“Verbal Orders Don’t Go—Write It!”:
Building and Maintaining the Promised Land

[Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp. 65-92 (2018) and is republished with permission.]

ABSTRACT: Peoples Temple achieved impressive objectives as an  organization, the most impressive of which was establishing and maintaining  an agricultural community—the Promised Land—in the remote  jungle of Guyana. An activity theory analysis of work oriented to the  Promised Land reveals that texts—everyday genres such as forms and  lists—were important tools used by the group to achieve this objective.  A study of these textual tools helps us to understand how Peoples Temple  was able to meet its collective organizational goals and how individual  members achieved personal transformations within the organization.  Examining the group’s textual practices adds depth to existing studies  of Temple history by showcasing the efficacy of organizational labor  that members themselves might have taken for granted. In addition,  this methodological approach provides a view of Peoples Temple work  unencumbered by the social problems paradigm, offering instead an  approach that is compatible with a social possibilities paradigm.

Plain and simple, we built a city out of nowhere.  —Mike Touchette[1]

For wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a hill.  The eies of all people are uppon Us, soe that if wee shall deale falsely  with our god in this worke wee have undertaken, and soe cause him to  withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a  by-word through the world.

—John Winthrop[2]

Peoples Temple began in Indiana in the 1950s as a racially integrated  social gospel church. This was no small feat considering  the social climate at the time. Eventually Peoples Temple—an integrated group of working class whites and blacks from Indiana—migrated to Northern California, where membership grew considerably  and further diversified. Upper-middle class whites dedicated to community  activism found their way to Peoples Temple, as did urban youths  interested in political revolution. Older blacks were drawn to the social  gospel message offered by Peoples Temple, as well as to the social services  the organization provided, such as assistance with healthcare and  housing. The late Mary Sawyer characterizes members’ motivations for  joining: “People joined Peoples Temple for one of two reasons: in order  to give help, or in order to receive it. . . . In practical terms, Peoples  Temple was a movement that offered sanctuary from racial discrimination,  [and offered] opportunity for education and employment, and the  promise of lifelong economic security.”[3]

Minutes from an 8 October 1973 meeting of the Peoples Temple  board of directors describe a report delivered on “the agricultural and  church extension” and the board’s decision to “establish an agricultural  mission in the tropics,” and names Guyana, South America, as “the most  suitable place to do so.”[4] The minutes include a formal resolution to  establish the mission, and outline the financial and legal powers with  which the board authorizes “James W. Jones, pastor and president of said  corporation and church.”[5] The resolution would result in the community  variously known as the agricultural mission, Peoples Temple  Agricultural Project, freedom land, the Promised Land, and Jonestown.[6]

As noted by Rebecca Moore, the popular canon on Peoples Temple  is largely restricted to a limited set of images and narratives about the  group, and those images deal with the final events at the agricultural  community: photographs of bodies piled on the ground in Guyana, the  corrugated metal vat of poison nearby juxtaposed with images of the  group’s dark-haired charismatic leader, eyes cloaked in aviator shades, hiding evil intent.[7] Moore rightfully laments the stability of the reductionist  popular narrative and the difficulty that scholars confront in  widening this scope to allow for a more nuanced understanding of  Peoples Temple. Her concerns also invoke larger disciplinary conversations  about the need to shift the paradigm that unites research on new  religious movements. Sociologist David Feltmate uses the term “social problems paradigm” to describe the current orientation, which arose as  researchers advanced counterclaims in response to arguments depicting  new religions as cults or social threats.[8] It could be said, perhaps, that  researchers of new religious movements—especially those seeking to  offer robust analyses of those movements—were necessarily in a defensive  posture. To elbow out room for non-dominant stories to be heard,  they had to first push against existing dominant views of their objects of  study. The trouble with this, Feltmate explains, is that we cannot  “understand these groups and find multiple ways to dignify the human  beings who engage with the worlds they create” if our starting point is  rooted in the social problems paradigm.[9] Feltmate seeks a solution in  a reorientation that takes “social possibilities” as its unifying concept.  This new paradigm would align with the underlying existential inquiries  of these groups, which address a question fundamental to human activity:  “How then should we live?” New religious movements, he observes,  “are experiments in addressing this question. Sometimes they are failed  experiments, but that does not mean we should dismiss them. When  religions are new they provide us with a wide variety of answers to the  question of how people have lived and how we should live. This is not  a social problem; it is an invitation to social possibility.”[10]

For a number of reasons, Peoples Temple lends itself to being examined  from a social possibilities perspective. To begin with, researchers  have already made a good case that the scope of Peoples Temple, both  in form and function, is too capacious to be encompassed by the term  cult.[11]In addition, when we look across the Temple’s history, we see two  constants: a focus on social justice objectives and an organizational structure  that facilitated the Temple’s internal and external work.[12] As an  organization, Peoples Temple was generative, ambitious, forward-looking, engaged with society, and productive. In describing the group’s  overarching objective, one former member states, “[W]e were going to  convert the world to brotherhood. And that was it. That was the  dream.”[13] Together, members pursued goals rooted in social justice  efforts meant to address class-, race-, and sex-based inequalities and were  a small part of a larger movement in the United States seeking to right  the course of history.[14] They continually asked in word and deed, How  then should we live? The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project was their  most ambitious answer to that question. One of the most unfortunate  downstream consequences of the popular narrative’s dominance is that  it cuts off the instructive capacity offered by a monumental project such  as Jonestown. Although it is understandable that a good deal of what has  been written about Peoples Temple takes as its starting point the group’s  end—much of it is threaded through the eye of the needle of 18  November 1978—this focus, whether overtly stated or implied, seems  to needlessly stymie lines of inquiry that could be more productive. After  all, Peoples Temple beat back the jungle to build a town in a foreign  country.[15] In doing so, members reinvented themselves as a group and  offered a transformative experience to individuals. Mary Maaga captures  the awe inspired in some observers: “Jonestown as a physical site was  a miracle of construction and dedication, a fact that is not widely appreciated  when one only sees it in photographs with dead bodies strewn  about.”[16] The Rev. John Moore, father of two Temple members, visited  the Guyana settlement, and he described it in terms that convey the  scope of the group’s achievement:

“Impressive” was the first word to come to mind when I was asked what I  thought of the project. The clearing of more than eight hundred acres  from the midst of the jungle, and the planting of crops is impressive. To  imagine more than a thousand Americans migrating to Guyana and  working in the project is impressive. Every aspect of the work and life  there I found impressive.[17]

How did Peoples Temple achieve such an impressive feat? This is the  question that seeded my research. When I began to investigate the  building and maintenance of Peoples Temple Agricultural Project,  I discovered that the “how” was a matter of member contributions (labor  and money), timing, and—significantly—texts.


To examine complex work within organizations, researchers have  made good use of activity theory, which despite its name is not a theory,  but a framework developed by Aleksie Leont’ev, Alexander Luria, Yrjo  Engestrom, and others from Lev S. Vygotsky’s distributed theories of  psychology.[18] Activity theory takes as its object of study goal-directed  human labor, and defines that labor as social (conducted with/in relation  to others), historical (developed over time), and mediated by the use of  artifacts (tools). Furthermore, because of its origins in Vygotsky’s work,  activity theory conceives of consciousness not as “a set of discrete disembodied  cognitive acts (decision making, classification, remembering),”  but instead as “located in everyday practice: you are what you do. And  what you do is firmly and inextricably embedded in the social matrix of  which every person is an organic part.”[19] This matrix, what researchers  refer to as the activity system, includes not just people pursuing an outcome,  but also the tools they use as part of their work. Thus, activity theory is  a systems-based approach to studying human labor that privileges human  intention and views cognition as being embodied, tool-mediated, and  distributed. We don’t work alone; we work with others through tool use  in pursuit of achieving some end. Work is governed by rules relevant to  the community or communities involved. This framework is appropriate  for investigating Peoples Temple’s work from a social possibilities perspective because of its focus on goal-directed action; people are assumed to have agency and intention.  Figure 1, Activity System, depicts  the components of the activity system.

Key to this framework is the definition of tools as “instruments, signs,  procedures, machines, methods, laws, [and] forms of work  organization” that mediate the work in a given activity system.[20] Tools  are not only the things we might traditionally think of (hammers, paintbrushes,  bulldozers, saws), but also abstract “objects” (frameworks, customs,  language, methodologies) that facilitate our work with other  people. Texts are one tool used by humans in the pursuit of achieving  goals, and some would even say texts are the most important tool.[21] That  is, to research the work of an organization is to research the communication  produced by that organization. Although participants in an organization  might be unaware of the complex meaning embodied in the  mundane, routine texts they produce in the course of “doing business,”  there is, in fact, great value in our examining the texts not just for what  they say, but also for what they do—what they permit, proscribe, or make  possible. This outlook rests on the claim that to separate out  “communication” from “work” is faulty; communication is a fundamental  part of the organization’s work. Maryan Schall, in her oft-cited article on  the social nature of organizational communication, makes this point  when she explains that “like cultures, [organizations] have been considered  communication phenomena, that is, entities developed and maintained  only through continuous communication activity—exchanges and  interpretations—among its participants. Without communication and  communicating, there would be no organizing or organization.”[22] This  is true for collective work (writers and readers coming together as “we”)  and individual work (individuals carving out space for the “I”). The benefit  of activity theory is that it requires us to account for tool use, and this  allows us to arrive at new understandings of how work is accomplished. In  this case, it highlights the important role that texts—paperwork of many  stripes—played in building and maintaining the Promised Land.

Indeed, even a cursory examination of the Peoples Temple archives  at the California Historical Society (CHS) makes it clear that Temple  members made use of writing in pursuit of their organizational goals.[23]  The collection of texts they left in their wake is an entity unto itself.  According to the CHS, the collection of Peoples Temple records alone  occupies 145 linear feet. Fielding McGehee’s description of the variety  of items contained in the collection suggests its heft and richness:

[T]hey saved everything. There are the business records of Peoples  Temple as a corporation, including receipts, tax records, bank accounts,  and internal memoranda. There are the trappings of the Temple as  a church, ranging from Jim Jones’ robes to donation envelopes, from  prayer requests to testimonials of Jones’ healing powers. There are the  ephemera from the community at large, such as copies of Peoples Forum,  the Temple’s newspaper, membership and passport photos, handwritten  requests for extraordinary purchases, and of course, more receipts. There  are individual writings, such as the private journals of at least one Temple  member, confidential memos to Jim Jones and other Temple leaders,  papers with signed confessions to unbelievable crimes and just as many  pages which are blank except for a signature at the bottom. There are  flyers for political demonstrations protesting the treatment of minorities  in capitalist America, and brochures heralding a new life in Jonestown.  There are letters to the editor condemning the approaching police state  in America, and internal surveillance reports of Temple members.[24]

The size of the collection is not as important as the types of documents  contained within. Specifically, this collection is replete with examples of  “homely discourse,” such as internal memoranda and the like, that are  examples of “‘de facto genres,’ the types we have names for in everyday  language” (e.g., memos, letters, progress reports, applications).[25] These  genres function as “a typified rhetorical way of recognizing, responding  to, acting meaningfully and consequentially within, and thus participating  in the reproduction of, recurring situations.”[26] The important words  here are “typified,” “rhetorical,” and “recurring.” By typified, we mean  that genres have identifiable features that allow us to recognize them.  For example, the appeals for money I receive from nonprofit groups  tend to arrive in a United States business-sized envelope decorated with  images of dire situations (caged, abused animals in need of my assistance;  downtrodden children who are hungry). The appeal letters contained  within also carry physical markers that would allow me to  immediately identify the texts, without even reading them, as appeal  letters from a specific kind of organization: letterhead with an organizational  logo; use of short paragraphs with certain passages emphasized  through the use of bold, underlining, italics, and/or uppercase letters;  a detachable portion with pre-selected contribution amounts to assist me  in replying; and a self-addressed, postage-paid envelope (in most cases)  to make my return reply as easy and painless as possible. I know what  these items are as soon as I pull them from the mailbox.

However, genres cannot be defined simply through reference to  their physical features. Any given genre needs to be understood in terms  of the “the action it is used to accomplish.”[27] That is, when we identify  a genre, we consider the rhetorical function it serves in conjunction with  its features to make that identification. All texts are rhetorical, but genres  are rhetorical in a special way. Specifically, they are recognizable  textual tools that help us to respond to recurring needs (as in the case  of funding an organization by soliciting money through the mail). The  specifics of how one makes the appeal will depend on one’s audience,  purpose, and context, and this is why we see variety when we look at  instances of genres (an appeal letter from a nonprofit group looks and  “sounds” different from the appeal letters from my alma mater), but  there are essential similarities across instances that allow us to identify  them as belonging to a specific genre—in this case, the appeal letter.

Because of their rhetorical nature, genres are social “sites” where  writers and readers gather to conduct work—where writers and readers  “rely on shared texts and knowledge” to participate in the co-creation of  meaning. For writers, this involves “assert[ing] meaning, goals, actions,  affiliations, and identities within a constantly changing, contingently  organized world,”[28] which is made a bit more predictable due to the  relative stability that genres offer through design and discourse conventions.  For readers, this means piecing together meaning from their interpretations  of texts. For both writers and readers, genres provide a guide  that invokes—but cannot require—social rules and reader responses.  The appeal letter might suggest certain actions to me, but I am in no  way bound to fulfill those actions. In addition, although the genres afford  certain actions (such as mailing in a contribution), they do not preclude,  necessarily, all other actions; I can, for example, choose to use the postage  paid envelope to mail something other than a contribution to the group.

All of this is to say that genres are not just forms of writing: they are  discursive spaces that “situate and distribute cognition, frame social  identities, organize spatial and temporal relations, and coordinate  meaningful, consequential actions within contexts.”[29] Writing Studies  scholar Charles Bazerman sums this up nicely when he states that  “[g]enres typify many things beyond textual form. They are part of the  way that humans give shape to social activity.”[30] He also emphasizes that  because writing “partakes of and contributes to” the contexts and cultures  from which it arises, it “bears the characteristics of the cultures it  participates in and the histories it carries forward.”[31] Consequently,  when we examine any given instance of genre use within an activity  system—that is, when we look at how writing mediates activity—we can  begin to understand how we connect our “private intentions” with “the  public” and singular experiences with collective, recurrent experience.[32]

In studying the kinds of texts the Temple used to achieve its objectives  and in analyzing the ways that individual Temple members used  these texts to navigate the Temple’s structures, we can see more clearly  how the Temple was so effective at accomplishing the ambitious objectives  it set for itself. This type of analysis is significant because it forces us  to look at items (or characteristics of items) that we normally look past,  such as layout, font, or connections to other texts. Furthermore, because  genres are social sites that connect individuals with larger social structures,  we can gain insight into personal agency, the possibilities and  promises, available to Temple members as they participated in building  and maintaining the Promised Land.


Almost any project involving Peoples Temple texts needs to carry  a qualification similar to that provided by Rebecca Moore in  Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple. She uses the word  “problematic” to describe the source materials available. This has to do  with the conflicting views of Temple life—those who left the Temple have  a different view of it than those who remained—and the fact that survivor  accounts are “written looking backward, through the prism of the deaths  in Jonestown. The event altered memories and reflections so that people  saw things in a different light.” More to the point is the fact that there are  not nearly enough survivor accounts; all those who died were silenced,  and it is impossible to reconstruct their thoughts from the materials left  behind. Still, this analysis is useful because it examines items intended for  routine business use or internal Temple work, which means that some of  the concerns about truth and audiencemight be less central. However, we  do confront the distance of time and the limits of text.[33]

To understand how the work of building and maintaining the  Promised Land offered possibilities to Peoples Temple members, I provide  an analysis of emigration texts used in the process of deciding who  to “send over.” Although it would be possible to focus on any number of  texts from the Temple’s history by way of conducting this analysis,[34] those dealing with the Promised Land are compelling because they  involve a turning point in the Temple’s history.

A formal lease for 3,853 acres was signed with the Guyanese government  on 25 February 1976, although work on finding an appropriate  location had begun in 1973.[35] Timing was important. The contract with  Guyana moved quickly because the country felt that having a United  States presence on the unsecured border with Venezuela could be beneficial  in preventing encroachment. The influx of United States citizens  into the remote jungle territory would bring with it other benefits, including proof that the interior could be developed for the economic  benefit of Guyana and its citizens.[36]

Much physical labor was needed to build and maintain the Promised  Land. Even if we set aside all of the stateside work that supported  the agricultural community’s development, we still find cause to be  impressed. Mike Touchette, one of the settlers, recalls:

When we started . . . we went out with our surveyor. I’ll never forget it.  They had a little footpath that they were following. There were so many  trees. They had maybe three or four Amerindians in front of us, and  there was three or four of them behind us. All of them had machetes.  And what they did, as we’re walking in, they were cutting, making  a trail. . . . When you walked through that jungle, you could turn 360  degrees and have no clue where you’re at. That’s what I saw. . . . At the  end, we had over fifteen hundred acres in cultivation of every type of tree,  plant, food, anything that we could eat was growing. . . . Plain and simple,  we built a city out of nowhere.[37]

And build a city they did, one that included all of the trappings we would  recognize as being necessary to a community, including those providing  education, policing, housing, medical care, consumables (food, soap,  clothing), and utilities (including power and communication).[38]

However, from the beginning of the project, textual labor was important  to introducing and building the agricultural community. In fact, the  quote in the title of this article—“Verbal orders don’t go—Write it!”  appears on a memo pad used by Temple members during the construction  of the Promised Land. Internal Temple documents were used to  formalize intention, such as the resolution to establish the agricultural  community. Texts also allowed the Temple to coordinate with outside  entities, such as members of the Guyanese government, in securing the  land and taking other legal steps to safeguard the community’s presence.[39] Progress reports written by Temple leadership and settlers communicated  key information to establish future plans. Some of the early  textual work provided not only a report on progress, but also an indication  of the satisfaction and joy settlers felt. One of the best examples of  this in the records—one of the most genuinely joyful texts in the entire  collection—is the short missive from Guyana depicted in Photo 1,  Things constructed by us.

The function of this passage—at once a progress report and an evocation  of many good things to come—is suggestive of the potential the  move to the Promised Land offered to members.

The fact that the Temple attracted members from different walks of  life indicates that people were able to find what they needed at the  time.[40] Odell Rhodes’ experiences reflect those who were encouraged,  and perhaps for the first time invited, to find value as a productive  member of an industrious group effort. Not only was he able to address his substance abuse problems through his participation in Peoples Temple,[41] he also found a new identity as a worker whose contributions  were valued. Recalling his early work with the Temple as a helper in the  day care center and the subsequent praise he received for this work from  Jim Jones, Rhodes reflected,

I guess at that point, I couldn’t even remember the last time somebody  told me I was doing good at anything, and for Jones to take the time from  everything else he had to think about to notice me—well, it meant a lot to  me right then.[42]

Other Temple members, people who were no stranger to past praise  from teachers or supervisors, found relief from themselves. Dick Tropp,  a Temple member who collected oral histories from members for  a never-completed book about the history of the group, offered the  following assessment of how his perspective had changed and what he  gained from that change:

I have found a place to serve, to be, to grow. To learn the riddle of my own  insignificance, to help build a future in the shadow of the apocalypse  under which I felt I was always living. . . . I look back on the past as if to  another world, a dead and dying world. A new center of gravity has been  established in my life—and, to my great relief and happiness, it is not me.[43]

In speaking about their experiences, many former members offer  descriptions that reveal a tension between something gained and something  lost. Jean Clancy recounts her own reluctant transformation,  which was prompted by aspects of the Temple that spoke to her sense  of personal responsibility regarding social justice:

So why did I stay? I stayed. I got gradually re-formed or reshaped into this.  Also there were some very heavy pulls. . . . Such a sense of good committed  people really trying to establish an alternative way of being together—  economically, socially—it really did have a strong pull. It was not an easy  integration on my part, but I felt like I was supposed to be there. This is  my job. This is my duty.[44]

In the end, though, she experienced this process as one of submission:  “Pretty soon you are no longer thinking your own thought or being your  own person: you are a penitent in this process of becoming the socialist  entity.”[45] Another member, Janet Shular, describes the “dichotomies” of  the “Peoples Temple experience.” On the one hand, most members  “were the ‘living dead’ until they were on that final tract [sic] that led  them to becoming the ‘dead dead,’” but on the other hand, “[m]ore  people, just as a result of meeting and joining PT, had a true rebirth in  terms of a greater zest and love for living than you could possibly imagine.  I mean, they were energized to serve their fellow man at every  level.”[46]

Participating in the Promised Land was an opportunity that distilled  and concentrated the possibilities of the Peoples Temple experience.  According to Tanya Hollis, a former archivist at the California Historical  Society, “The move to Guyana might have encompassed, on the part of  the rank and file, both their aspirations for self-determination and their  loss of faith in the secular democratic system, with its legal assurances of  their rights and systematic denial of those rights.”[47] The textual tools  used by the Temple to process members’ emigration applications reflect  the transformative possibilities present in Temple life and the tensions  of being reshaped into the image of a productive member.

Applying to “Go Over”: Pledges and Preferences  

Travel to Guyana was not possible—quite literally—without texts. At  the very least, travelers would need a passport, proof of immunizations,  and the required immigration forms.[48] To apply for emigration to the  Promised Land, members also needed to make use of documents that  served Temple needs. Figure 2, Activity System: Applying to Emigrate to  the Promised Land, depicts the activity system of members seeking to  “go over” to the Promised Land, with a focus and emphasis on texts  internal to the organization. Subjects are Peoples Temple members  involved in the emigration process, either as applicants or as reviewers  of applications. The community would include the larger organization.  The object/motive of their goal-directed activity is to facilitate emigration  to the Promised Land, and the tools used to mediate their activity  include a core set of texts developed by Peoples Temple over time and in  response to the group’s needs.

For members “going over” a standard set of texts was used. This set  included applications for travel, forms that collected information about  travelers’ health, paperwork that limited the liability of the organization  in case of adverse events occurring during travel or in Guyana, forms  that assigned power of attorney to Temple leadership, and forms that  collected work-related background information on applicants. Taken as  a whole, this set of texts required members to express their commitment  to the Temple and validate its mission, offered members the opportunity  to express a desire for the kind of work they hoped to contribute to  agricultural community, and provided the organization with ways of  surveying and managing the human capital available.

To an outsider, the amount of paperwork—and the personal nature  of the paperwork—required for consideration as a Promised Land  ´emigré might seem daunting. Yet, Temple members were used to information  being collected about their personal lives, including financial  and medical information. Such information was used to guide members  through government bureaucracies involving Social Security  Administration (SSA) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), obtain  health care outside of the Temple, apply for and attend college or  certificate programs, and manage communal living arrangements. To  a great extent, personal identity was part of the group’s collective  resources. People’s lives were managed by the group, including aspects  typically assigned to nuclear family structures, such as the care of children.  These arrangements of members’ personal lives were bound up  with the organization’s textual practices. For instance, the legal responsibility  for Temple children was signed over by parents to other Temple  members through guardianship paperwork.

Figure 2. Activity System: Applying to Emigrate to the Promised Land. Courtesy of  Heather Shearer.

As we consider the textual work used in conjunction with emigration  to the Promised Land, it is worth remembering that when the project  was proposed, a mass migration was not intended. Because it was, at least  initially, believed to be something to which not all had access or equal  access—yet something that for many was desirable—it is interesting to  consider the ways that members used the means of persuasion available  to them in completing the application paperwork. Additionally, because  the Promised Land was viewed as the apotheosis of Peoples Temple work  (the name is telling), the texts used for emigration purposes are interesting  in what they reveal about Temple values and what they might  disclose about the aspirations of individual members.

The document titled “Application To Go Abroad” is a useful place to  start (see Photo 2, Application To Go Abroad).[49] Based on the layout of the document and the nature of the information collected, we see that  this one-page document clearly belongs to the genre of “application,”  and, like most instances of that genre, serves the needs of the applicant  and those reviewing the application. For the applicant, it was a way to  begin the emigration by signaling interest to those who shared power for  authorizing that travel. The form also offered opportunity for persuasion.  For example, there was opportunity to signal greater integration in  or commitment to the group in the section of the form that solicited  information about the applicant’s spouse. Not only was spousal information  requested, but if the spouse was not a member, a characterization of  his or her attitude toward the member’s emigration was also solicited: “If  not a member, how does he/she feel about your going?”

For reviewers, especially before the mid-1977 rush to send as many  members as quickly as possible to Guyana, the information collected  through the application allowed the organization to prioritize based  on applicants’ integration in the organization, financial means, health  profile, and existing ability to travel. For instance, the form allows applicants  to indicate if they have a passport or birth certificate (the former  would be needed for travel and the latter to secure a passport). Spousal  information could certainly be useful in avoiding (or perhaps heading  off) unnecessary conflict. Questions about finances could assist the  Temple in identifying those with a desire to go who could provide financial  support to the project. The issue of finances is directly invoked in the  bottom portion of the form, which contains a warning about health  concerns and the cost of emigration:

 I understand that if I am seriously overweight or have serious medical  problems I will not be able to go on the short-term trips because of the  hazard to my health and the additional strain my condition will create. I also understand that air travel is extremely expensive and that I will  have to donate my fair share of the cost for transportation, food and  lodging.

Photo 2. Application To Go Abroad. Alternative Considerations of Jonestown&Peoples  Temple. http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/04-05-GoabroadApp.  pdf[CW1] .

As with many Temple forms, a signature of the member was required,  which created a potential textual link to a network of legal practices.  This form allowed members to signal interest, to maneuver for consideration,  and to indicate commitment to Temple rules (including the  handing over of personal information). In addition, the form, taken  in consideration with a host of other texts, sanctioned the Temple to  facilitate the emigration process.

Still more interesting is a small cluster of documents represented by  the following texts: “Information to be supplied by persons desirous of  immigration into Guyana”; “Questionnaire”; “Skills Inventory”; and  “Promised Land Work Preference.”[50] The first of these (“Information  to be supplied . . . ”) appears to have a direct external audience: the  Guyanese government. The form’s title includes the phrasing “desirous  of immigration,” which sounds odd to those who speak American  English. And some of the questions are strange, if indeed the form was  created by the Temple and intended mainly for internal use. For example,  the form asks for “country of origin” of applicants, but Temple  members were from the United States. Moreover, it includes a request  for the applicant to “submit . . . a certificate from the police authority of  the country (or countries) where he (she) has been resident during the  last ten (10) years, to the effect that there has been no conviction against  him (her).” At the same time, the form does include questions that  seemed to target Temple members specifically, such as its question asking  applicants to “[s]tate whether [they] are prepared to work and live in  the interior of Guyana,” details of applicants’ farming experience, and  information about “assets (including cash).” With reference to the latter,  one standard response, generally typewritten—which means that it  could have been prepared ahead of time for those completing the  form—is this phrase: “All assets are to be imputed to the Peoples  Temple Agriculture Project which has leased land from the government  of Guyana under the F. C. H. Program.”[51] Each of these items directly  speaks to the Temple’s work at the agricultural community in Guyana’s  interior and to the Temple’s ongoing financial needs.

By comparison, the document titled “Questionnaire”[52] seems to be intended wholly for an internal audience. The two-page document  contains forty-four questions and, like many Temple forms, solicits  detailed information about the general demographic, health, and  financial status, including monies contributed to Peoples Temple. It  also asks questions specific to the management of the individual’s  international travel as a member of the group (e.g., “Do you have  a passport? Have you turned it in to Grace?”), and underscores the  need for accurate information that could be used to secure travel  documents if need be: “What is your full name? Your date of birth?  Your place of birth?”[53]

In addition, the form provides opportunities for applicants to express  interest in the agricultural project and position themselves as a desirable  candidate. Item forty-two directs applicants to

[l]ook at the attacheet [sic] of Skills and tell me which of the things listed  you can do, how many years experience you have at each, or how many  years of college you have in each. Be detailed. List out to the right in the  blank space, for example, the vegetables you know how to cultivate, etc.

I could find no item in the records titled “list of skills,” but there is  a document called “Skills Inventory,” which is designed in a two-column  table format with headings and subheadings. Two versions of  this inventory appear in the CHS collection. The skills listed are identical,  but one version contains a header on the top of the first page that  solicits information about the member (name, member number, age,  address, phone number, employment and current position, location of  job, and wages per month). This version also includes a small space for  the member to indicate the “[k]ind of work you want to do.”

Photo 3, Skills Inventory Excerpt, presents a portion of the first page  of this form. Both versions provide opportunities for the applicant to  position himself or herself as a desirable candidate for emigration to the  Promised Land. After all, certain skills, especially early on, were highly  valued and more in demand. In addition, the version of the form with  the header invites applicants to express a desire in terms of the labor role  to which theymight be assigned. The space provided to describe the “kind  of work you want to do” is comically small. Nevertheless, its inclusion is  significant. The Promised Land was the next stage in the organization’s  history, and it offered a fresh start for those who moved there. The work in  the Promised Land would differ in scope if not always in kind from the  work at Temple sites in California. Being asked what one wanted to do was  a call to reinvent oneself—a call that most Temple members in the United  States recognized, even if they did not seek it themselves.

The “Promised Land Work Preference” (PLWP) form is more obvious  in its promise of possibility. To begin with, the title seems to offer  personal agency. Not only does it name the site of the labor (Promised  Land), it also explicitly indicates that preferences will be taken into  consideration. Moreover, unlike the “Skills Inventory,” this form asks  applicants to describe not only what they have done, but also what they  hope to do. More than two pages long, the form provides applicants with  a list of items related to tasks that would contribute to the building and  maintenance of Jonestown, and it solicits their interest in conducting  labor associated with each item (preferred, willing, unwilling), as well as  their experience with tasks associated with each item (much exp., some  exp., no exp.). Photo 4, Promised Land Work Preference Excerpt depicts  the first page of the PLWP. Of the forms available to Peoples  Temple members—and here I mean all forms available to members,  not just those related to emigration to the Promised Land—this one  stands out for its relative flexibility and the diversity of responses it  elicited.

In reviewing completed forms in the records, one can see members  negotiate the social space opened up by the PLWP in different ways. It is  clear that some members had assistance when completing the form. This  is evident in the notes written on some of the forms that refer to the  applicants in the third person. For instance, one hand-written annotation  reads, “She wants to work with children.” Some applicants express  a preference to conduct work with which they already have experience.  One member with a background in construction, for example, expressed  a desire to do “fence building” and “painting.” Others attempted to carve  out a different identity for themselves or, perhaps, better position  themselves as the kind of worker needed in the Promised Land. Two  examples illustrate this: the applicant with experience as a nurse’s aide  who expressed a desire to do electrical work and ended up doing that;  and the applicant with experience as a teacher’s aide and office work  who indicated that she wanted “to build.”

The ways of completing the PLWP form are also suggestive. Some  people checked each and every box containing relevant information,  sometimes stopping to cross out an initial checkmark and offer a revised  response. This shows care and intention in completing the form, though  we cannot know what that intention was. Other applicants marked only  those things with which they had experience and indicated their willingness— or not—to continue with that work, leaving the rest of the items  blank. Of course, there are members who, once in the Promised Land,  ended up doing what they did not want to do (and this does not include  agricultural work, at which everyone took a turn).[54] Here, I think mainly  of the members with office experience who indicated a desire to do  something other than “secretarial” work and who ended up, according  to Temple records, in a letter-writing capacity.

The purpose of this analysis is not to suggest that there is a direct  correlation between what people desired and what they ended up doing.  However, the analysis does demonstrate that the organization designed  an instance of a genre that afforded members the opportunity to express  an individual desire and that members availed themselves of that opportunity.  There is reason to believe that people could have viewed the  invitation to express preferences as genuine. Although the Promised  Land offered a distinct opportunity for transformation, the chance to  change one’s sense of self through learning was part of the Temple culture.  Eugene Smith, reflecting on his time in Peoples Temple, describes  the mentorship he received from others. Through this mentorship, he  learned about music, printing, and photography. He characterizes the  easy way that practical knowledge was shared, sometimes with a dose of  humor:

People were free with their knowledge. If you wanted to go into  mechanics and get greasy, go down to the garage. The mechanics were an  off bunch. They would make their coffee and they’d stir it with a wrench.  That was their thing, “C’mon in, get some of this good coffee.”[55]

The data gathered though this application effort was massive. We see  the community attempt to wrangle information like this in other texts,  including a lengthy handwritten summary of the kind of information  collected in the PLWP and the “Skills Inventory.” This summary, used  onsite in Guyana, organizes people by their assigned work role in the  community, indicated by a code. Resident names are listed, and many  are accompanied by a brief write-up of skills and work experience.[56] One  member’s entry reads: “Agriculture (banana grower), Lumberjack,  Cement finishing, Carpentry, Industrial Painter, Hunter, Intensive farming,  Hay Bailer [sic], Peanut Thrasher, high school graduate, age 53.”  Many of these experiences could have been completed while in Guyana,  though given the age of the member, it is likely that he brought previous  experience with him. Another entry, this one for a 38-year-old resident,  contains information that clearly includes experience from outside of  the agricultural community: “food dietician 5 yrs, shoe factory, pillow &  chair factory. Beauty shop, shampooing, dressing hair, worked bar serving  food & drink, went to school for [unreadable], cashier, convalescent  sanatorium maid, laundry, high school graduate.”[57]

In tracing the data through people’s stories and through Temple  records, we do know that transformations in work identity occurred. It  makes sense that organizing people’s labor roles would occupy so much  of the Temple’s efforts. As Rebecca Moore aptly points out, it would take  a lot of skilled labor to support the needs of the community. In addition,  she observes that relocating to the Promised Land offered the opportunity  for members to adjust their job status, either by taking on a role that  would typically be viewed as a promotion, such as being assigned to  a managerial role without past experience or to a role that might be  viewed as a “step down the career ladder.”[58] As noted above, some  people’s status remained the same, despite what seems to be (in some  cases) efforts to shift roles. Linking one’s identity with one’s work role in  the Promised Land was part of the tactics Jones used as part of the  emigration process, broadly defined. Odell Rhodes recalls the gist of  Jones’ “pitch”:

[H]e kept saying that over there a person wasn’t judged by the color of  his skin or the way he talked, or who his parents were. Over there, you  could be anything you wanted to be, do any type of work you wanted,  make yourself the kind of person you always wanted to be—anything, just  so long as you were working to help your brothers and sisters, that was all  anyone was judged on over there.[59]

If the Promised Land offered a place to reinvent oneself in a community  that valued, above all, one’s contributions to the cause, the textual tools  with which members engaged offered one means through which they  could attempt to enact that reinvention.

The network of texts relevant to emigration also included those that  functioned as consent documents; the only self-determination these  provide to members is in the decision to sign them or not. One example  of this is the form for “Release of Medical Records and X-Rays and Lab  Work,” which gave permission for the relevant medical paperwork to be  sent to Dr. Larry Schacht.[60] But the consent genres often contained  elements of assent, too, and these aspects were unique to the specific  purposes of the Temple. For instance, embedded in a release form that  absolved the Temple of responsibility for “any and all liability, claims,  causes and causes of action arising out of and relating to” travel to and  from sites in the United States and foreign countries, we find a passage  that acknowledged that the applicant has consented to the trip and has  assented—that is, “promised”—to “work diligently and in full cooperation  with all leadership appointed by [Jim Jones] and to keep  a cheerful and constructive attitude at all times.”[61] Several versions of  the release document exist in the records, suggesting its development  over time in response to the organization’s needs.

At times, instances of consent/assent genres demonstrate quite  forcefully Jones’ preoccupation with control. One short form, about  a half page in length, is simply titled “Statement.” It contains a statement  of willingness to travel and of belief in the “aims and reasons for this  mission,” a commitment to “work diligently and to be an integral part of  this missionary program,” and a “pledge without reservation” of “eternal  loyalty to Pastor Jim Jones and to the Peoples Temple.” It ends with  positive words about Jones’ character and thanks “for all he has done  for me.” The bottom of the form contains lines for the member’s signature  and date of signing. There is no legal aspect to this text—this is  simply a statement of rededication to the cause and to Jones. Yet, it is  presented with the formality of a legal text; for instance, this could have  been done verbally—as a more traditional pledge—instead of being  offered as a document requiring a signature. In keeping with the  Temple’s tradition of using written texts as a way to make personal information  part of the organizational record, some members were asked to  sign the statement. This form is not as common as are other forms, and so  one has to wonder whether it was used early on (one of the completed  samples was dated 12 June 1974) and then found to be redundant or  unnecessary as the community progressed. The release form (described  above) appears with much more frequency in the records and covers in  spirit some of the same ideas regarding commitment to the Temple.

Packing and Travel (or, What We Need is a List!)  

Group travel triggered a whole host of texts, many of them taking the  form of a list. The level of organization required to move people to  Guyana, especially beginning in late summer of 1977 when the pace  picked up substantially, relied on textual practices. The stakes were higher  here, as some of the textual labor had audiences outside of the  Temple, and failure to succeed in meeting the audience’s needs would  affect Temple operations—either in preventing the movement of members  or in preventing much-needed financial support, such as that provided  by SSA checks, from reaching members in Guyana.

Figure 3: Activity System: Packing for and Travel to the Promised Land depicts  some of the textual tools in this activity system. In terms of getting a sense of what the process of emigrating might be  like, the lists created to facilitate and ease travel are the most interesting.  These were prepared for various audiences and served a number of  needs. There were packing lists that told ´emigr´es what to bring and what  not to bring (NO GUM OR CANDY, one intones in the top left margin).  There were master lists that referred to emigration paperwork (a notecard  sized “Trip Checklist” served this role) and to other lists (item #3 on  the “Checklist for Anyone Going Over” is “Revised clothes list,” a list that  was adjusted several times as the organization learned to better manage  resources). The list titled “Instructions for Packing to Go Over” provides  a catalog of rules that guided members’ packing processes. Item #2 on  this inventory explains that members can take more personal items with  them than can fit into their three pieces of luggage, but that these items  “will have to go by surface and will not reach you for at least two months.”  Another item on this list cautions travelers against transporting caffeinebased  drugs considered to be over-the-counter stateside but prescription  “in the P.L.” This item in particular suggests a shift in culture; what  might have been normal in the United States (taking caffeine in pill  form) would be viewed differently in the Promised Land. Sometimes the  lists contain delightful moments, such as this item on the “Checklist of  Additional Preparations,” which takes as its audience one of the people  who will facilitate a group departure: “See that youngsters are washed  and dressed.”[62]

The care taken to ease the process by legitimizing travelers, who, due  to various factors might experience discrimination or unease when traveling,  is also noteworthy. Internal Temple memos suggest that travelers’  nerves did need to be calmed. Letters of introduction were prepared for  travelers. One sample letter in the records was addressed to Pan Am  staff—Pan Am being the airline used by the Temple for emigration.  Sample letters prepared for the airlines introduce the traveler (“Please  permit me to introduce . . . ”), emphasize the nature of the organization  and the reason for travel the business provided to Pan Am by Peoples  Temple (“our members fly Pan Am and we ship air freight by Pan Am  regularly”), and include a request to provide the “fullest cooperation”  with the traveler.[63] Letters to Guyanese officials served a similar purpose.  These letters were typewritten on Peoples Temple letterhead and were  signed by “Michael J. Prokes, Associate Minister.” Using textual tools  such as these formal letters of introduction, the Temple extended its  organizational stature to individual travelers who on their own might not  have carried that stature. Travelers were given directions that undoubtedly  were designed to raise their public credibility. Among the instructions  provided in “Instructions for Packing to Go Over,” men were  advised to “have their hair cut or worked into French braids before  going over.”[64]

External audiences were attended to in additional ways. Members  sent personal letters to non-member acquaintances or family members  ahead of travel. These were handwritten. Although they vary in content,  the personal letters contain a statement about upcoming travel to the  agricultural mission. The following excerpt was taken from one of the  letters and is representative of the kind of language used:

[W]e are going with our pastor and some of the members to South  America, [sic] we have an agriculture mission there, some of the members  have been there for several months. I will write you a letter from  there giving you my address, as I expect to be gone for several months.  We are both well and hope you are the same.[65]

Another member wrote,

I am going to take a trip with our church and I will be gone for several  months. I am going to our mission field. I will write to you when I get  there and I will send you the address so you can write me. I never  dreamed of having a chance like this at my old age (Ha Ha).[66]

Because of the similarity across samples, it is clear that although seeming  to be a “personal” letter, these were, in fact, dual-natured and served  personal and organizational ends. They were undoubtedly copied from  templates developed as boiler-plate messages.


As we examine the available documentation concerning Peoples  Temple, we can perceive a sense of optimism in the pages of the texts  the group composed. In some cases, the optimism is obvious; in other  cases, we can infer optimism and hope in the group’s industriousness,  reflected on the pages of the everyday texts they composed—activity  aimed at creating a new world and transformed selves that in its own  way marks the group as very decidedly American. John R. Hall notes that  Peoples Temple marked the end of “any interest in utopian reconstruction  in American society,” despite the fact that the problems utopian  communities aimed to remedy are still with us today.[67] Yet, between the  time that Hall offered those words and the present, society seems to have  witnessed events that make utopian reconstruction more desirable, perhaps  even necessary. We are barreling toward an uncertain future under  the specter of vast environmental destruction, a resurgence of white  supremacy in the United States, and a return of fears about nuclear war.  Members of Peoples Temple confronted similar issues, albeit in a different  technological context. Many people find themselves asking, How  then should we live? Just as failures can instruct, so can successes, and  there are practical lessons to be learned from examining the labor of the  group that created Peoples Temple Agricultural Project. One principle  we can infer from Peoples Temple’s efforts is that building a successful  organization requires its members to harness the social and rhetorical  power offered by genres. Mundane genres matter because they mediate  goal-directed activity within systems. Moreover, textual tools afford certain  actions and hinder others. Understanding this can make organizations  more effective and can give individual members agency within  those organizations.

When we look closely at the coordination afforded by “homely” genres,  we begin to understand why activity theorists put textual tools on an  equal footing with things we traditionally think of as tools, such as hammers  and saws. In addition, we see how activity theory might be valuable  for examining the work that takes place in new religious movements  because it asks us to examine the means through which people achieve  objectives. Moreover, such an analysis highlights the means, such as the  use of routine genres, that researchers and participants in organizations  might typically take for granted. In the case of Peoples Temple in particular,  we can begin to understand the fundamental role that textual  tools played in mediating its efforts to send members over to the  Promised Land. In addition, activity theory offers one framework for  enacting Feltmate’s call to produce research from a social possibilities  perspective. While activity theory is not ideologically motivated by “social  possibilities” per se, its focus on goal-directed, tool-mediated activity  within systems—as it occurs from the subjects’ viewpoints—nevertheless  allows us to understand the social possibilities of organizations and  aspirations of individuals within those organizations.

I would like to thank the reviewers and editors for their timely, insightful, and  helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. In addition, I extend thanks to  the research librarians at the California Historical Society for generously sharing  their knowledge of the Peoples Temple collection. This research was funded through  generous support provided by Montana Tech of the University of Montana and the  University of California, Santa Cruz.


[1] Leigh Fondakowski, Stories from Jonestown (Minneapolis: University of  Minnesota Press, 2013), 197.

[2] John Winthrop, “A Modell of Christian Charity” (1630), Collections of the  Massachusetts Historical Society, at https://history.hanover.edu/texts/  winthmod.html.

[3] Mary Sawyer, “The Church in Peoples Temple,” in Peoples Temple and Black  Religion in America, ed. Rebecca Moore, Anthony B. Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer  (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 167.

[4] 8 October 1973, Minutes of the Board of Directors, Peoples Temple Records,  MS 3800, California Historical Society.

[5] Readers can view a copy of the minutes with the Resolution, as well as many  other primary sources at Alternative Considerations of Peoples Temple and  Jonestown, http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/, last modified 2 July 2018.

[6] The diversity of names used to refer to the community in Guyana reflects the  multiple identity of Peoples Temple, both secular and religious.

[7] Rebecca Moore, “Is the Canon on Jonestown Closed?,” Nova Religio 4, no. 1  (2000): 7–27.

[8] David Feltmate, “Rethinking New Religious Movements Beyond a Social  Problems Paradigm,” Nova Religio 20, no. 2 (2016): 84.

[9] Feltmate, “Rethinking New Religious Movements,” 91.

[10] Feltmate, “Rethinking New Religious Movements,” 95.

[11] See, for example: Rebecca Moore, Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2009), 1–8 and John R. Hall, Gone from The Promised  Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History, 2nd edition (New Brunswick:  Transaction, 2004). Many other scholars have discussed this issue, and other  questions related to the problematic nature of popular conceptions about  Jonestown—far too many to list here.

[12] This organizational structure changed over time. Most notable is the dissolution  of the Planning Commission. The work of this group was taken over by  administrative structures new to the agricultural project. See “Planning  Commission Reorganized,” Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and  Peoples Temple, http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=35917, last modified 23  May 2014.

[13] Fondakowski, Stories from Jonestown, 267.

[14] This is addressed in separate scholarly works by Mary McCormick Maaga, Hearing the Voices of Jonestown: Putting a Human Face on an American Tragedy  (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1998), 6; Rebecca Moore and John Hall,  previously cited, but also through accounts of the Temple provided by former  members, including those who, looking back, are highly critical of the group.  For one example, see Janet Shular’s contributions to Leigh Fondakowski’s Stories  from Jonestown.

[15] Subduing the jungle landscape alone was challenging. Hyacinth Thrash,  a former member who completed an oral history of her time with Peoples  Temple, described the perseverance of the jungle plant life: “Grass and weeds  grew so fast, you’d cut them down and two or three days later they’d be tall as you  again.” Catherine Thrash and Marian Kleinsasser Towne, The Onliest One Alive:  Surviving Jonestown, Guyana (Indianapolis: M. K. Towne, 1995), 86.

[16] Maaga, Hearing the Voices of Jonestown, 6.

[17] Rebecca Moore, The Jonestown Letters: Correspondence of the Moore Family  1970–1985 (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1986), 240.

[18] Aleksei Leont’ev, Activity, Consciousness, and Personality, trans. Marie J. Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1978); Alexander Luria, Cognitive  Development: Its Cultural and Social Foundations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard  University Press, 1976); Yrjo Engestro¨m, “Learning by Expanding: An Activity- Theoretical Approach to Developmental Research,” The Laboratory of  Comparative Human Cognition, at http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Paper/  Engestrom/Learning-by-Expanding.pdf, accessed 8 September 2017; Lev S.  Vygotsky, Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes  (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978).

[19] Bonnie Nardi, “Activity Theory and Human-Computer Interaction,” in  Context and Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human-Computer Interaction, ed.  Bonnie Nardi (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 4.

[20] Kari Kuutti, “Activity Theory as a Potential Framework for Human-Computer  Interaction Research,” in Context and Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human-  Computer Interaction, ed. Bonnie Nardi (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 26.

[21] David Russell, “Rethinking Genre in School and Society: An Activity Theory  Analysis,” Written Communication14, no. 4 (October 1997): 508–9.

[22] Maryan Schall, “A Communication-Rules Approach to Organizational  Culture,” Administrative Science Quarterly28, no. 4 (December 1983): 560.

[23] Readers can find selections from the CHS Peoples Temple collection in Dear People: Remembering Jonestown, ed. Denice Stephenson (San Francisco: California  Historical Society Press and Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2005). Additional primary  source materials are available online at Alternative Considerations of Jonestown  and Peoples Temple, http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=13052, last modified  25 February 2018.

[24] Fielding M. McGehee III, “Attempting to Document the Peoples Temple  Story: The Existence and Disappearance of Government Records,” Alternative  Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple, http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?  page_id=16577, last modified 21 March 2014.

[25] Carolyn R. Miller, “Genre as Social Action,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 70, no. 2  (1984): 155. The term “homely discourse” is a pointed way of acknowledging the  disdain with which some scholars regarded non-literary or non-scholarly forms  of writing.

[26] Anis S. Bawarshi and Mary Jo Reiff, Genre: An Introduction to History, Theory,  Research, and Pedagogy (West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2010), 212.

[27] Miller, “Genre as Social Action,” 154.

[28] Charles Bazerman, “What Do Sociocultural Studies of Writing Tell us about  Learning to Write?” in Handbook of Writing Research, 2nd edition, ed. Charles  MacArthur, Steve Graham and Jill Fitzgerald (New York: Guilford, 2016), 18.

[29] Bawarshi and Reiff, Genre, 95.

[30] Charles Bazerman, “Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems,” in What  Writing Does and How It Does It, ed. Charles Bazerman and Paul Prior  (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004), 317.

[31] Bazerman, “What Do Sociocultural Studies of Writing Tell Us,” 11.

[32] Miller, “Genre as Social Action,” 163.

[33] Moore, Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple, 45.

[34] In fact, a comprehensive analysis of the textual work of the Temple is called  for. The sheer power of the group harnessed through its textual work is relevant  to the group’s general history, and such an analysis would also be instructive  about activist organizational practices in the 1960s and 1970s.

[35] Moore, Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple, 42–44.

[36] Hall, Gone from The Promised Land, 192.

[37] Fondakowski, Stories from Jonestown, 197.

[38] Moore, Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple, 46.

[39] See, for example, the Government of Guyana Documents available for viewing  at Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple, http://  jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=13225. These sample documents only scratch  the surface. The records contain additional texts, many of them letters written  to various government officials and community members, used to establish the  agricultural community and ensure its ability to operate.

[40] For a good discussion of Peoples Temple membership, see Chapter 1 of  Maaga, Hearing the Voices of Jonestown, 1–13. For an analysis of the demographics  of those at the Guyana site, see Rebecca Moore, “An Update on the  Demographics of Jonestown,” Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and  Peoples Temple, http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=70495, last modified  21 June 2018.

[41] John Nordheimer, “I Never Once Thought He Was Crazy,” New York Times, 27  November 1978, http://www.nytimes.com/1978/11/27/archives/i-never-oncethought- he-was-crazy-claims-of-superiority-unlimited.html.

[42] Ethan Feinsod, Awake in a Nightmare: Jonestown, the Only Eyewitness (New York:  W.W. Norton, 1981), 92.

[43] Fondakowski, Stories from Jonestown, 176.

[44] Fondakowski, Stories from Jonestown, 160.

[45] Fondakowski, Stories from Jonestown, 161

[46] Fondakowski, Stories from Jonestown, 182–3.

[47] Tanya Hollis, “Peoples Temple and Housing Politics in San Francisco,” in  Peoples Temple and Black Religion in America, ed. Rebecca Moore, Anthony B.  Pinn, and Mary R. Sawyer (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 98.  Hollis also discusses the politics of living space. In the same passage, she notes  that the move to Guyana could also “be seen in terms of the Temple hierarchy’s  stake in the move as an extension of such an authoritarian politics of living  space.”

[48] In truth, there were many texts that mediated “going over,” including airline  tickets, paper currency, shipping invoices for members’ belongings, and so on.  This is the nature of text in our time; one text leads to another text and to  another. And of course, there were also many non-discursive tools that were  integral to the group’s work.

[49] Application to Go Abroad, 18 April 1977, Alternative Considerations of  Jonestown and Peoples Temple, http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/wp-content/  uploads/2013/10/04-05-GoabroadApp.pdf. A blank application can be found  in Peoples Temple Records, MS 3800, California Historical Society.

[50] Information to be Supplied by Persons Desirous of Immigration into Guyana,  Peoples Temple Records, MS 3800, California Historical Society.

[51] Information to be Supplied by Persons Desirous of Immigration into Guyana,  Peoples Temple Records, MS 3800, California Historical Society. The abbreviation  “F. C. H.” refers to Prime Minister Forbes Burnham’s “feed, clothe, and  house the nation” plan. For a description of this plan, see Marvin X, “A  Conversation with Forbes Burnham,” The Black Scholar 4, no. 5 (February  1973): 27.

[52] Questionnaire, Peoples Temple Records, MS 3800, California Historical  Society.

[53] Included in the records are a number of requests for birth certificates for  older residents. At times, the requests initiated a lengthy paper chase complicated  by members’ ages (some born in the late 1800s or early 1900s), social class,  and race. A number of sociological reasons account for this lack of documentation,  including home births. See also the explanation provided in Peoples  Temple Emigration Documents, at http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_  id=13104, last modified 15 September 2014.

[54] Feinsod, Awake in a Nightmare, 114.

[55] Fondakowski, Stories from Jonestown, 238.

[56] Code II, for example, includes “Foods and Central Supply.” For a list of roles  organized by code and supervisor, see “Personnel Codes,” Alternative  Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple, http://jonestown.sdsu  .edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/4b-ACAORomanNum.pdf, accessed 28  September 2017.

[57] Don Beck, Organization of Jonestown: Departments, Jobs & Activities, Residences, Courtesy of California Historical Society.

[58] Moore, Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple, 46.

[59] Feinsod, Awake in a Nightmare, 114.

[60] Release of Medical Records and X-Rays and Lab Work, Peoples Temple  Records, MS 3800, California Historical Society.

[61] Release, Peoples Temple Records, MS 3800, California Historical Society.

[62] Checklist of Additional Preparations, Peoples Temple Records, MS 3800,  California Historical Society.

[63] Letter of Introduction to Pan Am, Peoples Temple Records, MS 3800,  California Historical Society.

[64] Instructions for Packing to Go Over, Peoples Temple Records, MS 3800,  California Historical Society.

[65] Adeleine and Madeleine to Hazel and Clarence, Peoples Temple Records,  MS 3800, California Historical Society.

[66] My Dear Thelma, Peoples Temple Records, MS 3800, California Historical  Society.

[67] Fondakowski, Stories from Jonestown, 183–84.