Emergent Community–Part One

by Raven Glomus

I have been reading (and re-reading) adrienne maree brown’s wonderful book, Emergent Strategy.  I have often said that I see intentional communities (especially income-sharing communities) as laboratories for social change.  What adrienne maree brown lays out in her book is that she sees six elements involved in social change (based partly on her reading of Octavia Butler’s ideas in Parable of the Sower).  According to her, change is Fractal, Adaptive, Non-Linear and Iterative, Resilient and Transformative (as in Transformative Justice), Interdependent and Decentralized, and Creates More Possibilities.

I want to look at how these elements apply to the building of communes as well as seeing communes as part of a social change strategy.  In this first part, I’ll focus on three of these elements, seeing commune building as Fractal, Interdependent and Decentralized,and Non-Linear and Iterative.  I will look at the remaining three elements in my next piece.

Let me start with the fractal nature of commune building.  When adrienne maree brown uses the term ‘fractal’, she defines it as “the relationship between small and large.”  She points out that “How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale.”  This is exactly what I mean by communities as social change laboratories.  In building communes, we try to create on a small scale the world that we wish to see.  The end doesn’t justify the means, the means reflects the end goal.  My point about communities as laboratories is that through them we get to test out, on a small scale, what works and doesn’t work for the world that we want to build.  The communes are egalitarian, because we want to build a society based on equality.  We share so much, because we believe that sharing can improve the world.

Interdependent and decentralized is a very apt description of the commune world–including the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.  Communes are not this monolithic entity.  There is no central communal authority.  The communes are each worlds unto themselves, networked together by the relationships between them.  We like having dozens of different flavors of community..  Rather than trying to have one way to build a commune, we have many different communes and each is responsible for itself–and we are also responsible for each other, since we see how we are connected.  It makes accountability tricky, since the ultimate authority resides in the individual community but, because we are connected and interdependent, we also have some leverage with each other.

I used this particular order for the elements (not exactly the order that adrienne maree brown puts them in, although they are in a slightly different order in the two places in the book where she lists them), because I think this is the most useful order for community building.  First you want to think about where you are heading (building something that reflects the world that you want to see) and then realize that what we are building needs to be decentralized and interdependent.  The third element comes in as you build community–the process is non-linear and iterative.  

I think that this may be the most important thing to realize.  It’s not a straight line path at all.  You may plan to build community in a certain way and then you realize that things start falling into place, but hardly in the order you anticipated.  You will soon find out that you can’t control the process.  I love the term ‘emergent strategy’ because emergent phenomena come as they will, not as you want.  Perhaps the most important part to realize is that saying it is iterative is to say that you will find yourself doing the same thing, again and again and again.  And then it happens again.  You may think that you are going in circles, but often it’s more like spirals.  It may seem like you are back in the same place but you are actually a level higher.  If it sounds like it might be frustrating, you are beginning to understand the process of commune building.  As Katarzyna Gajewska pointed out in her post about Community and Techie Fallacy, building a commune is not anything like building a bridge.  You can’t just draft some plans and build it, step by step.  You need to be prepared for some amount of chaos, the whole process through.

In my next post, I will look at the final three elements as pointing out how communities need to be.

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Emergent Community–Part One

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