Research Process

#1: what do I find interesting or curious about this group of people? What more do i need to know to situate this community in the problem or context of utopia?

#2: How did this week’s research help me come to my final research question?

#3: Why should anyone care about what I have learned from this research? What makes my findings interesting or relevant to this class or to my life as a UR student?

#4: What are the hierarchies of information in my research? Other than chronologically, how can I organize my research and its claims in a logical way?

#5:How does my research address the problem(s) of utopia? What connections could I make with More’s Utopia in my seminar paper?

#6: How does what I’ve learned about social utopias, past and present, influence my interpretation of the sources in my seminar paper?


Antebellum America

Antebellum – (adj) occurring or existing before a particular war, especially the American Civil War

The historical understanding of antebellum America is heavily colored by the knowledge of the disaster that brought that era of American history to a close: the Civil War.

Antebellum culture in America reflected the growing sectional crisis, at times seeking to pave over sectional differences and at other times making light of them.

Reflects a divisive period in American history known as the Antebellum period. The Antebellum period of the nineteenth century saw an increase in sectional conflict as westward expansion and the launch of capitalism inspired a debate about the social and political conditions in the United States

A Critical Interpretation of Sources

Throughout this semester, we have each developed our own personal understanding and interpretation of social utopias. In the beginning of the semester, I struggled to form personal opinions and reactions to the readings because I had such limited experience with social utopias. As the year progressed, I started to learn more and more from our readings and class discussions which helped me form my own critical analysis on American Fourierism.

As I read my sources on Fourierism, I was shocked about the Americans’ unrealistic expectations. This blind optimism was evident throughout the semester as people attempted to attain perfection, but unfortunately each time they were left disappointed. While I am critical of this unrealistic confidence, I also realize that it has positively influenced communities and resulted in noticeable change. Even though true perfection may be impossible, the idea of perfection is not. And this idea is paramount in the process of establishing the utopian ideals of equality, harmony, and happiness.

Fourierism: A Fresh Start for America

Much of my research focuses on the “Americanization of Fourierism” and Albert Brisbane’s role in this process. This aspect of my research portrays a unique example of how a social thinker created a movement in reaction to his current circumstances. When we look at a certain period in history it is crucial that we recognize the social, political, and cultural conditions of the time. Fourierism was introduced during the antebellum period which was a divisive time in America’s history. Brisbane hoped he could unite this nation on the brink of civil war under a common movement. This concept relates to one of the principle challenges of utopian thinking: the ability to establish “a more perfect union.” In a way, Brisbane attempts to solve this problem by propagandizing or “Americanizing” Fourierism to make the movement more appealing and inclusive. This propaganda is an essential aspect of my research and is found in multiple primary sources written by Albert Brisbane and his colleagues.

This “Americanization” also relates to Thomas More’s Utopia because of the way it reflects the challenge of implementing a new ideology into a society with established values and tradition. During the first half of the nineteenth-century America was still considered a young nation. To many intellectuals, America represented a fresh start much like the fresh start given to the island of Utopia. The New World was the chance to learn from Europe’s mistakes and create a better future. Brisbane and his colleagues realized that despite this “fresh start,” Americans had already developed a unique national tradition which posed a significant challenge to the adoption of Fourierism.


The Hierarchies of Information

What are the hierarchies of information in my research? Other than chronologically, how can I organize my research and its claims in a logical way?

When i first tried to form a coherent framework for my research paper I struggled to identify a governing claim that would establish the foundation of my argument. During “Step 1” of our framework workshop, I included a sub-claim that addressed the fact that Brisbane, and other American Fourierists, translated the utopian socialism into American dialect, making it more persuasive and appealing to the average nineteenth-century American. Dr. Watts suggested the possibility of using this claim or general concept as my initial, governing claim. I returned to my research with this suggestion and realized that the “propagandization” of Fourierism essentially reflected the idea of “Americanization” that I mention in my research question. Ultimately, most of my secondary, argumentative sources comment on this “propagandization” and there is ample evidence in my collection of primary sources to support this argument.

In addition to the chronological development of American Fourierism, I will organize my research and its claims by the different methods of “Americanization” and their ultimate influence on the movement. At the head of this organization process is the idea that reformers created unrealistic expectations by promising too much to the American people. One of the primary claims will likely address the way in which Brisbane presented Fourierism as the culmination of the ideas and values that established the American republic. The evidence of this claim will include multiple primary and secondary sources, but will rely heavily on Brisbane’s periodicals. In addition to primary claims, I will include a number of subsidiary claims where I can interpret both evidence from primary sources and arguments from secondary sources. These claims will likely include aspects from secondary sources including Guarneri’s idea of “America,” Michaud’s reflection on “Republicanism,” and Crowe’s commentary on the “Unnatural Union.” Each of the preceding arguments is fundamentally related to the “Americanization” of Fourierism.

An essential aspect of this logical organization process is to constantly reflect on how each individual claim relates to another. By continuously making connections between individual claims and sources, my paper will provide a coherent argument that sufficiently addresses my research question.

Why care about the Americanization of Fourierism?

One of the most interesting aspects of my research is the idea that America, or the idea of “America,” is a utopia. This assertion makes sense when you consider the fact that when the first wave of Europeans came to the New World, they did so in the hopes of establishing an ideal community. Even to this day, “America” is still associated with the idea of a better future.

Fundamentally, American culture and tradition was created under the influence of utopia ideals.  From the beginning of these course we have studied different, and often contradictory, ideas of what it means to be a utopia. When looking at America and its history it is interesting to think about how the utopia of America compares to other proposals for utopia like Sir Thomas More’s. Even to this day, “America” is still associated with the idea of a better future. When the colonies revolted against the oppression of England, the people called for a more utopia society. Years later the same thing occurred when Americans protested in the streets during the civil rights movement. And even today, as people fight for marriage equality.

So when I talk about the “Americanization of Fourierism” does that mean that Fourierism became more ideal? From my research, I believe not. Even by “Americanizing” this socialist movement, it could not be possible under the conditions of the engrained American tradition.

Refining My Research Question

How did this research help me come to my final research question? Reflect on the ways the workshop shaped your topic and refined your research question?

My curiosity about the “Americanization of Fourierism” actually manifested while I read the originally background source about Brook Farm by Carl J Guarneri. Initially, I saw this American adaptation as a method of calculated deception as American Fourierists like Albert Brisbane adjusted the theory to be more appealing to the average nineteenth century American. But as I read another article by Guarneri, one that is especially dedicated to the American adaptation of Fourierism and utopia in general, I gained a new perspective about the approach used by the utopian socialists. To adequately understand the development of American Fourierism, I had to  analyze multiple primary sources. First, I read Charles Fourier’s piece describing his vision of a true phalanx and then compared this source to “Association” by Albert Brisbane, which is essentially the preliminary establishment of American Fourierism. I also read Horace Greeley’s letters and “The Harbinger,” paying close attention to the vocabulary and rhetoric used in these sources to persuade the American people. I realized that instead of simply asking how Brisbane and others Americanized Fourierism, I should focus on the circumstances of this modification and the resulting implications?

How did the Americanization of Fourierism inhibit the success of the phalanxes such as Brook Farm and ultimately undermine the movement?

Brook Farm and American Fourierism

Fourierist Phalanx of Brook Farm

What do I find interesting about this group of people? what more do I need to know to situate this community in the problem or context of utopia?

Even though Charles Fourier diligently recorded every detail of his communal vision, he only witnessed failed and misguided attempts at bringing his vision to fruition. If Fourier’s plan includes such precise details, then why did these cooperatives fail? Guarneri suggests that Fourier’s emphasis on “Immediatism” in implementing the plan hindered any potential of success because such an instantaneous approach was impossible considering the circumstances. But if Fourier was such an innovative and calculated thinker then why would he propose a plan that could not be fulfilled?

I am curious if Fourier’s “scientific” theory is actually flawed or if the movement’s leaders failed to accurately implement his ideas. Guarneri’s commentary on Brook Farm and the other 19th century American phalanxes suggests that a combination of both unsound ideology and misguided leadership led to the short-lived phalanxes.

When Brisbane and other American Fourierists adopted and edited the theory, they were left with three main ideas: “a critique of present-day society, a community plan, and an overlay of propaganda harmonizing Fourierism with prevalent American beliefs.” The most intriguing of these remaining ideas is the idea that American Fourierists used propaganda to make their master’s plan more appealing to the average 19th century American. With only one introductory report, it is unclear if the leaders misrepresented Fourier’s phalanx plan in any way or if they simply communicated the existing parallels between Fourierist values and American ideals such as “self-government, personal freedom, equity, and social progress.” Charles Fourier’s manifesto likely includes all of the aforementioned principles in some manner but his personal perspective and use of these ideals may differ from that of the average American. Numerous 19th century utopian socialists included these ideals in their proposals for potential utopian societal structures, but because the each had a personal perspective, they produced independently unique utopian communities. If Fourier and the movement’s leaders held differing perspectives, it could indicate a distinction between Fourier’s vision and the vision Brisbane and his colleagues supported and advocated for which would have contributed to the failure of the American phalanxes like Brook Farm.

Did Albert Brisbane and other Fourierists purposely deceive Americans by consciously exaggerating the apparent compatibility between the phalanx plan with American ideals? If so, does this mean the American Fourierists thoroughly comprehended Fourier’s theory? Or were these movement leaders forced to compromise on certain aspects of the phalanx plan?