The absence of structure is hierarchy

I went to a meeting (won’t say if it was activist or academic or whatever – that’s not the point).

There was explicitly ‘no agenda’.

And we were then, without warning, asked to introduce ourselves (say what we had done, were doing and what we wanted to do around this particular issue/topic). And did they give us a) a couple of minutes to collect our thoughts and b) an upper-time limit.

Nope, instead it was one of the organisers (or rather, people who called the meeting) saying ‘well, I may as well start’. They then spoke for a few minutes, while we were all trying to listen and think about what we would say.

And guess what – the people who spoke the longest (who basically just mentally Ctrl C and Ved their comments) were the highest status ones. And they spoke for a looooong time. The lower status people spoke very little.

And guess what – after we had done those intros, the conversation came to be dominated by those who had spoken longest in the intro.

Who. Would. Of. Thunk. It.

Afterwards I thought about how one of the smartest people present (also perhaps the kindest) had said not a word. This person is perhaps an introvert. They don’t do the whole song and dance thing, so if you don’t create mechanisms (institutions – informal norms and also formal ones) to facilitate their input, you won’t get it. And you will end up with mediocre decisions, arrived at after un-necessary faffage. And so it came to pass.

This: The absence of structure is hierarchy. Just the hierarchy of prior status (mostly class, race, gender, age, confidence, extrovertism).

You can choose not to see that, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t true, it doesn’t mean the power isn’t there. FFS.

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4 thoughts on “The absence of structure is hierarchy”

  1. Yep, hierarchy based upon status and extrovertism, no formal agenda so the extroverts can run with any hidden agenda they have, wielding power through the lack of formal structure. Sounds so familiar. Reminds me of Jo Freeman’s epic text on The Tyranny of Structurelessness. Surely we’ve moved on…..maybe not. I’ve been in that same situation as an introvert. It needs to be challenged, although that comes with risks.

  2. Cheers John,yes!, though in this particular case it was I suspect less calculated than that – just a genuine naive/silly belief that agendas are Bad Things and that sitting in a circle magically removes all power…. When I am the acknowledged leader of all anarchist groups, I will force them all to read Tyranny of Structurelessness and admit that it APPLIES TO THEM. I am so sick of ritualistic citations or references to it, by people who seem to think it is just about the Bad Old Days and that we are far better than that nowadays. FTN.

    1. re: ‘force them all to read Tyranny of Structurelessness and admit that it APPLIES TO THEM.’

      In a similar vein, had I been aware of this text in 2010/11, I hope I would have had the presence of mind to share it widely at our Edmonton Occupy meetings that attempted to continue after the camp was evicted.

      Meeting dysfunction ultimately, IMO, might have been the biggest factor in it falling apart. People like me, who tend to yap a lot, unless we’re reminded or restrained to stick to the point, needed much better structuring of the Occupy meetings.

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