Possibilities : Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire

By David Graeber

Entry 5666


From: holdoffhunger [id: 1]


Untitled Anarchism Possibilities

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(1961 - 2020)

Anarchist, Anthropologist, Occupy Movement Organizer, and Anti-Bullshit Jobs Activist

David Rolfe Graeber was an American anthropologist and anarchist activist. His influential work in economic anthropology, particularly his books Debt: The First 5,000 Years and Bullshit Jobs , and his leading role in the Occupy movement, earned him recognition as one of the foremost anthropologists and left-wing thinkers of his time. Born in New York to a working-class Jewish family, Graeber studied at Purchase College and the University of Chicago, where he conducted ethnographic research in Madagascar under Marshall Sahlins and obtained his doctorate in 1996. He was an assistant professor at Yale University from 1998 to 2005, when the university controversially decided not to renew his contract before he was eligible for tenure. Unable to secure another position in the United States, he entered an "academic exile" in England, where he was a lecturer and reader at Goldsmiths' College from 2008 to 2013, and a professor at the London School of Economic... (From: Wikipedia.org / TheGuardian.com.)


14 Chapters | 189,346 Words | 1,189,656 Characters

Introduction I decided to call this collection Possibilities because the word encompasses much of what originally inspired me to become an anthropologist. I was drawn to the discipline because it opens windows on other possible forms of human social existence; because it served as a constant reminder that most of what we assume to be immutable has been, in other times and places, arranged quite differently, and therefore, that human possibilities are in almost every way greater than we ordinarily imagine. Anthropology also affords us new possible perspectives on familiar problems: ways of thinking about the rise of capitalism from the perspective of West Africa, European manners from the perspective of Amazonia, or, for that matter, West... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Part I — Some Thoughts On The Origins of Our Current Predicament 1 — Manners, Deference, and Private Property: or, Elements For A General Theory of Hierarchy This is an essay about the nature of hierarchy. In it, I want to delve into hierarchy’s most elementary forms: the way people avert their eyes or stand at attention, the sort of topics they avoid in formal conversation, what it means to treat another human being as somehow abstract, sacred, transcendent, set apart from the endless entanglements and sheer physical messiness of ordinary physical existence—and why something like that always seems to happen when some people claim to be inherently superior to others. It seems to me an investigation like this... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
2 — The Very Idea of Consumption: Desire, Phantasms, and the Aethetics of Destruction from Medieval Times to the Present This essay is not a critique of consumerism. It’s not meant to offer yet another exposé of the evils of mass consumption or of contemporary consumer practices. I want to ask instead why it is we talk about “consumption” or “consumer practices” at all. Why is it, when we see someone buying refrigerator magnets, and someone else putting on eye-liner, or cooking dinner, or singing at a karaoke bar, or just sitting around watching TV, we assume that they are on some level doing the same thing, that it can be described as “consumption” or “consumer behavior,&rdquo... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
3 — Turning Modes of Production Inside Out: or, Why Capitalism Is A Transformation of Slavery (Short Version) What follows is really just the summary of a much longer argument I hope to develop elsewhere at greater length. A lot of the issues it addresses—the state of Marxist theory, the notion of the mode of production, World-Systems analysis—are ones most anthropologists in the United States (or for that matter, most political activists) have come to think of as tiresome and passé. However, I think that, if well employed, these concepts can still tell us new and surprising things about the world we inhabit. The problem is that they haven’t always been employed particularly well. This is particularly true... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
4 — Fetishism As Social Creativity: or, Fetishes Are Gods In The Process of Construction In this paper, I would like to make a contribution to theories of social creativity. By social creativity, I mean the creation of new social forms and institutional arrangements. Creativity of this sort has been the topic of some discussion in social theory of late, although up to now anthropology has not played much of a role in it. Here, I would like to bring anthropology into an area that has traditionally been seen as its home turf: by looking at the literature on “fetishism” in Africa. Now one could argue that creativity of this sort has always been one of the great issues of social theory, but it seems to me the current inter... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Part II — Provisional Autonomous Zone: Dilemmas of Authority in Rural Madagascar 5 — Provisional Autonomous Zone: or, The Ghost-State in Madagascar Shortly before I left for Madagascar I was talking to Henry Wright, an archaeologist who had worked there for more than a decade. “You have to be careful,” he said, “poking around the countryside.” State authority was dissolving. In many parts of the island, he said, it had effectively ceased to exist. Even in the region around the capital there were reports of fokon’olona—village assemblies—beginning to carry out executions. This was one of the many concerns forgotten almost as soon as I actually arrived in Madagascar. In the capital,... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
6 — Dancing With Corpses Reconsidered: An Interpretation of Famadihana (In Arivonimamo, Madagascar) In September of 1990, I was talking with a woman named Irina about something an ancestor of hers had done some sixty years before. Like all of the andriana or nobles of Betafo (a community to the north of the town of Arivonimamo, in Imerina, Madagascar) she was descended from a certain Andrianambololona, whose body, together with that of his wife and daughter and those of three of his retainers, was buried in a large white tomb in the center of the village of Betafo, a five-minute walk across the rice fields from her house. This particular ancestor, she was telling me, has long had the custom of appearing to his descendants in dream... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
7 — Love Magic and Political Morality in Central Madagascar, 1875–1990 This essay sets out from a simple question. Why is it that at the end of the last century, people in Imerina in central Madagascar seem to have universally assumed that it was men who used ody fitia, or “love medicine”—while, when I was living there between 1989 and 1991, absolutely everyone I spoke to took it for granted that it was women who did so? This question is linked to another. In both periods, love medicine was clearly the stuff of scandal. But over the last hundred years, what is scandalous about it appears to have changed. Nineteenth-century texts invariably emphasized that what were called love medicines were really forms of ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
8 — Oppression In Malagasy there is a word, tsindriana, that means “oppressed.” The literal definition is “to be pressed down, crushed by a heavy weight.” Used in a political context, it means to suffer under some kind of unjust power or authority. Malagasy is hardly alone in having such a word. Actually, most languages do. The English sentence “the people are oppressed” (or the Malagasy equivalent, tsindriana ny vahoaka) could be translated directly into the languages spoken by a majority of human beings, using the same metaphor, with no need for exegesis or elaboration. Even in those languages that do not have an explicit term for “oppression,” I would hazard to say that if a compe... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Part III — Direct Action, Direct Democracy, and Social Theory 9 — The Twilight of Vanguardism Revolutionary thinkers have been declaring the age of vanguardism over for most of a century now. Outside a handful of tiny sectarian groups, it’s almost impossible to find radical intellectuals who seriously believe that their role should be to determine the correct historical analysis of the world situation, so as to lead the masses along in the one true revolutionary direction. But (rather like the idea of progress itself, to which it’s obviously connected), it seems much easier to renounce the principle than to shake the accompanying habits of thought. Vanguardist, even sectarian, attitudes have become so deeply in... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
10 — Social Theory As Science and Utopia: or, Does The Prosect of a General Sociological Theory Still Mean Anything in an Age of Globalization? I can address the organizers’ questions from two possible vantages: as an anthropologist, or as a political activist who has been working for some years with the globalization movement (the so-called “anti-globalization movement”), which has been reformulating the whole idea of revolution in accord with changing global conditions. In what follows, I will try to do a little bit of both, by offering some reflections on the history of social theory in general and its changing relation to the prospects of social revolution.[210] I’m taking this approach not just because... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
11 — There Never Was a West: or, Democracy Emerges From the Spaces In Between What follows emerges largely from my own experience of the alternative globalization movement, where issues of democracy have been very much at the center of debate. Anarchists in Europe or North America and indigenous organizations in the Global South have found themselves locked in remarkably similar arguments. Is “democracy” an inherently Western concept? Does it refer a form of governance (a mode of communal self-organization), or a form of government (one particular way of organizing a state apparatus)? Does democracy necessarily imply majority rule? Is representative democracy really democracy at all? Is the word permanently tainted by i... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
12 — On The Phenomenology of Giant Puppets: Broken Windows, Imaginary Jars of Urine, and the Cosmological Role of the Police in American Culture What follows is an essay of interpretation. It is about direct action in North America, about the mass mobilizations organized by the so called “anti-globalization movement,” and especially, about the war of images that has surrounded it. It begins with a simple observation. I think it’s fair to say that if the average American knows just two things about these mobilizations, they are, first of all, that there are often people dressed in black who break windows; second, that they involve colorful giant puppets. I want to start by asking why these images in particular appe... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
[1] Failure to recognize this is the weakness, I think, of much of the existing theoretical literature on the subject. Mary Douglas’ essay on “jokes” for instance starts out as an analysis of joking relations. The result is a brilliant reflection on the nature of humor, but, it seems to me, is of little use in understanding the nature of joking relations in the traditional anthropological sense of the term. [2] Though cf. Stasch 2002. [3] Again, I remind the reader that I am using the term “joking” here in a special, technical sense, meaning “along the lines of the sort of construction of human relations typical of joking relations”; hence I do not simply mean “humorous.” [4] “S... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)


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