Freeman, The Tyranny of Structurelessness


This is a two-page essay recommended to me by the podcast TrueAnon, of all places. This paper is featured on the Boring Books blog because I believe the topic is dull enough to be categorized as boring (sorry Jo Freeman), even though it is actually closer to a blog post.

Freeman discusses issues she observed within different feminist organizations. These organizations, in an effort to promote equality, intentionally avoided electing individuals to various roles. This was done as a way to grant members more freedom and discourage traditional hierarchical structures. However, in reality, this often created a power vacuum that would be filled by informal groups of friends who communicated through backchannels. She refers to these groups as “elites”. It's not just those in direct power who benefit from this system. If you can access the informal leaders through backchannels, you have an incentive to maintain this system.

Her main takeaway: it's a rookie mistake not to define clear roles within an organization.

My main takeaway: I initially expected to spend a lot of time contemplating my role in more informal organizations, but this really made me reflect on my day job in the software world. Currently, the concept of flat structured organizations is gaining popularity. This is done in an effort to provide everyone with more autonomy (i.e., the whole world is tired of project managers). However, she shows that a lack of organizational structure can actually disenfranchise the individual. I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever been a part of anything, ever.