University of Sussex
Jones, Andrea.pdf (5.94 MB)

Alternative capital, friendship and emotional work: what makes it possible to live in intentional communities into older age

Download (5.94 MB)
posted on 2023-06-09, 05:06 authored by Andrea Jones
This research explores what makes it possible for older members to live in intergenerational intentional communities in the South of England. These are uncommon entities within the UK; they are purposefully communally organised living arrangements adopting philosophies of mutual support. There is growing interest in intentional communities as potentially positive housing choices for later life, but no research has been undertaken exploring ageing in them. I used a Bourdesian theoretical framework, exploring the economic, social and cultural capital that individuals commonly drew on in order to become members of their community (habitus) and to live day-to-day. I enhanced this approach by incorporating theorising from the fields of housing, cultural gerontology and care ethics, contributing to debates about the use of Bourdesian methods. I used qualitative research methods: a telephone survey of 22 communities and 23 interviews with members aged over 50, within 9 communities. I found that half the communities had members aged over 60; all were intergenerational. I identified key economic differences between communities: individual-ownership models, which required individual financial investment upon entry (CoHousing) and social-ownership models, which did not (Housing Co-operatives and a squat); two were hybrid models. The social-ownership intentional communities were more open to diverse potential new members. The cost of living was often very low, though this depended on the age of the community (generational capital) and the extent of sharing by members (collaboration). Long-standing housing Co-operatives had accumulated affordability capital and represented more radical transgression of the orthodoxies of UK housing and household formation under neo-liberal capitalist conditions (practical utopias). The cost of living in the CoHousing communities was individualised and similar to conventional homeownership. The CoHousing communities were more aligned with dominant property systems, gaining symbolic power through this. Whilst participants from both types of communities shared certain dispositions and affinities (habitus), there was there was diversity based on traditional distinctions such as social or occupational class, or housing pathways. Bourdesian-type social and cultural capital were important, but in the form of alternative capital - constituted by critical thinking about conventional choices in life (reflexivity) and adoption of alternative, resistant hierarchies of cultural and social values. This enabled interviewees’ agency and provided currency within the communities. It was sometimes linked to individual experiences of 1970s counter culture movements. Living in an intentional community at one point in life did not necessarily equate to a lifetime’s commitment to this lifestyle - individual affiliation to a community could also be fleeting and ambivalent. Emotional work made living in all communities possible, including tolerance and adaptability. Compromise was structured into all communities decision-making to varying degrees (consensus decision-making). Interviewees considered contributing to community life, friendships, commitment and consideration of the needs of others (informal ethics of reciprocal care) important. Ageing and reciprocal relations of care were delicate matters, not spoken of explicitly in any community. Some interviewees were sure about staying in their community into older age. Most felt ambivalent. There were normative feelings about ageing, such as fears of dependency and determination to remain active (dominant discourses of successful ageing). Whilst intergenerational living was considered positive by all, some tensions were revealed. The ageing of established communities seemed to be challenging their informal and implicit value and mutual support systems. I argued intentional communities might benefit from greater acknowledgement and consideration of issues raised by ageing, to effectively support those moving into later life. By shining a light on these unnoticed, often transgressive experiments in community living, I have shed light onto taken-for-granted housing choices in the UK and to show how limited those choices have become, particularly in older age.


File Version

  • Published version



Department affiliated with

  • Social Work and Social Care Theses

Qualification level

  • doctoral

Qualification name

  • phd


  • eng


University of Sussex

Full text available

  • Yes

Legacy Posted Date


Usage metrics

    University of Sussex (Theses)


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager