“Well, something piratical is happening. It is time to rescue the stories, re-hydrate the language, scatter dialectical inflection amongst the blunt lines of anthropological scribbles, muck up the typewriter with the indigo surge of whale ink.” -Martin Shaw

What is a NeoTribe?

The sociological concept of neo-tribalism suggests that human beings have evolved to live in tribal society as opposed to mass society.

Far from the pages of academic literature, we’ve noticed that more and more people are self-organizing around new forms of collective identity. From hackerspaces to co-living communities, to eco-villages to festival culture to movements for collaborative economy and cooperative ownership, we believe we’re in the throes of a re-tribalizing moment. Many of the longings of the 60s are being re-mixed for a digital age by a new generation thoughtful about building alternative forms of governance, but without delusions of separateness to entirely “escape the system”.

We as NeoTribes, an emerging collective of neo-tribal communities, have come together to ask some timely questions and create a frame through which we all may continue to develop common language, wisdom and practical know-how. We are experimental communities searching for viable alternative forms of living in an era of deep transition. We are digital natives yearning for an analogue reality that is marked by the physicality of existence. We strive to align our pace of life with natural rhythms that make space for love, trust, belonging and solidarity – values too often absent from mass society. Since September 2015, we’ve been gathering in digital meeting rooms as well as face-to-face for learning journeys in Brazil, Berlin and Costa Rica, forging bonds of trust between our communities, and making space for reflecting on who we are, where we are heading and why we feel the way we do about the present moment.  

Below is a taste of the living questions, intuitive patterns and generative tensions that have emerged during this journey so far.

LIVING QUESTION # 1:  Why are neo-tribes emerging at this time?

Speaking from a place of change in global macroeconomics, we have identified number of drivers for this reexamination of how we organize ourselves, including:

  • Unprecedented inequality in distribution of capital and resources
  • Industrial standardization of our surroundings
  • Breakdown of social support systems
  • Massive externalization of environmental costs
  • Exponential diffusion of technological innovation
  • Growing entrepreneurial and freelancer culture
  • Digital revolution that brings:
    • Unprecedented awareness of the challenges of our times
    • Connection with like-minded people from all over the world

Each of these macro trends has an emotional underbelly. In many ways the “neo-tribal” moment is being ushered in by a deep longing to escape cultures that belong to a bygone era.

Many of us are dealing with symptoms related to:

  • A crisis of meaning and the failures of secularism – sense of drifting without orientation
  • Burnout and time poverty, increasing alienation and “zombification” of life
  • Disconnection from nature and human rhythms
  • Crisis of trust in institutions and disenchantment with government and democratic process
  • Incapacity for agency within bureaucracies

While we often try to heal these emotional symptoms with therapies targeted at the atomized self, as neo-tribes we’re recognizing the interdependence of personal well-being and structural forces. Self-help needs to be radicalized to encompass not just my own “seeking” and healing, but an awareness that my own pain is also connected to forces outside of my control – macroeconomic and cultural trends. Individual, community and global well-being are interrelated.

The poetic challenge becomes a task of reperceiving the prison of individual discomfort, not as personal failing, but as structural unravelling. Practically that means that we are excited about the promise of new forms of collective identity and organization to deliver us from some of the harms inflicted by “mass society.” But we maintain humility in watching for the shadows and micro-tyrannies that may come to animate some of our emerging tribes.

GENERATIVE TENSION 1: Neo vs. Ancient

The tribal life is precious because it is tested out. For 3,000,000 years it worked for people. It worked for people the way nests work for birds, the way webs work for spiders, the way burrows work for moles. That doesn’t make it lovable, it makes it viable.”- Daniel Quinn

What is so “neo” about these tribes that are cropping up? For millennia humans have been testing various forms of social architecture – ways of living together. Scientifically speaking that means we have a whole array of experimental petri-dishes to sample from. The radical history of communitarian movements in England in the 1640s, the idealism of 19th century American utopias, hippie communitarianism of the 1960’s, the solidarity economies inspired by Latin American liberation theology in the 1980s, the parallel wisdom of indigenous peoples fighting for justice and way of life around the world, we are not without a dense history of experiments – a lineage of co-conspirators that mark the ages.      

We feel enormously grateful to be able to learn from the tribes that have come before us.  But we’re also living and working in a context remarkably different from any of the pressures confronted in the past. As society, we face a period marked by environmental collapse, mass migration, accelerated conflict, and a technological transformation that is putting us on a path towards distributed forms of energy, education, and finance. Trends toward decentralization and the desire for local living patterns are conditioned by the Internet, which reroutes power to the local and to the “long tail” of possibilities for niche communities.

We are in a moment of cultural evolution that is decidedly different from anything we’ve seen to date. Perhaps its signature challenge is how to be informed by ancient wisdom and indigenous practices without superficially appropriating or extracting culture from the people and places where it emerged.

GENERATIVE TENSION 2: Autonomy vs. Belonging

In many ways we are living out the hangover of an economic system that has prescribed a way of life incentivizing self-interest and hollowing out our sense of self-love. This script is beginning to expire. And so we find ourselves in a refreshing moment where we can honor a wellspring of pre-modern insight and seek after the wisdom that parallel cultures and folk psychology offer to unearth more connected and embodied ways of living. The idea is not to move beyond individual identity and autonomy, but to create space for the complex range of motivations and expressions that have been labeled unimportant or non-existent by neoliberal economics.

With this said, we aren’t naïvely cocooning ourselves in “Cumbaya collectivism.” We recognize the human need for a community where one can pursue belonging in the context of a collective, while also remaining autonomous, self-expressive and unique. We affirm that each individual should be witnessed and understood, without being pressured to disappear into group identity or camouflage her authenticity. We believe in the power of individual autonomy, and also in the power of mutualism. Many of our tribes are finding new ways to mutualize resources and build commons in the forms of shared operational infrastructure, housing, work spaces, food, and so on – without demanding that anyone martyr themselves for a higher cause.

For example, Enspiral, a neo-tribe in Wellington, New Zealand, has pioneered the mutualization of resources for freelancers and social entrepreneurs. The collective has created a tool called Co.Budget where the group can do participatory budgeting: portions of earned income are diverted to a common pool that can be spent on mutually agreed projects. The collective has also built a shared infrastructure for accounting and operations that allows “solo-entrepreneurs” to benefit from membership in a purpose-driven community, while reducing the overhead of running one’s own business.

GENERATIVE TENSION 3: Openness vs. Coherence

In constructing our communities, many of us think about how to create a place of shared identity, while also maintaining inclusivity. Traditional tribes are often very closed. You inherit an identity based on kinship and the place you were born. But neo-tribes most often represent your “chosen tribe.” You opt in, and can have multiple tribal allegiances or cycle through different tribes in a lifetime.  

The challenge for neo-tribes is that radical openness can water down shared values and erase intimacy. Larger groups can also reduce the ability to make collective decisions efficiently and stir up mistrust and conflict. One of the most important elements of growing a neo-tribe is thus focused on the who and the how, and not just the why.

For instance, Impact Hub, a global network of 80+ mission-aligned coworking spaces, has been through various cycles of near-breakdown in its quest to become a functioning collective of distributed communities, navigating the tensions between serving a movement, building a business and sustaining a network. Similarly, Burning Man, an annual gathering of 70,000+ co-creators experimenting with new forms of community, has seen its principles of radical inclusion, decommodification and radical self-reliance tested by an influx of mainstream culture and so-called “plug’n’play” camps in recent years.

We therefore ask how we can build communities that are simultaneously open and adept at preserving their core values. This feels increasingly important in a time when nationalism is on the rise and countries are closing their borders in the face of waves of mass migration.

GENERATIVE TENSION 4: Local vs. Global

Many of us feel that we’ve entered into an age of “peak democracy”, where our democratic processes, systems and national identities no longer reflect what we care about or how we wish to exercise our civic agency. We long to root down in local contexts, and often find more pride in the cities that we contribute to than the stale rhetoric of participation offered at a national level. At the same time, our digital infrastructure and social media has imparted to us a global consciousness. Through these channels we feel connected to catastrophes far from home including the global migration crises and the rise of “neo-fascist” politicians.

We draw inspiration from diverse political, social and cultural movements and the new strategies for organizing that are emerging from groups like Podemos in Spain and Fora do Eixo, a network of cultural collectives in Brazil. And so we are examining the role and value of transnational collectives and commons policy, and the potential of learning and strategies shared between diverse tribes of people and place.  

GENERATIVE TENSION 5: Nature vs. Urban

Lost in a sea of perpetual technological transition, modern man and woman find themselves increasingly alienated from the ecological choreography of the planet.” – Jeremy Rifkin

For many of us, the possibilities of “digital detox” and “off-grid” living have entered into common parlance. We’re drawn to nature, rural landscapes and decommodified simplicity as an antidote to modern urban life. But more deeply, neo-tribers are also exploring what a return to rural, regional and localized living would look like. Pandora Hub, a neo-tribe that originated in Spain embraces the simple goal of “living the good life in rural areas.” The group has initiated experiments ranging from co-living in an abandoned village to learning permaculture practices from rural Nepali communities. In a similar vein, the Global Ecovillage Network equips thousands of communities around the world with tools and skills, providing tangible examples of sustainability in action.

The tension that many of us currently feel is how to create lifestyles on principles of openness, geographic wanderlust, and cross-pollination, while also making long-term commitments to people and place. We want to be both a part of the progress and openness that is incubated in cities, while also maintaining links to the land through stewardship in ways that align our lives with the pace of natural cycles.

LIVING QUESTION 2: What do we want to do together?

We invite this movement, this groundswell emerging under the banner of NeoTribes, not as an absolute truth but rather as an invitation to listen. Instead of crying out and screaming “the world is on fire,” we seek to receive and live stories of demonstrated better ways.  Bringing idealistic principles from past movements into practice, we now have the technological tools to share, organize and regenerate— inspired by global success stories rooted deep within local place. The magic of this moment lies not in more development, another novelty project, or an isolated brand, but in a remembering of value, ethos, identity, belonging, purpose and power that come from a shared story.

Over the course of the next 6-months we will embark on a learning journey, crafting and curating a cookbook of practical “how to” wisdom from over 50+ neo-tribes around key themes related to community design, group practices and rituals, methods of self-organization and facilitation, and tools for governance, financing, and mutualism.

More information about gatherings and coursework can be found here: www.neotribes.co

Say hello at: [email protected]

OR join the group conversation on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1706731536226852/

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