Re: Can We Live Without Hierarchy?
From: Daniel Lindenberger (
Date: Thu, 30 Jul 2015 03:33:40 -0700 (PDT)
I'd put forward that while you can't have hierarchy without structure,
there are plenty of ways to have structure without hierarchy. (Note that
I'm not saying hierarchy is necessarily a bad thing, nor that its
nonexistent in cohousing culture, either in terms of authority or social
pecking order).

Thought I'd share an interesting paper that (to drastically oversimplify)
shows the move from individual to hierarchical to networked organization as
natural (and potentially optimal) as systems become more complex:

Differentiation and delegation don't require hierarchy, though that's the
model many of us are most familiar with. I've been part of several
organizations where differentiated roles developed without any hierarchy
being in place (some went on to develop a hierarchy, others not).

To risk waxing overenthusiastic, I'd put forward that the efforts within
cohousing to create functional forms of non-hierarchical structure is an
example of part of what my "big picture" brain loves about Cohousing - in
various ways I think we often are wrestling with precisely the issues and
challenges that we as a species need to figure out. Differentiated 'power
with' roles rather than 'power over' roles definitely be on that list for

Sleepy thoughts for the evening,

On Thu, Jul 30, 2015 at 3:11 AM, R Philip Dowds <rpdowds [at]> 

> Folks —
> I’ve been (re)reading the Coho US “6 Defining Characteristics of
> Cohousing”, and keep getting hung up on Number 5:
> 5. Non-hierarchical structure and decision-making. Leadership roles
> naturally exist in cohousing communities, however no one person (or
> persons) has authority over others. Most groups start with one or two
> “burning souls.” As people join the group, each person takes on one or more
> roles consistent with his or her skills, abilities or interests. Most
> cohousing groups make all of their decisions by consensus, and, although
> many groups have a policy for voting if the group cannot reach consensus
> after a number of attempts, it is rarely or never necessary to resort to
> voting.
> "Non-hierarchical structure" is something of an oxymoron:  Structure
> implies hierarchy, where distinct components have differentiated purposes
> and relationships.  Without hierarchy, you don’t have structure, you have
> just a blob.
> Well, let’s not get hung up on parsing the language.  Here’s the real
> problem:  What about delegation?  In an ideal world, perhaps, all decisions
> are made by all the members in the room at the same, in “plenary” or “full
> circle” or whatever.  But in the real world, hardly any of us work that
> way.  Instead, we (meaning, in cohousing, plenary) subdivide aim and
> decisions into logical groupings, and delegate the authority to make these
> kinds of decisions to “committees” or “circles” or whatever.  So, we have a
> hierarchy:  Plenary, plus the committees to which plenary has delegated a
> defined amount of discretionary authority.  Some cohos even have
> sub-committees that also have powers as well as duties.
> All of which sounds like hierarchy to me.  Lacking any delegation, all you
> have is centralized command and control.  I am not persuaded that central
> command and control is an OK organizational model, even when the center is
> plenary (or, especially when the center is plenary).  So I am wondering if
> Characteristic 5 needs a clarification or re-write …
> Thanks,
> Philip Dowds
> Cornerstone Cohousing
> Cambridge, MA
> mobile: 617.460.4549
> email:   rpdowds [at]
> _________________________________________________________________
> Cohousing-L mailing list -- Unsubscribe, archives and other info at:

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.