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June 10, 2006 4:56 PM   Subscribe

This year's Malinowski Memorial Lecture at the London School of Economics was presented by David Graeber, until recently an Associate Professor at Yale, entitled Beyond Power/Knowledge: an exploration of the relation of power, ignorance and stupidity. (PDF link) Although Yale declined to provide a reason for Mr. Graeber's recent dismissal, it's likely that his outspoken anarchism and activism, as well as his support for a union of graduate students, were influences in the decision. He explained some of his views on anarchism, "globalization", and, yes, hope for the future, on the Charlie Rose Show. (Youtube) Weekend reading assignment: Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. (PDF link)
posted by dinsdale (22 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Presumably a riff on Foucault's neologism. Interesting. I'll look forward to reading all of this when I get a chance.

Nice to see an academic willing to actually take risks with his career in order to pursue his ideas.
posted by bardic at 5:05 PM on June 10, 2006

From what I see, anarchists get a bad rap from their bomb-throwing days. Their actual neo-lib ideology isn't much different from the minarchist corporatocrat wingnuts gracing NRO and occupying the center-right of political discourse in the US today.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:17 PM on June 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

(this is good stuff; my own education in the power of ignorance and the straightjacket of a casual education came when viewing the excesses of the first RE bubble 1999-2001 in the SF BA. I knew something wasn't functioning right, but only had 1) socialististic government-intervention (which I knew wasn't a long-term fix and would probably make things worse) or 2) enjoy being raped by the Adam Smith. Late in 2002 I discovered a third possible economic morality one that was first worked out 100 years ago in the very same area, but since has been largely forgotten and/or shat upon by the people "running" economics today.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:23 PM on June 10, 2006

well, the pdf kinda ended without getting to the point I thought it was going to from the title. oh wells, never mind me...
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:37 PM on June 10, 2006

Anthropolgy speaks out...

Every time intellectuals have the chance to speak yet do not speak, they join the forces that train men not to be able to think and imagine and feel in morally and politically adequate ways. When they do not demand that the secrecy that makes elite decisions absolute and unchallengeable be removed, they too are part of the passive conspiracy to kill off public scrutiny. When they do not speak, when they do not demand, when they do not think and feel and act as intellectuals ... they contribute to the moral paralysis, the intellectual rigidity, that now grip both leaders and led around the world.

—C. Wright Mills, The Causes of World War III (1958)

It is time to divert at least some of our research energies away from the minutiae of diverse problems and to focus on their broader context. What has been missing is perspective ... Anthropology appears to be a discipline that can show us how we got where we are and suggest how we might get out.

—John Bodley, Anthropology and Contemporary Human Problems (1985)
posted by Unregistered User at 5:47 PM on June 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Excellent post; the guy makes a lot of sense. I like this from the "anarchism" link:
It was the Bolsheviks’ success, we are usually told, that led to the decline of anarchism—with the glorious exception of Spain—and catapulted Communism to the fore. But it seems to me one could look at this another way.

In the late nineteenth century most people honestly believed that war between industrialized powers was becoming obsolete; colonial adventures were a constant, but a war between France and England, on French or English soil, seemed as unthinkable as it would today. By 1900, even the use of passports was considered an antiquated barbarism. The ‘short twentieth century’ was, by contrast, probably the most violent in human history, almost entirely preoccupied with either waging world wars or preparing for them. Hardly surprising, then, that anarchism quickly came to seem unrealistic, if the ultimate measure of political effectiveness became the ability to maintain huge mechanized killing machines. This is one thing that anarchists, by definition, can never be very good at. Neither is it surprising that Marxist parties —who have been only too good at it—seemed eminently practical and realistic in comparison. Whereas the moment the Cold War ended, and war between industrialized powers once again seemed unthinkable, anarchism reappeared just where it had been at the end of the nineteenth century, as an international movement at the very centre of the revolutionary left.
Kropotkin, thou shouldst be with us at this hour!
posted by languagehat at 6:01 PM on June 10, 2006

Up next for termination?

Anybody wanna take that bet?
posted by Unregistered User at 6:20 PM on June 10, 2006

Nice to see an academic willing to actually take risks with his career in order to pursue his ideas.

Not all that uncommon for academics to speak out, really. It's just that Graeber did it before he had tenure. Once you have tenure, it's actually hard to "risk your career" no matter what you say, and that's the idea, as Noam Chomsky could tell you. Though Ward Churchill could tell you it's not a perfect guarantee. And even with tenure, the bastards can punish you, as Juan Cole can tell you (also Yale, and there is a reason for the pattern). And not every untenured academic who "speaks out" is necessarily punished by his/her institution even if the public is offended, as Nicholas DeGenova could tell you. Some tenured academics have actually resigned their posts to protest university policies and donor relationships, but it is quite common for tenured faculty to leave for a new job in protest, as Cornell West could tell you.

This kind of anti-academic snark ("nice to see one actually take risks") is bullshit. How many businessmen and women take risks with their careers to do the right thing? For that matter, how many journalists?
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:30 PM on June 10, 2006

I'm confused. Everywhere that I know of Associate Professors are fully, if newly, tenured permanent faculty. Assistant Professors is the rank for those who are not yet tenured. Does Yale use different ranks?
posted by MattD at 7:02 PM on June 10, 2006

I'am quite surprised this post hasn't received more comments as it's an excellent blog, thank you dinsdale.

More from an anthropologist's perspective here.
posted by Unregistered User at 8:24 PM on June 10, 2006

Does Yale use different ranks?

Yes. You can be an untenured associate at Yale (also Harvard, and I think Columbia and Princeton too). Yale has a very idiosyncratic tenure system, and I hear it tenures fewer junior faculty than any other Ivy. Doesn't stop it from sucking though.

Associates are not always newly tenured. Many spend their entire mid-careers at Associate. The jump from Assoc to Full is not automatic with seniority.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:20 PM on June 10, 2006

Also meant to thank for the post, sorry it didn't get more attention.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:21 PM on June 10, 2006

That Bush graduated from Yale is not as incongruous as I'd thought, apparently.
posted by jamjam at 9:27 PM on June 10, 2006

Great post!
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:47 PM on June 10, 2006

I didn't know Graeber was so well-regarded within the discipline. I ran into him a few years ago on and alt.society.anarchy, where he seemed to have gotten into heated arguments with a number of people (e.g. David Friedman, a well-known anarcho-capitalist). Ironically, my impression was that he was a bit controlling: he wanted me to denounce someone whom he regarded as a troll, his objective being to drive this person off the group. I tried giving him some advice on dealing with trolls, but he wasn't very receptive.

Of course, being a bit obnoxious on USENET (IMHO) doesn't have anything to do with his accomplishments as a scholar and teacher.
posted by russilwvong at 10:23 PM on June 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

dinsdale, Very stimulating post, thank you. At first glance Beyond Power/Knowledge: an exploration of the relation of power, ignorance and stupidity, reminded me of the wonderful movie, Brazil and power plays in a plodding bureaucracy. Looking forward to the homework.
posted by nickyskye at 10:31 PM on June 10, 2006

thank you.
posted by jann at 11:01 PM on June 10, 2006

Anarchism I believe would be acceptable at Yale but an organized graduate group would not be. After all, most colleges use the equivlaent of illegal aliens--low pay, little or no benefits, easyh gterminations, no way in matterss etc--when they emplohy part tinme teachers. Look at NYU as an example.

Anarchism is simply libertarianism without bow ties. What needs to be looked at is the "futre" of anarchismn in light of globalization and the corporate rule of the world.
posted by Postroad at 5:22 AM on June 11, 2006

great post. Thanks.

Reminded me a bit of Mbembe, although I don't think he's an anarchist. It was the foundation of violence stuff that seemed similar (and of course the Foucault).
posted by carmen at 8:40 AM on June 11, 2006

Excellent Post Dinsdale, and nice title and look out for spiny norman.

The history of Anthropology is rife with academics getting involved in the "real world" so the snark is unjustified. However, as often as not, the involvement has not been on the side of the angels. Anthropologists were heavily involved in the Hearts and Minds operations in Vietnam, for example, and have consistently given advice to governments and agencies seeking to quell local resistance to colonial practices. On the other hand, many have got lost in the minutae of advocating for very, very narrow niche causes, such as the rights of a single group to some sort of nuanced somethingorver: not seeing the steamroller for the spokes, so to speak.

An Anthropologist I know runs this site, which (I think unfortunately) does not sufficiently differentiate itself from uninformmed advocacy sites.
posted by Rumple at 8:56 AM on June 11, 2006

Anthropologists were heavily involved in the Hearts and Minds operations in Vietnam, for example, and have consistently given advice to governments and agencies seeking to quell local resistance to colonial practices.

True, indeed. (Look up how *The Crysanthemum and the Sword* got written for fun.) But it is precisely this history that has led to a major sea change in the ethics of advocacy and activism in the field. Anthro has reformed, or even over-reformed, in the past 40 years, to the point that advocacy and activism sometimes trump scholarly rigor and truth.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:18 AM on June 11, 2006

when he talks about how we have no idea how capitalism might change in 100 years on the charlie rose show, he might consult his (former?) colleague yochai benkler :P

posted by kliuless at 12:58 PM on June 11, 2006

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