if I remember correctly the tyranny of structurelessness is the title of a book written by Jo Freeman a feminist who emerged from the second wave of feminism so 1960s-ish so una what have you got to tell us about it so the tyranny of structurelessness it’s more of an article than a book I’d say it’s quite short so you can read it you know in half an hour or something it was written in the 70s and it quite specifically references the feminist movement in the US and it’s talking about the tendency of a lot of the feminist groups of the time to try and have groups that are so-called structuralists and she talks about this as kind of a reaction to a society that obviously is very structured and full of hierarchy and those hierarchies often having redistrantal impact on women are often just totally excluding women but she goes on to critique this idea of structurelessness and I think a lot of us who have been involved in activist groups or organizing that are kind of in sort of anarchisty spaces or the more autonomous left you might call it have experienced various versions of people attempting either structurelessness or lack of hierarchy and so what she talks about in the article is this idea of structurelessness like having it very informal not lots of rules trying to make the hierarchy flat can work really well for Consciousness raising groups which is what a lot of these feminist groups start off as so places to share your experience and kind of reflect on feminist thinking feminist writing and apply that to your own life but it got really difficult when it came to those groups actually wanting to do stuff and that is I mean there’s a number of different problems that Joe Freeman goes over in the article but a few of the main ones are well the main one is the fact that no group is actually structuralist so every group will have a structure or some form of maybe not hierarchy but like a structure the only thing you’re really doing when you call it structureless is just hiding that structure and making sure that no one actually explicitly knows what it is and it can’t be explicitly challenged so she says that basically in order for people to be able to participate in a group the structure and the rules of the group must be transparent every group is going to have structure or rules whether they’re informal or formal and the only thing we do by pretending that we don’t have them is just make it impossible for some people to participate because they’re not able to kind of read those implied rules just from being around them and she talks about the impact that this has on kind of allowing groups to become quietly dominated by she uses the term Elite defines that you know less of like deliberate Shady group of people and more as a group of friends who happen to be friends and therefore like listen to each other back each other up tend to dominate a group I might I would probably slightly challenge that idea of it being like a group of friends and I think it’d be more sensible to look at things like class background or race or other things that make people behave in a similar way or make people kind of naturally sympathetic towards each other’s ways of communicating and behaving she goes through like a few other problems with trying to have struck groups and one of the ones that I found really interesting is that when you have a group that declines to have official spokespeople you end up with the media kind of turning to what she calls Stars so unofficial spokespeople I mean you can see this all the time in current activism where it’s like the people with big Twitter following the people who kind of gravitate towards being in public and speaking about things often end up being exposed to people for movements or spokespeople for whole groups of people with no structure for them to be accountable to those people and then you see a cycle where then this is something that she talks about in the article you see a cycle where because of that lack of accountability the people that that spokesperson is speaking for become resentful of the person and then can turn on them and then the experience of that person can be really awful and then that further erodes any connection between them and the movement and any accountability there and I think we see that cycle all the time and I don’t think that cycle is confined to the more autonomous left or groups with another background but I do think the reluctance to have structured formal ways that we communicate can lead to that cycle more quickly another really interesting problem that she talks about which again I think I’ve seen time and time again on the left and have also been part of is that having an informal structure and informal processes and not having those laid out anywhere means it’s really hard to engage in healthy open conflict if you haven’t got a clear transparent way that this group is functioning it’s really hard to actually challenge the way the group is functioning it’s really hard to have conflict in a way that doesn’t feel personal or doesn’t become personal and what she says tends to happen is that because engaging in open healthy conflict would require the elites of each group to be transparent about the stretches and processes they don’t tend to do that they tend to tend towards more personal ways of othering their opponents and I think anyone who’s been involved in organizing will have seen that process play out where instead of kind of being open about whatever power structures might actually exist in the group even if they’re not formal people will turn to ways of excluding the people who might be challenging them or opposing them those are a few of the problems there’s more that she talks about but those are the ones that I found really interesting and felt that really resonated with my experience as well and she goes through a list of principles that she thinks groups should adopt for a democratic structuring I think here she’s trying to kind of get that balance between having something that’s like really really hierarchical really overly structured or really overly formal but then also making sure that there is an explicit structure so I won’t go through these in loads of detail but she talks about delegation making sure that tasks are specifically dedicated to people that those people have a responsibility to carry out this tasks and are accountable to the people who have delegated the task to them distribution so trying to distribute Authority among as many people as reasonably possible it’s an interesting one because a lot of the so-called structuralist group groups will say they have a flat distribution of authority everyone has equal Authority but it’s very rarely that that is the case it’s just the people who have authority don’t officially have authority so it’s quite hard to challenge that Authority rotation so rotating responsibility is so that they don’t become the sole property of one person allocating tasks according to cognitability interest and responsibility and also having structured ways for people to learn how to do tasks diffusion of information so lots of information to everyone as frequently as possible I’ve got some thoughts on that one but won’t go into it now and equal access to resources so making sure that everyone in the group has equal access to resources like rooms or equipment and also the skills and information of other members so you need to set up structures that make sure that people can access all those things so I’ll stop there but that’s the kind of General overview of the article I think there are critiques that can be made of the article but I found it like a really really useful short accessible way to think about a lot of the problems that happen in informal organizing groups yeah so it’s super relatable you know those are the most Capital end up dictating a lot of many things and it’s always like the same two people doing X Y and Z because of course it’s the same two people doing XYZ because I think often the argument made in my experience has been oh well we’ve done it before we know what we’re doing you know we need yes but that’s because you don’t have a structure in place to address that problem well I absolutely do not recognize any of that at all

The Tyranny of Structurelessness

Episode 5 | The Tyranny of Structurelessness Have you ever been part of a grassroots movement that started out with the best intentions, but eventually fizzled out or turned toxic? In this episode of our podcast, we examine “The Tyranny of Structurelessness,” a phenomenon where a lack of formal structure in grassroots movements can lead to unintended consequences that undermine their effectiveness and sustainability. We explore the origins of this idea and its relevance to contemporary social movements, including the challenges and benefits of formalising organisational structures. You’ll also hear our firsthand accounts as activists and organisers who have experienced the negative effects of structurelessness and discuss potential solutions to ensure that movements maintain their grassroots spirit while still operating effectively and sustainably. Join us as we dive into this thought-provoking topic, and learn how a deeper understanding of structure and power dynamics can contribute to building more effective and sustainable social movements.