Social Sciences Directory
Vol. 2, No. 4, 2-8, October 2013
Proceedings of the 11 conference of the International Communal Studies Association
Revisiting Walden Two: sustainability from a
natural science perspective
Deborah Altus *
Washburn University, USA 1
Video of conference presentation: Not available
In his 1948 novel, Walden Two, B F Skinner proposed using principles and methods of natural science as a means to design a healthy society that was not only satisfying and meaningful to its residents but also socially and environmentally sustainable. A number of intentional communities were inspired by Skinner’s ideas, perhaps the most well-known of which is Twin Oaks, located near Louisa, Viginia, USA. Few Walden Two-inspired communities, however, maintained a focus on behavioural science for long, possibly because they misinterpreted Walden Two as a blueprint for a community rather than a call to use natural-science methods. Comunidad Los Horcones, near Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, is one group that has maintained its focus on natural science methods since its inception in 1973. Another group that used a science-based focus for several decades is Sunflower House, a Walden-Two inspired student housing cooperative in Lawrence, KS, USA. This paper will review the results of research conducted by the experimental living project at Sunflower House to see what lessons can be gleaned about designing sustainable social systems. B. F. Skinner was one of the most eminent psychologists, if not one of the most eminent th
scientists, of the 20 century (Haggbloom, et al., 2002; Rutherford, 2009). Through his laboratory research, he established a science of behavior – the experimental analysis of behavior – and its corresponding philosophy, radical behaviorism (see Morris, Smith & Altus, 2005), although he was perhaps best known for, and also vilified for, his popular writings, including Walden Two (1948) and Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971). Skinner originally wrote his utopian novel, Walden Two, in 1945, as The Sun is But a Morning Star – the title taken from the conclusion of Thoreau’s Walden (1854). In his 1979 autobiography, he indicated that the inspiration for writing the book came from a dinner party where he discussed what soldiers would do when they returned home from serving in World War II: He worried “…that they would abandon their crusading spirit and come back only to fall into the old lockstep American life – getting a job, marrying, renting an apartment, making a down payment on a car, having a child or two” (Skinner, 1979, p. 292). 1
The author would like to thank Edward K. Morris and L. Keith Miller of the University of Kansas, and Tom Welsh, Florida State University, for their collaboration on previous projects that inspired and influenced this paper.
Revisiting Walden Two 3
Instead, he felt that “they should experiment; they should explore new ways of living, as th
people had done in the communities of the 19 century” (p. 292). His dinner companion encouraged him to write down his ideas, and, so, Skinner set out in the same year to record on paper what it might look like to experiment with new ways of living. The subsequent book, Walden Two, was published three years later in 1948.
Skinner was not ignorant of the utopian movements and intentional communities of the past. In his 1979 autobiography (p. 292), he noted that he had grown up near the spot where Joseph Smith had dictated the Book of Mormon, had read about the Shakers and other perfectionist sects, and had gone to college near the site of the Oneida Community. He thought that most of the communities of the nineteenth century had come to an end for irrelevant reasons and he felt that young people in the post-war era might have better luck. He believed that “they could build a culture that would come closer to satisfying human needs...
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