Society for Cultural Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Images, videos, articles, blogs, podcasts, and television shows about “tiny homes” have mushroomed in popularity over the past ten years, presenting them as facilitating an “intentional lifestyle” in which people can escape the requirements imposed by more conventional “success projects” (Ortner). This paper examines the practice of building and living in tiny homes in a setting where their utopian aspirations are especially salient, a suburb of Portland in which there is a concentration of intentional communities containing tiny homes. Based on participant observation on a tiny home build site, volunteering at a prominent intentional community, and interviewing tiny home dwellers across the city, the paper argues that across multiple sites, these tiny home builders and dwellers shared a particular vision of freedom involving independence from mortgages, rising house prices, degrading jobs, and mindless habits of over-consumption. Engaging in resource sharing, organic gardening, and extended periods of career contemplation, tiny home dwellers attempt to create a context in which they can realize a more meaningful life. This involves maintaining autonomy from relations to undesirable authority figures, such as landlords, parents, industrial farms, roommates, and employers. People in these communities extoll their freedom to avoid rushing career, life partnership, and home ownership. By working closely with these authorities and practitioners of alternative living, I was able to see how they navigate in real time the tensions between these conceptions of freedom and transitions to adulthood involving education, careers, and family relations.