June 2023, by Britta Gustafson  (CC BY-SA)

Das Institut, also called the Institute for Critical Studies, was an "alternative living collective" in Isla Vista from 1972-1977, located at 795 Embarcadero del Norte. The commune rented the distinctive brick chapter house of Sigma Phi Epsilon, which was not being used for fraternity purposes at the time.


One person's story:

I began meeting with Phil Seymour and the people who worked with him at the Marxist-pinko Homefront Bookstore, and it turned out that the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house, at the corner of Embarcadero del Norte and Picasso in Isla Vista, was vacant. So we rented it, and 18 of us moved in for the 1972-3 academic year — one professor (me), eight grad students (I think all from sociology), nine people from the Homefront Bookstore (including Phil).

Another person, writing in 1973:

This year, I am living in a political collective, which we call Das Institut, named after an Institute for Critical Studies attached to Frankfurt University In Germany. Das Institut was born last spring among some of us who felt that we were leading double lives - talking about social change, but basically living the life of "contemplation." We felt the need to combine theory and practice. Seventeen of us, nine sociologists and eight community activists took over an abandoned fraternity house in Isla Vista. We live in one part of the building. There is also a huge auditorium and several meeting rooms which provide a meeting place for the community. This quarter we have organized a series of seminars and special programs not attainable in the university. Das Institut, in combination with over 50 other groups in the Santa Barbara area, meet here to try to coordinate all of the community organizing efforts in the area, to share knowledge and resources and hopefully to help turn Santa Barbara-Goleta-Isla Vista into a dynamic place.


In 1973, the collective offered classes on topics including:

  • "Structure of the American ruling class and economic structure, analysis of imperialism and American labor history."
  • "A look at Merleau-Ponty, Lukács and other phenomenologists and Marxists in order to see what the two world views have in common."
  • "Discussion of primary revolutionary upheavals in the West: the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution, the French uprising of 1968 and others. Readings will focus on anarchist perspectives and will cover the actual movement and self-organization of workers themselves rather than the politics of various revolutionary and reactionary parties."
  • "Reading and discussion of feminism and its political implications. Study of revolutions in Russia, China, Cuba and Vietnam with a special emphasis on the roles of the women's movement."
  • "A review of the Russian Revolution from its pre-1917 roots through the consolidation of Stalin's power in 1929. Focuses include how the Bolsheviks seized and retained state power and why the revolution failed to change the daily life of the Russian masses."

The house

According to a Sigma Phi Epsilon journal from 2004, this chapter house was built in 1965. It may have been vacant in 1972 due to the social impacts of the 1970 riots.

In 1977, the property owner (the fraternity) decided not to renew Das Institut's lease, and those residents moved out.