The Tyranny of Structurelessness  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"The Tyranny of Structurelessness" is an influential essay by American feminist Jo Freeman inspired by her experiences in a 1960s women's liberation group that concerns power relations within radical feminist collectives.

The essay reflected on the experiments of the feminist movement in resisting the idea of leaders and even discarding any structure or division of labor. However, as Hilary Wainwright wrote in Z Magazine, Freeman described how "this apparent lack of structure too often disguised an informal, unacknowledged and unaccountable leadership that was all the more pernicious because its very existence was denied." As a solution, Freeman suggests formalizing the existing hierarchies in the group and subjecting them to democratic control.



The phrase has been used to describe one problem in organizing, the other being "rigidity of structure," according to ecofeminist Starhawk. In 2008 Community Development Journal reviewed the article as a "classic text" which editors felt had influenced the practice of community development.

Publication history

The essay originated as a speech given to the Southern Female Rights Union at a conference in Beulah, Mississippi in May 1970. Freeman has stated that it was transcribed in 1971 for the feminist magazine Notes from the Third Year (whose editors chose not to include it) and submitted to several women's liberation movement publications, only one of which sought her permission to publish it. Other outlets published it without asking, and it was first officially published in the journal The Second Wave in 1972. It was issued in pamphlet form by Agitprop in 1972, and later by the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists, Leeds Group, United Kingdom. In 1973 the author published different versions in the Berkeley Journal of Sociology and in Ms. magazine. It also was published in Radical Feminism by Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine, and Anita Rapone. Later printings included that of the Anarchist Workers' Association (Kingston Group), and in 1984 in a pamphlet called Untying the Knot: Feminism, Anarchism & Organisation jointly published by Dark Star Press and Rebel Press (printed by Aldgate Press).


Some anarchists have objected to Freeman's analysis because it also has been applied to some anarchist organizing. Howard J. Ehrlich discussed the negative impact of the article on anarchist organizing in Reinventing Anarchy, Again. Cathy Levine wrote a 1979 rejoinder titled "The Tyranny of Tyranny".

In a review of Freeman's essay for Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, Jason McQuinn noted its popularity among leftist and platformist anarchists, describing the essay as an "incomprehensibly unreal and illogical stab at sociology by a paranoid schizophrenic".

See also

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