In the tradition of Octavia Butler, radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help to shape the futures we want.
Inspired by Octavia Butler's explorations of our human relationship to change, Emergent Strategy is radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live. Change is constant. The world is in a continual state of flux. It is a stream of ever-mutating, emergent patterns. Rather than steel ourselves against such change, this book invites us to feel, map, assess, and learn from the swirling patterns around us in order to better understand and influence them as they happen. This is a resolutely materialist “spirituality” based equally on science and science fiction, a visionary incantation to transform that which ultimately transforms us.
adrienne maree brown is the author of Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds and the co-editor of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements. She is the cohost of the How to Survive the End of the World and Octavia’s Parables podcasts. adrienne is rooted in Detroit.
I say this with the utmost love and respect for both emergent strategy as concept and the author: this desperately needed an editor. As it stands, Emergent Strategy is a rather disjointed sea of thoughts, quotes (so. many. quotes.), blog posts, and speeches. I never felt as though I had enough forewarning when the book would suddenly divert into a blog post or speech. Countless quotes bog down the overall message and create a murkiness that I as a reader could never recover from. The introduction was an excessive ~40 pages and encapsulated the book's overall issue: not enough organization and trimming to communicate a vitally important concept to anyone who's not on the same wavelength as the author.
The book shines in the final section, likely because it's the part of the book that illustrates examples of how to actually practice emergent strategy. I felt as though I understood the aspects of emergent strategy far better through these examples than the bloated descriptions in the book's beginning, and that makes me sad.
The author herself says several times throughout the novel that she's not the analytical research type but a feeling/perceiving sort. Unfortunately, you need both for an effective book: if not within yourself, then in collaboration with others who can help you realize your goal. However, reaching an audience beyond a very small milieu already familiar with every reference was perhaps not the goal, and I understand that. Even so, further honing, trimming, and clarifying could also achieve another goal, which is increased accessibility for disabled readers.
Overall, it's worth the read! If you're on the fence, please go for it. It just has some structural issues. I truly believe in emergent strategy and would love to see it articulated more effectively in the future.
Started this book when it came out and was confused so I put it down and then tried to finish it when it came up as a book for a book club. I have read other peoples reviews and am not sure why this book is popular, so i feel out of step disliking this book. I have been to a few of Brown's workshops through the Detroit's Allied Media Conference and am familiar with her work in Ruckus and as a facilitator. So again, was excited about the book, but just felt disappointed. For facilitators in the movement, I think there is a lot of useful things when trying to figure out bad habits and moving forward in your organizing. But for other organizers or those new activism, I didn't find too much of use around the term emergent strategy - which basically is like - respond to the situation at hand and change your organizing patterns to create sustaining relationships. I really enjoyed her stories about radical organizations she was part of and how she was part of changing those political cultures, but i wanted more of the gorey details. Instead there is a lot of metaphors comparing the human condition to a lot of nature, and I feel those metaphors are limited and a bit biologically deterministic. She wrote in great detail of how socialist Grace Lee Boggs was an influence, but was very superficial in the details with how that mentorship shaped her activism. She praises Boggs' use of dialectical humanism, but delves very little into conflict and power. And I like Octavia Butler, but am not convinced her writing is central to the problems of movement building. For me, I was hoping to get clarity on - how do movements provide for the expectations and needs of people when they don't have the resources to do so? how do we think about power, leadership and base building in this current climate? are we ok with a small group of 10 organizers who have deep relationships or do we want something larger? How do we think of our movements as connected to larger movements of liberation internationally?
A powerful, rousing book that I would recommend to anyone interested in activism and social justice. Adrienne Maree Brown builds this book upon the notion of emergent strategy, conceptualized as "the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions." From there, she discusses how we can use our relationships with others and ourselves to change the world. She addresses many topics, ranging from the necessity of interdependence and decentralization, how change occurs in a nonlinear and iterative manner, and how to organize in a way that stays true to the values of emergent strategy. Out of the many insights I appreciated in this book, a couple favorites include the importance of re-imagining the world as it could or should be as opposed to how it is (e.g., a world without toxic masculinity, for me), how to practice mindfulness and self-care when dedicating your life to tackling fraught issues, and steps to form relationships liberated from capitalism and oppression. Brown draws upon her experience as a facilitator and organizing change strategist, doula, and expert on Octavia Butler and afrofuturism to create this guide working toward a more radically open, just, and cooperative society.
While the organization of the book confused me a bit, I appreciated Emergent Strategy a lot and how Brown integrates her own story and personality with her strategies for creating transformative justice. As simplistic as this may sound, this book will resonate with those who work to make the world a better place, especially for the marginalized and the oppressed. Emergent Strategy reads like a social justice toolkit, with a compassionate, lively, and distinct vision.
Multiple people recommended this book to me and it just really wasn't for me. I knew it too from the opening of this when Brown explains what the book was but I have this compulsive need tot finish any book I start. I really had to force myself to get through this one though to be quite honest. This is much more like a journal where someone jotted down everything the found inspirational and thoughts that somehow related to organizing and being in community. I just found it lacking in its ability to clearly articulate any meaningful structure or way of going about doing things however. It felt very much like it was regurgitating common sense things like be empathetic and adaptive to change through the author's own personal lens, which was a love of Octavia Butler and some loosely applied allusion to certain things in biology. I just got nothing out of this and this isn't the kind of book that I would pick up to read if I had known what it was about/like.
I wanted to love this so badly, but I was painfully disappointed. This book is chaotic. Not in a good way, but in a braindump-without-structure-way. It makes reading the book a slow struggle and it gives such a horrible overview of what it's actually about. I believe you can finish this book and still not totally get what emergent strategy is.
Another thing that irked me is the focus on leadership, coaching, managing. I purchased this from an anarchist publisher -what is happening?! Every few pages a leadership book is referenced and recommended. The assessments are mainly about organizations. The author speaks of her experience as coach this and executive director that. Plan meetings, more curating, appoint leaders, make an agenda, set goals, follow conversation strategies. Such a hierarchical structure is the last thing that is going to motivate me. Am I in a movement or at the office? And then this leadership-focus is even presented as being progressively bottom-up instead of top-down, because it's authentic, transformational, decentralized, innovative, etc.?
At least 50% of this book is about the author. Her thoughts, experiences, ideas, daily activities, memories, what she reads. I came for strategies, not for a memoir. Also, what do all of the vague quotes add to this book (there are dozens)? And the overuse of the footnotes? Why do I need to know in the margins that this specific sentence is also tattooed on Rihanna's chest? Oh, suddenly an interview? Now it's time for stream of consciousness? Random soundtrack? Poetry, spells, chants, blog posts? Facebook messages, instagram events? Oh, yes, another bullet point list without context, just throw it at me. This 'chatty' and diary-like structure just makes it more confusing and unorganized.
So many sentences also make no sense to me, they feel like coach/mentor/guru talk that is nice in theory, but holds no actual information: "Less ego, more impact." "Together we must move like waves." "Grief is gratitude." "What we put our attention on grows." "Trust the People. (If you trust the people, they become trustworthy)." "Listen from the inside out, or listen from the bottom up." "What I have found is that, if we are doing the right work, the timing works out."
My main confusement is the focus on Octavia Butler's fictional parable series, which contains the Earthseed religion. Although Butler believed Earthseed (and adaptive religion in general) could help people, Earthseed is still a fictional religion created by Olamina, a character which Butler herself first created as a type of sinister antihero. Although she has transformed to a more lovable young adult in the published parable books, Olamina is still quite shady and manipulative. It's kind of weird that her words are constantly referred to as Octavia's words, like Octavia published the Earthseed verses as a real religion herself. Can we interpret fiction that way? To conclude that a work of fiction and the author are the same?
I could go on forever about how this book is just not for me, but it might be more helpful to create a list for anyone wanting to find out if this book is actually for them. If you identify with at least four of the following points, pick it up: 1. You love office structures: hierarchy, meetings, planning, brainstorming, agendas, post-it notes, reports. You just wish you could apply this type of management to Good Things. 2. You enjoy collecting quotes. 3. You don't like math or science, but are fascinated by aspects of it like quantum physics and multiverses. 4. You are very spiritual and enjoy new age stuff. 5. You already know what emergent strategy is. 6. You enjoy inspiring speeches without much context or structure. 7. You want to know more about the life of the author. 8. You know absolutely nothing about football/soccer/futbol.
All this book has eventually taught me is how to have many kinds of very structured meetings. This just feels like a self help book for anyone who wants to start a charity or an organization and be the leader.
Edit (3-12-21) Since having made this first review, I've learned more about adrienne. She's become an activist grifter of sorts, charging thousands of dollars for seminars and discussion groups. Most of the ideas in this book were co-opted from queer Black anarchist spaces and delivered in a neat little package to cater towards a greater White acceptance. Get this book for free if you can. The content is still relevant, but beware the author.
4-22-17 This book fucked me up in so many good ways. I would give it 10 stars if I could. Every page is packed with real-langauge lessons and words of reflection. I felt like sharing every section immediately after reading them. I'll probably buy extra copies to give them to folks in my networks. Really can't say enough good things about this.
WHAT TIME IS IT ON THE CLOCK OF THE WORLD? -Grace Lee Boggs, quoted p 168
I’ve savored this one.
Over four months, I read and re-read it in fluid motions like the book expresses itself. Loved the intelligence here, and with the heart in the work. This sort of improvisational reading was so, very generative in my experience. The mind of this book is itself generative. Creative. Fluid. Detail rich.
The book is a big, fast-moving syllabus of best practices, beauty, jokes and hope. Recommended for idealists and organizers.
Especially to someone who spent years keeping up on the sort of dry literatures on organizations, this here is a cool beautiful stream of best practices for vitality - vitality of persons, vitality of organizations, vitality of cultures, vitality of a planet. Brown is drawing on so many literatures herself: permaculture, complex systems, organizing, sci-fi, midwifery, buddhism. The book can integrate ALL that. It’s not a jumble. It’s an integrated vision and praxis.
I’ve marked the whole thing up in notes. Here are some I want to remember for later.
The first chapter is auto-biographical. On pp 31 & seq., Brown writes lovingly, respectfully about her maternal grandfather, a white evangelical minister with whom she disagreed often in her childhood. She has the mind and heart to experience this family connection as deep lineage, to integrate and mine it for wisdom. What a strong expression of the author's character. And her power.
Brown gives credit EVERYWHERE. She cites her sources to the ceiling. It’s so beautiful and rich. Citing your sources is the opposite of appropriation. Its the opposite of colonializing knowledge traditions. It creates a different rhythm for the reader and very much deepens the sense of connection with the author’s life and social world.
She’s a pleasure activist. Among other things. The M.O. of Emergent strategy is trust, presence, pleasure.
I’ve been really wary of the corporate integration of mindfulness practices as a way to increase worker compliance and productivity. Here Brown points to activist integration of mindfulness and formal meditation to increase passion and love and effectiveness. Excellent counter-point.
Moreover, regarding embodied practice and contemplation, there is this: “We don’t practice to feel good. We practice to feel more” (p. 205).
The book asks, moment by moment, of those taking action in the world: what is the most elegant next step? WHAT IS THE MOST ELEGANT NEXT STEP?
In emergent strategy, relationships are everything (p. 28). Brown builds from her mentor Grace Lee Boggs’ teaching to focus movements on critical connections rather than critical mass. The underlying perspective here is that the relationships between “things” are as real as the things themselves. I’m also reading John Dewey, whose work on aesthetics is so closely tied to that of the pragmatist mystic William James. It his short programmatic piece on pragmatism, James articulated just this. Long long ago. When I first read James’s Radical Empiricism, I thought he might have gotten his metaphysics from the theory of the skandas, or from his reading of the Upanishads, though it’s been 15 years since I read that so I’m no longer sure where I got that idea. In any case, there is a line of mystical knowledge here, and the knowledge is that the connections between things are as real as the things themselves. This idea is incredibly grounding and nurtures effective action in the world. It nurtures the perspective that relationship is everything.
Brown writes with vulnerability and great integrity about the problems of being a charismatic person, and about the organizational dysfunction that emerges from charismatic leadership. Charismitis, she calls it, while fessing up to being a former charismatic leader. Good leadership here.
She walks about W.O.E.S. - accountability groups of people who are working on excellence. Talks also about learning communities. About having lots and lots of learning communities.
Brown is not at all afraid of hierarchy. Levels of expertise vary and there is nothing wrong in this vision with experts being experts. But it’s a passing thing. This work isn’t about creating stars or experts but facilitating positive evolution. So the old post-modern fear of hierarchy is not useful for this, but also, authoritarian structures are not useful either.
Confidentiality emerges in her work as a result of the focus on evolution and learning. Take the lessons, leave the details.
- Small is Good. Small is All. The large is a reflection of the small. - Change is constant. - There is always enough time for the right work. - There is a conversation in the room that only these people at this moment can have. Find it. - Never a failure. Always a lesson. - Trust the people. (Trust and you will be trusted.) - Move at the speed of trust. Focus on critical connections more than critical mass - build the resilience by building the relationships. - Less prep, more presence. - WHAT YOU PAY ATTENTION TO GROWS.
This book came highly recommended to me from a friend, but I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as she did. While adrienne maree brown claims the premise is biomimicry, I found it to include more underexplained nature metaphors than actual science. I know the author would say that I am trying to use oppressive logic to understand this concept, that I need to envision different ways of knowing to understand, but I was left feeling unconvinced of the veracity of her ideas. The book was ill-organized and a regurgitation of previously stated ideas on sustainable organizing. The chapters about resilience and the strategy toolbox appeared to fit the most comfortably in the author's wheelhouse, and I wish she had written the whole book about those instead of grasping for broader, underdeveloped connections in the rest of the book.
I LOVE this book. I know I will go back and read it again and again. There is so much to get out of it, and it is something I want to think about, apply, reflect, and then go back and read with that new experiential knowledge. I'm hesitant to review because I don't think I can do it justice, but would STRONGLY recommend it. For me, it's a beautiful bridge between personal-organizational-societal work that is missing from a lot of discussions and approaches. Full of new ways to think about the world, examples, poetry, interviews with people engaged in social change, and practical tools for facilitation as well as personal and organizational transformation--it has so many things that made me hopeful and excited.
This is a powerful book. Though still young, adrienne maree brown has evidently lived many lifetimes at the vanguard of contemporary social movements. And she has earned a lot of wisdom through tough trials, a world of mentors, and deep reflection and practice.
Part call to action, part self-help book, part memoir, part transformative justice toolkit, Emergent Strategy is as intersectional in its genre and dimensions as it is in its politics. And these overlapping qualities embrace the concept of "emergence" at the heart of its narrative.
brown quotes leadership guru Nick Obolensky’s definition, "emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions." She combines this concept and the underlying examples of emergence and chaos theory from nature with stories of movement building and her own deep study of Octavia Butler’s science fiction. Butler demonstrates for brown a way to use "visionary fiction" to articulate a vision of the world in which we practice a strategy for survival that is radically inclusive, democratic, and cooperative, counter to the hierarchical, competitive, and militaristic articulations of post-apocalyptic societies that generally dominate such literature.
Sharing the stories of her own work as executive director of Ruckus Society, facilitator and organizational change strategist, doula, and dear friend and sister, brown illustrates the principles and protocols of emergent strategy: fractals (the relationship between small and large), intentional adaption (how we change), interdependence and decentralization (who we are and how we share), nonlinear and iterative (the pace and pathways of change), resilience (how we recover and transform), and creating more possibilities (how we move towards life). Having shared an early version of the book with colleagues, mentors, and friends, brown incorporates their wisdom and stories offered in response, strengthening and underlining her arguments for how the personal and community capacities for emergent strategy can make the difference between growing movements and stifling them.
While there are several "how-to" sections to the book that offer specific "spells" for personal growth or tools for facilitation, Emergent Strategy is much more than a how-to guide and deserves to be read as a series of meditations. Really, this is a book about developing a visionary orientation. How can you change how you see the world and help those around you change how they see it? How can you build the relationships that make it possible for us to live and work together toward a better future? How can you be honest, humble, and willing to keep learning and practicing?
Too often activists and organizers are looking for tactics, when they need to be developing strategy. At the heart of organizing is the use of relationship-building to develop the capacity of individuals and communities to find a common ground strategy and make change when the moment demands it. The messy process that births a social movement is emergent strategy. While there has been a lot of terrific scholarship on social movements like the Civil Rights Movement, it’s still incredibly hard to put a finger on what makes something like that work—there is so much complexity. But our capacity to respond and iterate through that complex landscape and handle the chaos of real humans working at massive scales are skills we can develop intentionally. And perhaps the best starting point will be brown’s book—a must read for students of civic and political engagement.
I resisted this book at first, because it contains a lot of the kind of spirituality that strains my comfortable logic zone. But the writing is so also grounded, down to earth, and routed in experience. The core of the book - getting better at the micro and living in worlds of our own imaginations rather than the imaginations of the people who got us into this mess - is so crucial. Regardless of how you feel about her practices and path, it is hard for me to believe that anyone who is not trying to change things has not at some level bumped into the core conflicts that she hones in on in the book. Definitely something folks should read.
The content of this book is incredible; as a person interested in social justice, self-improvement and facilitation, I will take many of the lessons and tools forward. However, it could have badly used an editor - very repetitive, not very well organized and too much clutter make it difficult to follow at times. There are some stunning writings and ideas in it, I wish they were a bit more accessible rather than having to sift through.
This is a difficult book to review in much the same way that it was difficult to read. Brown offers us some really profound, catalyzing, and generative insights here, but it's been obscured and blunted by the disorganized, scrambled structure of the book and writing style. And while I know that that critique could easily be dismissed as a perpetuation of some of the systems emergent strategy resists, I think the valid failing of the book is that I cannot use emergent strategy to concretely articulate why that is, only know that the vibe is off. I respect that the intention wasn't ever to sit down and offer a how-to manual, but I don't think that is necessary in order to leave readers with a robust clarity around what exactly the strategy is.
The closest we get is "ways for humans to practice being in right relationship to our home and each other, to practice complexity, and grow a compelling future together through relatively simply interactions. Emergent strategy is how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we live in...it's a philosophy for how to be in harmony and love, in and with the world." As this develops, it's steeped in different cornerstones of biomimicry, in which Brown draws from phenomena in the natural world to shape elements of the strategy. The first is FRACTALS, or the notion that "the patterns of the universe repeat at scale." This bestows a deep, reverberating significance to seemingly small choices and processes under the premise that to "transform yourself [is to] transform the world," not as a hyper-individualistic approach but rather as a recognition that "our lives and work and relationships [are] a front line, a first place we can practice justice, liberation, and alignment with each other and the planet." From there, she introduces INTENTIONAL ADAPTATION which seems to be rooted largely in her appreciation for Octavia Butler's work, particularly the Earthseed teaching that "All that you touch, you Change. All that you Change, Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. God is Change." This element recognizes the constancy of change and encourages us build our capacity for intuitive, naturally occurring adaptation in real time, ideally to maximize our ability to grasp the uniquely miraculous potential of each moment, particularly those we aren't anticipating and would otherwise be troubled by. Next up is the element INTERDEPENDENCE AND DECENTRALIZATION which counters the hyper-competitive and individualistic ethos of America by instead encouraging a deepening appreciation for and participation in the reality that we are inextricably linked with one another and reliant upon the thriving of the whole for true flourishing to be possible. This also comes with a move towards collaborative leadership that rejects some notions of expertise and hierarchy and encourages these steps for all: being seen, being wrong, accepting our inner multitudes, and asking for and receiving what we need.
NONLINEAR AND ITERATIVE follows, and emphasizes the ways that growth and development most often occur in a spiral rather than a clear, step-by-step formula, and thus each part of the process, including moments that feel like failures, are all pieces of the whole. This chapter also has some really great commentary on critique and grief, but I have no idea how they connect to the element. The next chapter, RESILIENCE, has a similar fate. It has some excellent material resisting cancel culture/disposability politics by pointing out the ways they and much of our imagination around justice (even among progressives) perpetuates the very systems being worked against. My favorite gem of wisdom from the book can be found here (and elsewhere): "What we pay attention to grows," however I don't see the clear connection between all of this and resilience, although perhaps she's connecting them by suggesting that true resilience is in our capacity to respond to a cruel, hard, unjust world without hardening ourselves (which would be an excellent point, and one worth making central!). Lastly, we have the element of CREATING MORE POSSIBILITIES which is rooted in the notion that "all organizing is science fiction" and encourages people, especially Black people and those who "know the world needs to change, begin to practice being different."
In a way, this brings us full-circle to the element of fractals, re-emphasizing the importance and significance of smallness (in fact, the first principle is "small is good, small is all") and that is one of the most valuable aspects of emergent strategy to me. While I think the growing shift towards recognizing the need for structural or systemic change is obviously crucial, I've also noticed the ways it's left people feeling deeply disempowered (and even absolved) from acting at all in the pursuit of justice. I feel like it's become en-vogue to dismiss any efforts that aren't done by politicians or CEOs as an insignificant drop in the bucket, and while that may even be the case at times, I also know it breeds an resigned apathy that settles for pithy "woke" talking points over and above any embodied action, no matter how small...and, spoiler, that cynicism doesn't lead to enduring commitments to justice work! Here, the significance of individual choices and personal relationships are re-affirmed as critical contexts for justice to manifest, even if they don't necessarily result in transformed systems. And so, while I think you could pretty easily write off much of emergent strategy from a strictly materialist perceptive, I do think it offers frameworks and ways of engaging ourselves and others in the building of new worlds that can nourish, sustain, and inspire that work in deeply meaningful ways.
If all of that sounds pretty great, it's because it is! There's no denying that Brown is offering some brilliant observations, revelations, and frameworks that I'm certain will benefit many who implement them, myself included. The problem, at least for me, is that it required extensive digging through so much seemingly random or loosely relevant quotes, anecdotes, and mini-chapters to glean the above. There are also a about 100 pages beyond my summary of additional material (some of which is really excellent), but I feel like its framed in a haphazard way that makes it sorta difficult to make sense of what's being offered or how to engage with it. And again, it's not that I was hoping for this cut-and-dry, methodological guidebook, but rather a sense of cohesiveness, consistency, and clarity that's unfortunately missing to the point of detriment.
"Ideas that emerge from obligation tend to go stagnate waiting for water." ~ adrienne maree brown
Not since Julius Lester's "Search For The New Land" have I been gripped so urgently through a course of reading and throughly rewarded with its conclusion. Lester wove a complex historical narrative in glimpses from an amalgamation of news articles, fading memories, personal journals and passing conversations crafting a work drifting between memoir and found poetry. Emerging from the reflective inquiry of adrienne maree brown is a text no less extraordinary in its construction as a biographical sketch of life and learning delivered between the pages of a radical field manual for collaboration and coproduction. This summation remains an incomplete description.
"Emergent Strategy" is a stream of consciousness manifesto harvested from blog posts, speech notes and interviews whose intersections flourish with new discoveries. The language is clear and precise hewing to the playful wonder of popular science writing with footnotes that meander between meticulous and hilarious in their emergence. Footnotes arising not so much to lend credibility or cleave strictly to source material, but augmenting the reader's journey into the author's imagination by nudging us on our own tangential exploration of sources, science and innovative developments in organizing communities.
While "Emergent Strategy" may have grown out of deeper examination of the life and work of Octavia Butler, the text itself is comprehensive evidence of a spiraling evolutionary progression which moves deeper inside and away from the original intent simultaneously. I was fortunate to have attended an Emergent Strategy presentation by brown in Chicago in 2014 and participated in an earlier iteration of the principles as a tool for group discussion and facilitation. The framework was impressive enough on its own that I felt prompted to purchased a zine and book of reflections on Octavia Butler's Earthseed verses to further investigate why I felt such strong emotional and ethical ties to the principles.
brown's writing here reminded me so much of how my own thinking is structured. A disorganized mess of fleeting curiosity while still holding some compartment that is deeply rational and attuned to dissecting a problem. Where se
I didn’t really know where to begin with a review of this book because I have so many feelings about it and so much to say. I’ve already gone back and re-read pieces and I know that I will continue to come back to it, especially the last section, which is full of facilitation tools. But ultimately this book struck a chord with me for two reasons. The first is that it speaks to so many of the problems I’ve had in organizing spaces and my desire for things to be better without knowing how to actually make that happen. The second is that it reminded me why I find anarchism beautiful.
To me, anarchism has always been more about the process of experimentation and learning as we go and less about a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all system. It’s about unlocking human potential by freeing humanity of the oppressive systems that keep us constrained. But breaking through that means we all have to get better at working together, learn to be more interdependent, and adapt and grow together. And that is really what’s at the heart of this book. I could go on and on about it. For example, I can’t stop thinking about starling murmurations and how they might influence our organizing. There’s so much that’s beautiful and inspiring in here.
The best part, though, is that I am immediately going to take what I learned here and start applying it. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who’s thinking about or engaged in organizing work. It’s one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a long time.
"Science fiction, particularly visionary fiction, is where I go when I need the medicine of possibility applied to the trauma of human behavior." (37)
From a list of notes on U.S./Western socialization (47-49): --"We learn to be quiet, polite, indirect, and submissive, not to disturb the status quo." --"We learn that tests and deadlines are the reasons to take action. This puts those with good short-term memories and a positive response to pressure in leadership positions, leading to urgency-based thinking, regardless of the circumstance." --"We learn to compete with each other in a scarcity-based economy that denies and destroys the abundant world we actually live in." --"We learn to manipulate each other and sell things to each other, rather than learning to collaborate and evolve together." --"We learn as children to swallow our tears and any other inconvenient emotions, and as adults that translates into working through red flags, value differences, pain, and exhaustion." --"We learn to bond through gossip, venting, and destroying rather than cultivating solutions together." --"Perhaps the most egregious thing we are taught is that we should just be really good at what's already possible, to leave the impossible alone."
"And what I saw clearly was that, at a local level, we--Americans--don't know how to do democracy. We don't know how to make decisions together, how to create generative compromises, how to advance policies that center justice. Most of our movements are reduced to advancing false solutions, things we can get corporate or governmental agreement on, which don't actually get us where we need to be." (52)
"Compelling futures have to have more justice, yes; and right relationship to planet, yes; but also must allow for our growth and innovation. I want an interdependence of lots of kinds of people with lots of belief systems, and continued evolution." (57)
"We need to move from competitive ideation, trying to push our individual ideas, to collective ideations, collaborative ideation. It isn't about having the number one best idea, but having ideas that come from, and work for, most people." (59)
"In movement work, I have been facilitating groups to shift from a culture of strategic planning to one of strategic intentions--what are our intentions, informed by our vision?" (70)
"As an individual, developing your capacity for adaptation can mean assessing your default reactions to change, and whether those reactions create space for opportunity, possibility, and continuing to move towards your vision. I am not of the belief that everything happens for a reason--at least not a discernible one; it comforts me sometime to know there is chaos, there is nonsense. But I believe that regardless of what happens, there is an opportunity to move with intention--towards growth, relationship, regeneration." (71)
"that the heart is the front line and the fight is to feel in a world of distraction" (110)
"There is an urgency in the multitude of crises we face, it can make it hard to remember that in fact it is urgency thinking (urgent constant unsustainable growth) that got us to this point, and that our potential success lies in doing deep, slow, intentional work." (114)
"It is imperative to regenerate our curiosity, our genuine interest in different opinions, and in people we don't know yet--can we see them as part of ourselves, and maintain curiosity, especially when we want to constrict and critique?" (115)
"And even those of us who critique these punitive methods, who are committed to justice, practice our own versions of prisons, blacklists, takedowns, and public executions. When we don't agree with each other, we destroy each other. When we feel competitive with each other, we splinter and...destroy the other. We say we don't care, and then invest time and energy into cultivating conflict with each other. When we feel scared, we destroy each other instead of working to get to the root of our fear." (132)
"We have been growing otherness, borders, separateness. And in all that division we have created layer upon layer of trauma and vengefulness, conditions for permanent war, practices that move us into a battle with the very planet we rely on for all life. The scale of division, conflict, racism, xenophobia, and hierarchical supremacy on our planet is overwhelming." (133)
Shira: "I need transformative justice (TJ) to be framed as a part of emergent strategy so that we can acknowledge we are midwives to a changeling--that TJ is mutable process with only its values set in stone." (134)
"You do have a right to walk away, to literally and virtually gather yourself up and remove yourself from the dynamic. Take space in order to remember and fortify yourself. You have the right to create boundaries that generate more possibilities for you. Those boundaries may be short term or permanent." (141)
"The oppression of false peace: we are taught that our truths are disruptive, and that disruption is a negative act. This one is particularly insidious, and ties back to capitalism--only those moving towards profit can and should create disruption, everyone else should be complacent consumers." (142)
"But lately, as the attacks grow faster and more vicious, I wonder: is this what we're here for? To cultivate fear-based adherence to reductive common values? What can this lead to in an imperfect world full of sloppy, complex humans? Is it possible we will call each other out until there's no one left beside us?" (145)
"In our work for Octavia's Brood, Walidah and I articulated that 'all organizing is science fiction,' by which we mean that social justice work is about creating systems of justice and equity in the future, creating conditions that we have never experienced. This is a futurist focus, and the practices of collaboration and adaptation and transformative justice, are science fictional behavior. We didn't create this understanding, we observed it among the afrofuturists and sci fi writers and creators we grew up loving and being liberated by. Language changes with time, and sometimes the word for a people or an action comes centuries late. But I want to always remember and honor those who stayed and stay future oriented in the face of oppression." (160)
"Some of the key practices that show up in Octavia Butler's work are collaboration, compassion, curiosity, romantic and sensual and non-possessive love, play, mediation, and the patience that comes from seeing ourselves in a much longer arc of time than we are encouraged to see in the instantaneous culture of the modern world." (164)
DARCI (Decider/Delegator, and who is Accountable, Responsible, Consulted, and Informed about decisions) (250-1)
"I know there is the idea that we grow less radical as we age, and that relinquishing radical positions is a way this manifests. This keeps people from allowing themselves to be open to their own new emotions, their new understandings. I think the truth is that, as we age, we realize the world is more complex, and we allow ourselves to get woven into that complexity. I am more radical now than I was ten years ago, although it may not look like it. I am more radical in my body, I am more radical in my clarity about the apocalyptic future and my belief that connection to each other is the most important thing to cultivate in the face of hopelessness--we don't want to cling to outdated paradigms; we want to cling to each other and shift the paradigms." (263)
this is the kind of book that i will think about every day for the rest of my life. the book is clear that these ideas aren’t *new* but does provide a good framework. in adrienne maree browns's words: "Emergent strategy is how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we long for" (3).
i love the idea that "what we do on the small scale matters on the big scale." love obviously brown's love of octavia butler's "shaping change/god" concept. love "what we put our attention on grows." i love "all organizing is science fiction" (brown and Walidah Imarisha, editors of Octavia's Brood) and "science fiction simply as a way to practice the future together" (19). love the idea of coevolution and mutual transformation.
“The future is not an escapist place to occupy, All of it is the inevitable result of what we do today, and the more we take it in our hands, imagine it as a place of justice and pleasure, the more the future knows we want it, and that we aren’t letting go” (164)
also her tying transformative justice into emergent strategy: "When we feel scared, we destroy each other instead of working to get to the root of our fear... Finding the places of healing and transformation, moving towards a world beyond enemies, is work that has to be done for our survival. Which means transformative justice--justice that transforms the root causes of injustice--is necessary at every scale, but I am particularly focused on how it comes the common orientation and practice of movements for social change, for peace for liberation" (132-133).
also i love how brown highlights her family, friends, and other social justice folks... they offered many powerful insights, including:
“there have been times when I am moving through uncertainty in the past few years, where my practice has helped me be ok with that, to not feel like I deserve to know, that one of us are promised that clarity. — Dani McClain” (181)
This is an easy read and with a few great one-liners and anecdotes, but it doesn't go anywhere. brown introduces her theory of "emergent strategy" as building off the ideas explored in the fiction of Octavia Butler, but instead of laying out these lessons and connecting them to Butler's stories, brown tells her readers to just go read Butler. I have in fact read a little Butler (this year! yay!), and I can confirm that I need the author to do some of the legwork and make connections for me as a reader, not just reference this oeuvre assuming I'll draw the same practical conclusions from it. The author does this kind of namedropping without contextualizing throughout Emergent Strategy; the clearest example was when she cited the name of a facilitation activity learned from a friend but didn't explain how to do the activity or reference anywhere to look it up. The whole time I came to the end of interesting introductory paragraphs and wanted to hand the book back and say, can you explain this idea more? That is the point of putting it in a book. (imho)
I dunno, friends seemed to have gotten a lot out of this one, so I guess I'll poke around their minds a bit and see if I get more out of it in discussion-- which is how brown wants the book to be read, at any rate.
I feel a bounty of appreciation for adrienne maree brown. (What a charming person!) And there were little bits that are so useful (oh yes, I remember proposal-based meetings -- I should use that more).
But I kept feeling this contrarian urge to the central metaphors of this book. So much of it is focused on "learning from nature." This is very close to home -- I spend so much of my life trying to learn from critters in the world how to be a critter in the world. But I'm sensitive to ways we oversimplify others in order to turn them into an object lesson supporting what we want to say or do. Every being is wily and complex and noninnocent and surprising, and they're not here to teach us how to facilitate a meeting.
Which maybe gets to a deeper problem. The book's framework is based on this idea that there are clear patterns in the world, and these patterns can be copied and followed to achieve a more just society. I think my fundamental disagreement stems from not having this faith, from instead suspecting that everything is just a beautiful, morally-neutral accident.
But if you have faith in deeper meanings and beautiful futures and the arc of the universe bending toward justice, I recommend the book.
I must have read pleasure activism at the wrong time in my life, because as soon as I picked up this book, it just felt so...right. Like medicine. Full of quotes and messages relevant to where I am in my path. I'm inspired to dig into Maree Brown's references, like reading Grace Lee Bogg's memoir and researching her meditation coaches and inspirations.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
"Dandelions don’t know whether they are a weed or a brilliance. But each seed Can create a field of dandelions. We are invited to be that prolific. And to return fertility to the soil around us."
“Building community is to the collective as spiritual practice is to the individual”- sign in Grace lee Boggs house
"The work of promoting and protecting one personality is as different from the work of organizing as holding one’s breath in is from an exhale."
"We are realizing that we must become the systems we need, so we have to remember how to care for each other."
Jenny lee: "the role of organizers in an ecosystem is to be earthworms, processing and aerating soil, making fertile ground out of the nutrients of sunlight, water, and everything that dies, to nurture the next cycle of life. In this paradigm there is no failure. Everything we attempt, everything we do, is either growing up as it’s roofs go deeper, or it’s decomposing, leaving its lessons in the soil for the next attempt."
"Uprisings and resistance and mass movement require a tolerance of messiness, a tolerance of many , many paths being walked on at once." “there are so many formations that I am not a part of—my non participation is all I need to say. When I do offer critique, it is from a space of relationship, partnership, and advancing a solution”
Emergent Strategy uses resilient biological systems to inspire strategies for social justice groups. The book is organized in an almost folkloric fashion, peppered with stories and innuendoes and reflections and other ideas how to grow healthy justice movements. I am reluctant to offer too heavy a critique against work that has such honest motivations and many good ideas.
But for a book on process and organization, this book suffers from a lack of process and organization. brown essentially tells you as much in the introduction, suggesting that you may benefit from not reading the book in order---and if I were to recommend this book to others, I would suggest treating the book more as a reference than as a narrative. Put another way, Emergent Strategy isn't a novel, it's a cookbook.
So glance through the front sections to understand the inspiration, and then immediately page to the back and get the real value of the book: the inventories and strategies that organizations can actually use. There's a lot of great ideas back there! I'm certain my organization failed to get full value out of Emergent Strategy because some participants didn't read that far into the book.
It would also have been helpful to get more and deeper case studies. Some of my peers were frustrated that Emergent Strategy seemed to spend too much time discussing values in the abstract than actually showing how those values work in practice. And while I think the values of Emergent Strategy are laudable, some more process could have really strengthened the work. Recommended with reservations.
I’ve never read a book in this genre. My usual reading is books on business, self-improvement, innovation, creativity, and science fiction. I picked it up after my partner recommended it, and I noticed there were connections made to sci-if authors like Octavia Butler. In this book I encountered a radically different vision of what the future could look like, and a radical path of healing and emergence and growth that could make that future happen. I’m deeply inspired by the diversity and courage of the ideas in this book, which are a clear reflection of the diversity and courage of movement building. This book is going to have a profound impact on my work, which is about building a movement of self-aware individuals transforming people’s relationship to their work, performing it as a form of growth and self-expression instead of as an obligation. Thank you so much to Adrienne, for sharing your wisdom with us.
This book is for folks who place a high value on both self-care and social change, and could use a non-linear approach to both. It is nourishing, meandering, gentle, radical, and imperfectly focused -- perhaps a refraction of the author herself. I love the big ideas, the optimism, the impulse to find endless metaphors for human life - and for activism - in nature. I wish the big ideas were explored in a more focused way, and with less recycling of old blog posts, but I guess the whole notion of "emergent strategy" lends itself to a more free-flowing style, a mixing of old and new?
Side note: Get the paperback, not the kindle version. There are so many quotes and sidebars woven into each chapter - and much of the formatting is lost in the kindle, which makes things confusing.
This book is useful medicine against the fear, isolation and disillusionment that this moment in time can bring about. Calling us to honour our relationship to the natural world and--because we're of this world--recognize our essential interdependence, AMB maps out ways of transforming social conditions and moving toward liberation through collectivity, healing justice, iterative processes, and love (among other things). I especially appreciate the ways in which the writing and composition of the book bear out many of the key principles underlying emergent strategy. Will be taking lots with me from this one!
I was expecting this to be something of an activist how-to guide. It turned out to be so much more than that! It is full of useful information for activists, but it is also a love poem, a wildly-crafted work of art, a live performance piece in book form vibrating between the reader's hands. It engages on the mind, body, and spirit levels, putting into conversation the individual, community, and global/planetary dynamics that are inseparable and essential for conceptualizing transformation. I often have a hard time imagining that trying to "change the world" could really make a difference, and this book left me feeling hopeful for the first time in quite a while.
This book is EVERYTHING. brown totally captures where movement is at right now. I will read this text again and again, I'm sure. I found myself ravenously envious of the ways she talks about how she has shifted her orientation away from critique and analysis towards actual movement, to nature, to evolution, to emergence. If you are an organizer, healer, activist, spiritual leader, anyone - read it. Just try not to underline, star, or circle every word!