Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hmm, Does an NY Times Trends Article Count as an Ethnographic Object?

Oh yes!

Recently I've been mulling over whether my dissertation project will be as holistic as I am (zing!), including a focus both on bicycling as an embodied practice and on cohousing/ resource sharing/ alternative economies. After one of my professors listened to me free associate about my interests last spring, he posed a very troubling question: is there an inherent link between bicycling and these alternative arrangements of home and money?
Well, there is where I live, LA Ecovillage, which has been the site of historic moments in the LA bike movement (founding of LACBC, founding of the Bike Kitchen), and where there's a major emphasis on alternative transportation.

But who needs her own experience when she can just point to the New York Times?

The linked article, on a trend toward intentional house sharing in NYC, has got it all, from references to bicycling as a common interest, to commenter Jay who claims, in somewhat broken terms (spelling does count, folks!), that since he did not have a positive experience sharing house, "communism does not work."
Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Not that I didn't know that many Americans don't know communism from Superman, but also ha ha!

(For the record, "communism" is far too loaded a term to use to describe something like four Jewish artists in Brooklyn sharing a lease).

One time when I was sharing a house, this guy went psycho and broke everything he could in the place, and then smeared some blood on a wall. There you go, "communism" does not work! Also, because I had not taken out the trash one time, he spat on my bed! But don't blame mental illness, blame "communism."

Another time, a severely depressed roommate reneged on an agreement and then gossiped to my best friend, causing a two year rift in our relationship. Flawed "communism" strikes again!

All those experiences aside, when I got to Los Angeles and felt like I was a vulnerable little animal riding my bicycle alone, surrounded by malicious, hungry, and motorized tons of steel (aka cars), nothing made me feel like I might become human again like visiting LA Ecovillage and discovering that not only was it possible to embrace my values in LA, I could also live in a community of fellow travelers.

It's not that co-housing ensures an impossibly utopian home life; it's that people are willing to put up with each other's occasional shit because it's a joint project. There's a big difference between intentional co-housing and five college kids smoking bongs in a living room they're mutually paying for. I'm sure there are millions of people out there who can't/don't understand that.

So for me it's all tied up; shedding a car, moving into cohousing, dealing with my intentionally offensive neighbor who shouts curses at even our most mild-mannered guests, learning how to feel safe riding a bike in LA.

If it takes evidence from the NY Times to prove to my dissertation committee that this thing, this movement of bodies and shared lives, is really happening, so be it, silly comments and all!