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Living Walden Two

Living Walden Two: B. F. Skinner's Behaviorist Utopia and Experimental Communities

HILKE KUHLMANN
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt1x74b1
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  • Book Info
    Living Walden Two
    Book Description:

    In Walden Two, behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner describes one of the most controversial fictional utopias of the twentieth century. During the 1960s and 70s, this novel went on to inspire approximately three dozen actual communities, which are entertainingly examined in Hilke Kuhlmann's Living Walden Two._x000B_In the novel, behavioral engineers use positive reinforcement in organizing and "gently guiding" all aspects of society, leaving the rest of the citizens "free" to lead happy and carefree lives. Among the real-world communities, a recurrent problem in moving past the planning stages was the nearly ubiquitous desire among members to be gentle guides, coupled with strong resistance to being guided. _x000B_In an insightful and often hilarious narrative, Hilke Kuhlmann explores the dynamics of the communities, with an in-depth examination of the two surviving Skinnerian communities: Comunidad Los Horcones in Mexico, and Twin Oaks in Virginia. Drawing on extensive interviews with the founders and key players in the Walden Two communities, Kuhlmann redefines the criteria for their success by focusing on the tension between utopian blueprints for a new society and communal experiments' actual effects on individual lives. _x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09165-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    B. F. SKINNER’SWalden Twois arguably the most influential and hotly debated fictional utopia of the twentieth century. In the early summer of 1945, Skinner envisioned a society finally set free from war, suffering, and personal unhappiness. The psychologist’s utopian vision as such was not unique, but his proposed technique for achieving the good life was: drawing on his laboratory experiments with rats and pigeons, Skinner thought that to change society effectively one had to change human behavior itself. To do this he suggested employing the techniques of behavioral engineering.

    Although Skinner had done research almost exclusively on animal...

  5. Part 1: B. F. Skinner’s Walden Two

    • 1 Walden Two: A Behaviorist Utopia
      (pp. 3-22)

      WALDEN TWO BEGINS, like so many other utopian novels, with a journey. In the year 1945, a cynical professor is approached by a former student who has just returned from military service. The student, Rogers, reminds his professor of a utopian community he once mentioned in class. One of the professor’s fellow graduate students, a man called Frazier, had always been planning to establish a community. Together they discover that Frazier actually followed through with his plan. Excited about the actual existence of a utopian community in their neighborhood, they write to the community and arrange for a visit. A...

    • 2 Behavioral Psychology and the Design of Society
      (pp. 22-30)

      SKINNER DEFENDED the social thinking that is at the root ofWalden Twoin numerous nonfictional writings. While I do not wish to equate Skinner’s fictional with his nonfictional writings, I do think that a reading ofWalden Twogains in depth when looking at Skinner’s later writings.

      The following discussion of Skinnerian behaviorism as expressed outside of his utopian novel will provide the context for the reception ofWalden Two,which will be examined in the next chapter.Walden Twowas his first explicit attempt at thinking through what his laboratory findings and experiments with animals might imply for...

    • 3 Skinner’s Utopian Vision and the Issue of Control
      (pp. 31-40)

      ACADEMIC AND PUBLIC REACTIONS to Skinner’s societal proposals suggest that the behavioral psychologist was correct in assuming that he would incense many people. His social thinking, as expressed relatively cautiously inWalden Twoand explicitly in nonfictional publications, has been attacked on many grounds by a multitude of critics. In the 1950s and 1960s, well-known critics, such as the humanist Joseph Wood Krutch, the psychologist Carl Rogers, the philosopher Arthur Koestler, and the linguist Noam Chomsky, all argued against Skinner’s call for a society run by behaviorists.

      Public debate about Skinner’s ideas lagged behind considerably. It was only in the...

  6. Part 2: The Reception of Walden Two among Behaviorists

    • 4 The Road Not Taken: Skinner, Experimental Communalism, and Token Economies
      (pp. 43-51)

      “ALMOST FROM THE MOMENT the book appeared,” reports Skinner’s biographer Daniel Bjork, there were “scattered efforts to start a behaviorally engineered community” (160). In 1948, a group of young people in Minneapolis, where Skinner had taught from 1936 to 1945, tried to set up an experimental community. A group at Yale made an effort to live communally along the lines ofWalden Twoin 1949, while another group led by Arthur Gladstone, again in New Haven, tried around 1955 (Skinner,Matter9; Bjork 160). However, all of these early efforts were short-lived and remained largely in the planning phase....

    • 5 Sunflower House
      (pp. 51-54)

      SUNFLOWER HOUSE is a student cooperative in Lawrence, Kansas, that was initiated by the behaviorist professor Keith Miller in 1969. Discovering funds left over from the dissolution of older student cooperatives in Lawrence, Miller led the way in the purchase of a house by the University of Kansas Student Housing Association (UKSHA), the agency in charge of the funds, for the explicit purpose of reestablishing a student cooperative (Sunflower House 11).

      The house was named the Campus Improvement Association, commonly abbreviated to CIA House, and almost immediately turned into a “hotbed of student activism.” Rather than being the site...

    • 6 Lake Village
      (pp. 55-69)

      DESPITE THE FACT that Skinner’s utopia was eagerly discussed in the academic realm, few Walden Two communities were born directly out of academia. One of them was Lake Village, founded in 1971. Although the community departed rapidly from the behaviorist path, Lake Village was originally conceptualized as a scientific, behaviorist experiment, complete with funding, progress reports, and the collection and interpretation of scientific data. In keeping with the manner in which almost all of the communally oriented behaviorist readers interpretedWalden Two,the Lake Village group understood Skinner’s utopia less as a blueprint for communal living than as an invitation...

    • 7 Walden Three
      (pp. 69-78)

      ONE OF THE PARTICIPANTS of the Waldenwoods conference who decided to found a Walden Two community on his own was Dr. Matt Israel, who had been Skinner’s student at Harvard and had subsequently entered the field of education. While being involved in special education in Boston in the late 1960s, Israel made grand plans for an urban Walden Two community. At the same time, he was interested in establishing a residential center for handicapped children in which behavior modification would play a central role. Ideally, both goals were to be achieved in a joint project, as Israel explained in...

  7. Part 3: Twin Oaks Community and the Heyday of the Communities Movement

    • 8 The Early Days of Twin Oaks Community
      (pp. 81-92)

      AMIDST THE BEHAVIORISTS excitedly drawing up proposals and gathering for discussions during the 1966 Waldenwoods conference, some of the participants decided that the step-by-step approach favored by the academics was not for them. Although the conference had been organized for the explicit purpose of setting up an experimental Walden Two community, it soon became apparent that there was little common ground between the handful of basically nonacademic, energetic, and impatient-for-change activists and the larger group of theory-oriented behavioral psychologists. The conference did, however, serve to bring together the more action-oriented Walden Two enthusiasts who were to found Twin Oaks Community....

    • 9 The Planner-Manager System
      (pp. 92-101)

      “IT SEEMED TO US when we started the Community,” remembers Kinkade, “that eight people didn’t need much government” (Walden51). Their early, rather informal gatherings revolved around questions of what kind of decision-making process they would like for themselves and how often they should have meetings.² They settled for decision making by consensus, because of one person’s enthusiasm for it, and had weekly meetings. Decision making by consensus, a system originally used in Quaker meetings, means that issues are not voted on but are discussed until an agreement acceptable to everybody can be reached. It seems rather surprising that decision...

    • 10 The Communal Child-Care Program
      (pp. 102-106)

      THE TWIN OAKS communal child-care program is perhaps the area in which Skinner’s ideas failed most obviously to live up to the expectations of the communards. Kinkade summarized in 1994 that the community’s children “are well cared for, appropriately educated, and generally happy, but very little of this can be attributed to the purely communal aspects of the [childcare] program. The fact is that the communal child rearing experiment, as originally conceived, has failed, and we are in the process of figuring out what to put in its place” (Utopia146).

      The one aspect of the Walden Two communal child-care...

    • 11 The Labor-Credit System
      (pp. 106-111)

      THE TWIN OAKERS spent the first three weeks of their communal life together without any work system at all. They were so excited about building a community that everybody just pitched in and worked as much as they possibly could. It was when the first complaints came that they set about implementing the labor-credit system as they understood it. The initiative came from one female member who did most of the housework. She resented the fact that the other women in the community did not help out and demanded that they help her do the dishes. These other women, Kinkade...

    • 12 The Appeal of the Labor-Credit System for the Communities Movement; or, What Communards Meant When They Said Walden Two
      (pp. 111-121)

      THE ONE ASPECT ofWalden Twothat proved to be most successful at Twin Oaks was the labor-credit system, which was interpreted by the community as a form of egalitarianism that functioned quite well without the Skinnerian framework of behavioral engineering. In the early to mid seventies, the Twin Oaks interpretation ofWalden Two,and more specifically the community’s advocacy of structure in the form of the labor-credit system, held a considerable amount of attraction for secular communities.

      “We’ve read that we’re supposed to have a strong common religion or a powerful, inspirational leader in order to prevent disintegration as...

    • 13 Why People Leave
      (pp. 122-132)

      THE EXCITEMENT of building a whole network of Walden Two communities that Kinkade and others nurtured in the seventies has been a thing of the past for many years now. The fact that most of the communities inspired by the Twin Oaks interpretation ofWalden Twofailed to remain vibrant communities for long casts some doubt on the labor-credit system as a formula for communal success. Despite the demise of other communities, however, many members of Twin Oaks still trust that their labor-credit system is a sound basis for an income-sharing community. What are we to make of the community’s...

  8. Part 4: Comunidad Los Horcones:

    • 14 Mexican Contexts
      (pp. 135-144)

      ACCEPTING THAT ordinary members were not satisfied to leave the decision making to a select few at Twin Oaks, Kinkade concluded that Skinner had been wrong, that Walden Two was “just not going to make it.” She then amended her own statement by adding, “maybe in some other country. Maybe in Mexico” (interview with the author, April 10, 1995). And indeed, the history of the Mexican community Los Horcones is strikingly different from all the other Walden Two experiments.

      On first sight, Mexico seems an unlikely location for a Walden Two experiment. The prominent role Skinner played in academia and...

    • 15 Education
      (pp. 144-149)

      THE SERIOUS BEHAVIORIST intent of Los Horcones is clearly recognizable in its educational practices. At Los Horcones, education is regarded as a process that goes on throughout one’s life. Techniques of behavior modification—helping members to master communitarian behavior and academic study—are frequently employed at Los Horcones. Since all people are capable of behavioral and academic self-improvement, members of Los Horcones are expected to use this potential. As a sign at the entrance points out: “Social change is achieved when each individual makes a personal change.” In the opinion of Los Horcones, this is the only way to achieve...

    • 16 The Economic Structure
      (pp. 149-150)

      THE LOS HORCONES ECONOMY operates on the so-called labor-time system, an adaptation of the Skinnerian labor-credit system. Its main difference is that work is measured in terms of time, not a credit that varies depending on the degree of popularity of the work. Twin Oaks experimented extensively with varied credit before they, too, abandoned it. In their opinion, the system could be manipulated and misused too easily. Los Horcones simply states that the system was changed but does not give any reasons for doing so (Los Horcones, “Pilot” 26). One could speculate, however, that the varied credit was abandoned because...

    • 17 Leadership and Decision Making
      (pp. 150-158)

      SKINNER FAVORED A GOVERNMENT run by professionals or, as Kinkade put it, “by those who are good at it” (interview with the author, April 10, 1995). The ordinary citizens of Walden Two, Skinner argued, would not be interested in governmental affairs and would put their utter trust in the abilities and goodwill of the planners and managers. Safeguards against mis- use of power would not be necessary because nothing could be gained by misusing power, and no member of Walden Two could be bullied into obedience anyway. The Skinnerian planner-manager system did not survive at Twin Oaks or any...

    • 18 Behaviorism as Religion
      (pp. 158-162)

      THE COMMUNARDS AT LOS HORCONES firmly believe in the possibility of establishing objectively definable moral values. They regard themselves as scientists who have arrived at their own community’s values—cooperation, pacifism, egalitarianism, and ecological consciousness—from scientific, objectively obtainable data. This leads them to believe that Los Horcones is the “product of a science,” not of a “particular ideology” (“Los Horcones” 4). In the communards’ opinion, this fact sets Los Horcones apart from all prior and current attempts at designing a new society:

      Several ways have been proposed in the past to change these [accidental] societies to other, more planned...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 163-170)

    THE HISTORIES OF the Walden Two communities cannot be used to “prove” anything. Just as the novelWalden Twois fiction and not, as Frazier argues at one point, an “accomplished fact” (56), none of the Walden Two communities were scientific experiments carried out under laboratory conditions, and it is difficult to see how an endeavor involving individuals coming together under specific historical circumstances for their own various reasons ever could be turned into a measurable and repeatable experiment. The Walden Two communities thus serve merely as examples of whatcanhappen to groups trying to turn Walden Two into...

  10. Appendix: Interviews
    (pp. 171-234)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 235-240)
  12. Index
    (pp. 241-246)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-250)