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Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  6,720 ratings  ·  763 reviews
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 invit ...more
Paperback, 274 pages
Published April 3rd 2017 by A K Pr Distribution (first published March 20th 2017)
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 ·  6,720 ratings  ·  763 reviews

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Jun 08, 2018 rated it liked it
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 introductio ...more
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: activisty
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 m ...more
Nov 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminism, nonfiction
4.5 stars

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 decentraliz
Always Pouting
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 ...more
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
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 pag
Joe Xtarr
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.


This book fucked me up in so many good ways
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 id
Rose Peterson
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
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 a ...more
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: racial-justice
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 wo ...more
Erhardt Graeff
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recommended
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 ...more
Cavar Sarah
May 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
Chock-full of instagram "philosopher" platitudes and little substance –– a self-help book of the worst kind, one masquerading as a book with the capacity to transform.

Just read Octavia Butler's actual work instead.
Glennys Egan
Dec 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
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.
Nov 10, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: partly-read
What I got out of this book: that I should go read Octavia Butler.
Luke Hillier
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 artic ...more
Michael Strode
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"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 inqui
"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
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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 actua ...more
Sep 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I give it seven out of five stars! Srsly.
Kate Savage
Mar 26, 2021 rated it liked it
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 overs
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 th ...more
Danni Green
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 oft ...more
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spirituality
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! ...more
Deana Ayers
Jun 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: how-to-organize
This book was interesting because there were quite a few things that either I didn't like or didn't resonate with me, yet I would still recommend it to anyone who is/wants to be involved in organizing and movement work. If you take the book as one long thought exercise about how you show up in the world and interact with others, you'll probably discover things about yourself you hadn't noticed before. ...more
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Incredible book!! Must, must read for organizers and facilitators. But also very important resource for anyone who wants to build better, more liberated relationships with themselves, their friends, their communities, families, or with the earth.
Jan 19, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: improvement
content was too abstract but tools for emergent strategy facilitation in the back is by far the most useful and interesting and something I will return to.
Debbie Notkin
Jun 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have heard Adrienne Maree Brown speak, and been very impressed; I also (of course) read Octavia's Brood, which she co-edited with Walidah Imarisha, and was also impressed. So I've been looking forward to this book for a long time.

By design, Brown has written a book that's difficult to get your arms around, and even more difficult to describe. In a not-quite-structure, she is imparting her ideas, and the ideas of her mentors, comrades, and "woes" on how things change ("Woe" stands for "working
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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.

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“Do you already know that your existence--who and how you are--is in and of itself a contribution to the people and place around you? Not after or because you do some particular thing, but simply the miracle of your life. And that the people around you, and the place(s), have contributions as well? Do you understand that your quality of life and your survival are tied to how authentic and generous the connections are between you and the people and place you live with and in?

Are you actively practicing generosity and vulnerability in order to make the connections between you and others clear, open, available, durable? Generosity here means giving of what you have without strings or expectations attached. Vulnerability means showing your needs.”
“Remember you are water. Of course you leave salt trails. Of course you are crying. Flow. P.S. If there happens to be a multitude of griefs upon you, individual and collective, or fast and slow, or small and large, add equal parts of these considerations: that the broken heart can cover more territory. that perhaps love can only be as large as grief demands. that grief is the growing up of the heart that bursts boundaries like an old skin or a finished life. that grief is gratitude. that water seeks scale, that even your tears seek the recognition of community. that the heart is a front line and the fight is to feel in a world of distraction. that death might be the only freedom. that your grief is a worthwhile use of your time. that your body will feel only as much as it is able to. that the ones you grieve may be grieving you. that the sacred comes from the limitations. that you are excellent at loving.” 33 likes
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