our study also draws on the findings of this documentary.
3.1. Recruiting Respondents
In total, we conducted 23 in-depth interviews in 2016. Fifteen of these included individuals or families among the current 64 households (150 inhabitants) in the EV. Six interviews were held with people representing Hurdal’s local community (see below), and three were with individuals who played a central role in initiating and/or developing the EV: Kristin Seim Buflod (General Manager, Hurdal EV), Simen Torp (Filago) and Rolf Jacobsen (Aktivhus, formerly Gaia Architects). These three interviewees agreed to be identified by name in the present work. Seim Buflod is also one of the 15 ecovillagers interviewed.
With one exception, the ecovillagers were engaged in the current study through self-recruitment. One of the architects involved in developing the EV put us in contact with the communications adviser in Filago. Filago is a Norwegian company that develops and builds EVs. The communication adviser wrote an email to all the EV inhabitants describing the project and inviting them to participate in interviews. Fourteen households responded and were interviewed. In addition, we recruited one couple spontaneously while visiting the EV. All the interviews with the ecovillagers took place in their homes, and lasted approximately one and a half hours.
Respondents not affiliated with Hurdal EV were contacted directly by looking up their names online, calling them, and following up with emails. They included the mayor, the head of planning and building services in the Hurdal municipality, and four municipal employees (working at the primary school and in the commercial services sector). In addition to the 23 formal interviews, we talked to other individuals and groups we met in the Hurdal town centre and at the café in Fremtidssmia, the recently opened (2016) cultural centre run by the EV. These informal meetings provided additional insights into the relationships and interactions between EV inhabitants and the local population in Hurdal.
3.2. Interview Topics and Strategy for Analysing the Material
The interviews were semi-structured, which allowed the respondents to bring up issues of concern. We developed a specific interview guide for each of the three types of respondents (Hurdal EV, municipal staff, and people from the local community). Generally, after introducing ourselves and the project, we provided information about how the data would be collected, stored and used, and asked for consent to record the interviews. All participants received information about the project, including their right to withdraw, and how we would manage anonymity.
The interviews with the ecovillagers covered four main topics. First, we asked about their background (age, gender, family background, occupation, where they came from), their consumption practices in general, and their reasons for moving to Hurdal EV. Second, we asked them to elaborate on their experiences of living in the EV (the house, the solar panel and other equipment, social aspects, organisation of daily life, etc.) and whether their habits, consumption patterns and attitudes had changed after moving to the EV. Third, we invited them to reflect on their relationships with fellow inhabitants in the EV and with the local community. Finally, we asked about their views on broader issues such as the role of EVs in mainstream society.
The interviews with the local population centred on their views on the process of establishing the EV and on the relationship between the local administration/population and the EV. In the interviews with the EV developers, we focused on the process and the various individuals, technologies, and relationships involved.
Four researchers conducted the interviews, most of them individually. With three exceptions, the interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. To help structure the analysis, we produced a coding tree with key issues from the interview guide, and systemised and coded the material accordingly.
5. Identities and Relationships
This section begins by presenting ecovillagers’ expressed motivation for moving to the EV. This will help us answer the question of whether ecovillagers perceive themselves as part of a lifestyle movement. We then examine how ecovillagers relate to each other and to other internal ‘actors’ such as houses and smart technology, and how they relate to the local community. We discuss the implications of the findings in Section 6
5.1. Stating Intentions: Why Move to Hurdal Ecovillage?
Our EV respondents varied in terms of when and why they moved to the ecovillage. Some of them had been there almost from the start while others had moved there recently. All expressed a wish to achieve a sustainable lifestyle. Two main types of motivation were mentioned, which we term ‘community’ and ‘example’. Though several respondents reported both types of motivation, most of them emphasized one in particular.
The first category, ‘community’, denotes respondents who said they were primarily motivated by the opportunity to join a community, both to meet other people with shared values, and to get away from conventional society where they found that their attitudes, views, and practices were at odds with or diverged from what was considered ‘normal’. The other category, ‘example’, denotes respondents who used the word ‘example’ to convey that their motivation for moving to the EV was to demonstrate to others what sustainable living may imply, and to inspire others to do likewise. As we elaborate below, the first type of motivation is directed inwards, while the second draws attention to the role of the EV and mainstream society.
5.1.1. Seeking a Sense of Community
The importance of social belonging was a theme in many of the respondents’ accounts. One male respondent (PH1) told us: ‘For sure, the dream is to have an environment that one recognizes and feels at ease with.’ A female respondent (PH2) provided more details:
There are people here who don’t think you are strange because you make such choices. Because you buy used clothes or don’t buy clothes. There is a complete understanding from people who live here. And it helps feeling that people understand you. I have received strange looks and things like that [outside the EV].
Other community-oriented respondents complained about the barriers to sustainable living in mainstream society:
We are environmentally conscious and think it may be difficult to have an environmentally friendly lifestyle in our society. In that respect, it’s no coincidence that we’re here.
These quotes signal that the respondents had felt uncomfortable or constrained when living in conventional communities, which is why they wanted to move to the EV. People in this group elaborated on different aspects of the community dimension and on what living here meant to them. Some were preoccupied with giving their children a good upbringing in what they termed the ‘protective environment’ provided by the EV. Others, as PH2 above, said that they found it valuable to meet people who shared the same views as themselves when it came to consumption patterns and other issues. A passion for growing their own food was another highly motivating factor for moving to the EV.
On the issue of spirituality, six of our respondents specifically mentioned that it was important to them that the EV did not place too much emphasis on spirituality. At the same time, some ecovillagers said they appreciated the possibility to practice spirituality without being judged by others in the EV community.
5.1.2. Setting an Example
Some people said that their main motivation for moving to the EV was to “set an example” and actively seek to be pioneers who showed the way for others. They stressed the importance (six out of seven ‘examples’) of being part of a lifestyle movement that contributed to social change with respect to food consumption, transport, housing, and how people live together. For that purpose, they reflected on how their own activities match the ‘normal’ criteria set by mainstream society:
So we thought, okay, we want to try to live a bit more sustainably, or like push and see how far we can go, but at the same time, like, that it’s within the four walls of society and within normal boundaries. The good thing about being part of this project is that it’s, like, pretty … easily accessible in that respect. To the general public, too.
Hence, in terms of setting an example, the link to society was important and should be actively maintained, as PH14 further elaborated:
Then there was, at least one of the most important questions to me, was … to get an impression of whether this was some sort of isolated unit, a little village on its own that took a step away from society to do something different, or if they actually were part of wider society and tried to take part in creating something.
5.2. The Developers: The Architect Aktivhus and Contractor Filago
Respondents expressed mixed feelings about the architect and contractor. On the one hand, they expressed admiration for the houses and the contractors: “Innovation takes time, innovation is frustrating” (PH6). They appreciated the physical structure and quality of the housing. Few of them spoke about aesthetics, but many conveyed satisfaction with living in houses built from materials they considered to have a limited environmental impact. Several emphasized the good indoor quality and the direct access to outdoor air through valves rather than having a closed system of balanced ventilation. One respondent with a background in natural sciences said he highly appreciated the fact that the houses were not concealed “aluminium tins”, and referred negatively to passive houses. On the other hand, the respondents expressed dissatisfaction with several technical aspects of the houses (particularly in the early Phase 2), and the way in which their complaints were met by Filago, Aktivhus, and subcontractors. Respondents complained about draughts around uneven window frames, cracks in kitchen countertops and yellowing grout. Several also commented that the materials had been processed and shipped from eastern Europe and processed in Denmark—hence transported over considerable distances, with environmental implications.
A common question was: who would be financially responsible when technical problems occurred. Our respondent from Aktivhus underlined that his company was responsible for ensuring that the houses functioned. However, delays in getting things fixed and the lack of response to emails made many residents question this promise and Filago’s financial capacity to do the necessary work. Some respondents also doubted whether Filago “is as idealistic as they claim to be”. Others were uncertain of what property (the farm and the cultural centre) Filago actually owns today, or were sceptical about Filago’s previous involvement with a Czech company that went bankrupt after supplying building materials to the EV. Finally, there was considerable confusion among residents regarding the distribution of responsibilities between the ecovillagers and the three actors on the supply side: Aktivhus (the architect), Filago (the contractor), and various subcontracting firms. One of the points of confusion was that some individuals were said to be working for both Filago and Aktivhus. From the perspective of our respondent from Aktivhus, the shift from Phase 1 to Phase 2 represented a risk, in the sense that the people moving to the EV might lack commitment to engage in joint activities. For example, one year after Phase 2 began, there was uncertainty as to whether the new generation of ecovillagers would be interested in taking part in running the farm and/or establishing new joint initiatives.
The ecovillagers, on the other hand, argued that they did indeed possess the capacity to initiate activities. Most of the interviewed families belonged to at least one of many groups initiated by the ecovillagers (dancing courses, painting courses, wine club, Friday club for women, yoga courses, outdoor recreation, boating groups), and were by default part of the residents’ association (beboerforening
), to which many contributed on a voluntary basis. Though there were some complaints about some individuals being ‘free riders’ rather than contributing to the common good, our interviewees were more concerned that Filago should relinquish some of its responsibilities.
I think many people, us included, expected that Filago and Aktivhus would not decide so much. After all, people have come here to discuss things thoroughly. So it kills our enthusiasm a little.
Because people thought they could just start things here. I can shovel snow in the winter, so someone asked Filago if that was ok, and they said they’d already thought about that, so don’t bother. So then that person lost all motivation.
Hence, there seems to be a mismatch between expectations regarding decision-making, with some residents calling for more independence while Aktivhus and Filago retain control to ensure the project’s viability. One woman put it this way: “People don’t want to follow [the developer’s] dream, but their own dream” (PH3).
5.3. The Local Community
The value of social involvement with the local community was often highlighted by the ecovillagers. Several expressed the importance of maintaining contact with mainstream society to avoid becoming isolated from it.
But I do hope there will be more … how can I put it … sort of integration. Between us and people in the village. I think it’s … well I think it’s important. That we don’t become some kind of sect.
Moreover, it was the outward reach of the EV that had triggered some of the respondents to move to the EV (Section 5.1
). Many ecovillagers regarded the Fremtidssmia
cultural centre and the open courses (in dancing and painting) that were attended by people from Hurdal as a bridge between them and the local population (PH13). One man said he liked to exchange knowledge and gain traditional botanical knowledge in Hurdal (mapping meadow flora, PH14). However, another man remarked that some events were not so suited to the local population because they were too alternative or “very hippy-oriented”.
The respondents representing the Hurdal municipality spoke warmly of the EV’s influence on the local community, emphasizing the EV’s outreach and contributions to the Hurdal Sustainable Valley Festival and to activities involving the local school, where EV residents have taken part in teaching programmes: “Things move faster with their engagement” (HL2). They also expressed concern that not all EV families sent their children to the local school and stressed that Hurdal should be ‘a place in which people can dwell, live and work’ referring to the municipal strategy 2010.
Like the municipality employees, ordinary residents in Hurdal also acknowledged what they considered to be positive contributions of the EV. They pointed to the attention Hurdal had received nationally as a result of the EV, making Hurdal more visible:
How clever they’ve been in receiving all kinds of people, and that has opened, I mean, it’s put Hurdal clearly on the map right from the start, so there have been people from all over the world, and they’ve been here and worked for free.
However, local satisfaction with the EV for it putting Hurdal on the map did not erase former, local markers of identity. The notion of Huddøling (meaning a native of Hurdal) came up in interviews with local residents. They emphasized that in order to be a Huddøling, one had to be born there, and hence, it would be hard for anyone moving to the village to acquire this label. Despite 30 or even 50 years of living in Hurdal, an Oslo-born resident may still experience being excluded from certain social networks: “You are and remain an immigrant, in a way” (HL1).
The local respondents gave vivid accounts of the transition from Phase 1 to Phase 2, and of their perceptions of the radical change that occurred in the kind of people that came to live in the EV over the years.
But all the first houses they built down on the farm courtyard, they were those straw houses covered with concrete on the outside, and that’s eco … eco … well, the beginning, in a way. And then … then we saw it for years … that those who were living there, it was all foot-shaped shoes and lilac scarves and thinking how living in the countryside was all lovely and cosy, everything had to be cultivated and … they nearly froze to death in the winter.
Other comments about the first phase of the development of the EV included questions about the ecovillagers’ financial capability: “You can’t make a living from eating apples and carrots” (HL3); and about their lack of hygiene and tidiness: “The children were dirty and had problems at school” (HL1). However, local inhabitants also acknowledged the increase in economic activity that the EV had brought to the area and regarded this as a shift in relations towards greater ‘reciprocity’ (HL4).
Some local inhabitants also reported how some ecovillagers caused feelings of inferiority within the local community: “They’re posher than us” (HL1). Strengthening this impression of a hierarchy, local residents highlighted that the EV residents now had proper jobs and were living in “nice houses worth three million kroner upwards, more than other houses in Hurdal”.
7. Concluding Remarks
In this paper we have examined how the actors involved in Hurdal EV have interacted over time and contributed to shaping the ecovillage. The study shows how the ecovillagers have sought to maintain a distance between themselves as a group and the wider community while balancing the various values and practical implications of living in accordance with such values. It demonstrates how the ecovillage as a concept is changing, both internally within the ecovillage community and vis-à-vis mainstream society. The different phases of developing Hurdal EV illustrate the importance of adopting an intermediate project [4
] for translating practices from a niche—such as the EV project—to mainstream society. Adopting a pragmatic approach towards developing the EV, as was done in the second phase of Hurdal EV, is at least one element for success in this translation process.
The journey towards this more pragmatic strategy for developing Hurdal EV also involved modifying the pillars on which it was built. Only two of the four pillars of EVs [16
] are clearly embraced by the Hurdal ecovillagers in the second phase of the development: community and eco-friendly living. The economy and consciousness pillars tend to be played down and kept more private. Most of the ecovillagers come to the EV to enjoy community life and share their interest in leading an eco-friendly lifestyle. Some of them openly emphasize a wish to contribute to a lifestyle movement where their practices and ideas lead to social change. Others have a more inward orientation. When living in their previous neighbourhoods, the ecovillagers we met had sometimes experienced disapproval of their lifestyle, but in the EV they did not encounter such social sanctions. Despite their somewhat different emphases, however, they are all participants in a lifestyle movement, promoting private action towards social change, and cultivating a meaningful identity [19
The adoption of a more pragmatic strategy in the second phase of the project has narrowed the gap between the EV and mainstream society. In the beginning, the EV inhabitants were largely isolated from the local community and were looked upon as odd. However, by mainstreaming the EV concept and practices through revising ecological architecture and streamlining a top-down process for promoting, constructing and selling houses, and recruiting new ecovillagers, Hurdal EV earned more esteem and acceptance for their values and practices from mainstream society. Moreover, the increasing general acknowledgement of environmental problems contributed to normalising the EV. In this process, the ecovillage as a concept was modified by different stakeholders and outsiders who contributed to the negotiations about what the EV should be.
This study clearly confirms the argument put forward by Smith [5
] and Boyer [3
] that the success of translation hinges on intermediate, bridging projects. Correspondingly, we find that Hurdal EV’s pragmatic choices and adjustments to move closer to mainstream society facilitated a bridging between the EV as a niche and mainstream society. It also illustrates the perceived risks associated with the EV should it move too close to mainstream practices, as losing its identity would also mean losing its ability to promote an alternative to mainstream lifestyles. Where this line should be drawn is contextually dependent and therefore dynamic, and involves work that is both inwardly and outwardly directed. What would too mainstream a practice entail for its ability to foster social change?