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Starhawk, The Empowerment Manual: a guide for collaborative groups

New Society Publishers, 2011; 288pp; £20.99

Think of those occasions in a group when it feels like you are collectively crashing into rocks or going round and round in a dreary, draining eddy. Starhawk is the Wise Woman of activism who you want to turn to for a magic spell to make it all better.

While she doesn’t give a magic bullet, she does offer an analysis of how groups can work most productively. She gives tools to embrace conflict rather than avoid it, recognising that the strength of a group is in nurturing its capacity to deal with difficulties intelligently and sensitively and to turn disagreement into a strength.

Starhawk has 40 years of experience in North American collaborative groups and activism. She was an organiser in the Seattle WTO demonstrations, Hurricane Katrina solidarity, Gaza Freedom March and last year’s Occupy camps. I have found her writings on power some of the most enlightening and useful I’ve read.

This current book deals, in part, with leadership and horizontal organisations. A healthy group is what she calls ‘leaderful’, where leadership is a set of roles to be stepped into and back from.

Be warned that Starhawk herself points out that some people will find some of her Californian pagan culture too ‘woo-woo’, but it is quite easy to leave aside or adapt the purposes of the ritual/meditation exercises. All groups would benefit from this book even those committedly un-West Coast.