Throughout the 70's, several biologists and researchers, including Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, began to write about sustainable farming practices. In 1978, Holmgren coined the term "Permaculture."
Many of the concepts espoused by Permaculutists were used by indigenous societies all over the world before the rise of colonialization and commercial agriculture.
Permaculture is a strategy for sustainable farming that uses ecology. The key tenant of permaculture is that the farmer works with the existing ecosystem, rather than against it. Permaculturists pay attention to the existing landscape and adapt to it.
The three main goals of permaculture are to:
1. Care for the Earth
2. Care for People
3. Share Fairly
Permaculturists use many techniques, including maintaing natural biodiversity, using closed-loop systems, rainwater capture, and using mutualistic relationships between plants and animals to manage pests and prevent soil degradation.
The term "Biomimicry" became popular in 1997 due to the work of Janine Benyus. However, the concept had been around for decades.
Biomimicry seeks to find solutions to problems by emulating designs found in nature. For instance, scientists have designed more efficient wind-mill farms using the shape of humpback whale tails, safer needles modeled after mosquito proboscises, and a faster bullet trail by using the aerodynamic shape of a kingfisher's bill.
Octavia Butler was a science fiction writer who won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards over her lifetime. Some also consider her to be a key afro-futurist author.
Butler's work explored many themes, but one of the most influential was her critique of present-day hierarchies. She viewed the innate human drive to form hierarchies as the cause of social injustice. Many of her books and essays explored the possibility of building diverse, adaptable societies.
Some thinkers began to question whether hierarchical, top-down leadership styles were actually effective. Some studies show that egalitarian organizations may be more effective and creative, at least at a small scale.
However, others note that this model of leadership can lead to the formation of cliques, and may not have the proper channels to resolve conflict or foster accountability.
Throughout the 80's and 90's, the effects of the unsuccessful War on Drugs ravaged communities, making many people question whether carceral punishment was the answer to ending violence or drug addiction.
In response to this, the concept of Transformative Justice emerged. Transformative justice seeks to address the root cause of violence in a way that respects the value of all people involved. It focuses on restoring the needs of those who were hurt and rehabilitating wrongdoers, rather than using prisons or violence to punish those who committed harm.
Proliferation of Flat Structure Feminist Organizations
1991 - 2000
Many feminist organizations sought to create organizations without hierarchy because they believed that this would help to create a sense of empowerment and fight against oppressive systems. Some claimed that hierarchy was an invention of men, and had to be rejected in order to reach gender parity.
Some of these organizations were successful, but many fell apart due to lack of services to mitigate conflict, confront harm done by members, and the difficulty reaching consensus.
The institute, cofounded in 2015 by Adrienne Maree Brown and Octavia Butler, was created to help social justice organizations implement the core principles of Emergent Strategy in their practice.
These core Strategies include:
- Collaborative ideation through interdependence and decentralization
- Creating more possibilities
- Nonlinear and iterative change
- Fractal thinking
- Transformative justice as resilience
The organization claims to draw inspiration from various natural phenomena, including the way in which hives of honeybees create consensus on where to build nests, and the ways fish and birds can migrate in large groups together without colliding.
Many of the key tenents of the Emergent Strategy design are meant to push back against the predominant model of leadership that is used in many social justice organizations. Rather than prioritize a top-down model of leadership, Emergent Strategy uses a decentralized model, where power and skills are shared. This lack of hierarchy and rigidity allows organizations to be extremely adaptable and can be tailored to fit the community in which the organization is working.
Adrienne Maree Brown Publishes "Emergent Strategy"
Adrienne Maree Brown, a black feminist author, released her book "Emergent Strategy," which analyzed the work of Afro-Futurist author Octavia Butler. Brown viewed the sci-fi narratives of Butler as being a blueprint for activism. She specifically focused on the interconnectedness of Butler's character's and their communities, tieing these concepts to patterns in the natural world. Brown claims that social justice movements must try to emulate natural patterns in order to spread and be successful.
Brown states that Emergent Strategy is "a way of describing the relational leadership model found in the work of ... Octavia Butler... which then grew into plans of action, personal practice, and collective organizing tools that account for constant change and rely on the strength of relationship for adaptation. With a crush on biomimicry and permaculture."