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POLDERVAART, Saskia. "The Recurring Movements of "Free Love"

Sunday 9 March 2008, by ps

"Free Love and the Labour Movement". Papers presented at a workshop which was held at the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, on 6 and 7 October 2000.


When I was appointed assistant professor of women’s studies at the University of
Amsterdam more then 20 years ago, I needed to develop a research project. As
an active socialist and feminist, I was often astonished at the practice of maintain-
ing private households by most families. This led me to investigate alternative ar-
rangements that had been developed for families in the course of history. Studying
these alternatives, I discovered that the number of persons or groups that formu-
lated and implemented alternatives for family life is overwhelming. How can one
study all these ideas and practices? The theoretical ideas or concepts of three
very different theorists helped me develop my ideas about a history of alternatives
for family life (including housekeeping and sexuality).

One of these theorists is the American social scientist Benjamin Zablocki
(1980), who distinguishes various utopian (or communitarian) periods in history.
People have always dreamt about a better world, but these dreams have been
more common in some periods than in others. I also learned from Zablocki to dis-
tinguish between revolutionary and communitarian or utopian movements. The
most important difference is their strategy: utopian movements look for common
values and try to live up to them, they aim at an enjoyable life in the here and now;
revolutionary movements repudiate direct implementation of their ideals, because
they prefer to believe that the entire system has to be completely overthrown be-
fore the ideals can be lived. When both strategies are used, e.g. in some anarchist
groups or the contemporary squatters, these movements usually split up. It is not
surprising that alternative ideas about sexuality have for the most part been
worked out by utopians, not by revolutionary movements.

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