World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

David Graeber

Article Id: WHEBN0001292447
Reproduction Date:

Title: David Graeber  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Anarchism in the United States, Contemporary anarchism, History of anarchism, Value-form, The Utopia of Rules
Collection: 1961 Births, Academics of Goldsmiths, University of London, American Activists, American Anarchists, American Anthropologists, American Expatriates in the United Kingdom, American Jews, American Male Writers, American Political Writers, Anarchist Academics, Anarchist Economics, Anarchist Theorists, Anti-Corporate Activists, Economic Anthropology, Fulbright Scholars, Industrial Workers of the World Members, Jewish Scholars, Living People, State University of New York at Purchase Alumni, University of Chicago Alumni, Yale University Faculty
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

David Graeber

David Graeber
Born David Rolfe Graeber
(1961-02-12) February 12, 1961
Residence London, England
Citizenship United States
Fields Economic anthropology
Social anthropology
Institutions Yale University
Goldsmiths, University of London
London School of Economics
Alma mater State University of New York at Purchase (B.A.)
University of Chicago (Ph.D.)
Doctoral advisor Marshall Sahlins
Known for Debt: The First 5000 Years
Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology
Influences Marcel Mauss
Edmund Leach
Marshall Sahlins
Peter Kropotkin
Influenced Occupy movement
Notable awards Bread and Roses Award
Bateson Book Prize

David Rolfe Graeber (; born 12 February 1961) is an American anthropologist and anarchist activist, perhaps best known for his 2011 volume Debt: The First 5000 Years. He is Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics.[1]

As an assistant professor and associate professor of anthropology at Yale from 1998–2007 he specialised in theories of value and social theory. The university's decision not to rehire him when he would otherwise have become eligible for tenure sparked an academic controversy, and a petition with more than 4,500 signatures.[2] He went on to become, from 2007–13, Reader in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London.[3]

His activism includes protests against the 3rd Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in 2001, and the 2002 World Economic Forum in New York City. Graeber was a leading figure in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and is sometimes credited with having coined the slogan, "We are the 99 percent".[4]


  • Early life 1
  • Academia 2
  • Authorship 3
  • Activism 4
  • Publications 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Graeber's parents, who were in their forties when Graeber was born, were self-taught working-class intellectuals.[5] Graeber's mother, Ruth Rubinstein, had been a garment worker, and played the lead role in the 1930s musical comedy revue Pins & Needles, staged by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.[5][6] Graeber's father Kenneth, who was affiliated with the Youth Communist League in college, though he quit well before the Hitler-Stalin pact, participated in the Spanish Revolution in Barcelona and fought in the Spanish Civil War.[7] He later worked as a plate stripper on offset printers.[5] Graeber grew up in New York, in a cooperative apartment building described by Business Week magazine as "suffused with radical politics."[5] Graeber has been an anarchist since the age of 16, according to an interview he gave to The Village Voice in 2005.[8]

Graeber graduated from Phillips Academy Andover in 1978 and received his B.A. from the State University of New York at Purchase in 1984. He received his Master's degree and Doctorate at the University of Chicago, where he won a Fulbright fellowship to conduct twenty months of ethnographic field research in Betafo, Madagascar, beginning in 1989.[9] His resulting Ph.D. thesis on magic, slavery, and politics was supervised by Marshall Sahlins and entitled The Disastrous Ordeal of 1987: Memory and Violence in Rural Madagascar.[2][10]


Graeber in January 2002

In 1998, two years after completing his PhD, Graeber became assistant professor at Yale University, then became associate professor.[2] In May 2005, the Yale Anthropology department decided not to renew Graeber's contract, preventing consideration for tenure which was scheduled for 2008. Pointing to Graeber's anthropological scholarship, his supporters (including fellow anthropologists, former students and activists) claimed that the decision was politically motivated. More than 4,500 people signed petitions supporting him, and anthropologists such as Marshall Sahlins, Laura Nader, Michael Taussig, and Maurice Bloch called for Yale to rescind its decision.[2] Bloch, who had been a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics and the Collège de France, and writer on Madagascar, made the following statement about Graeber in a letter to the university:

"His writings on anthropological theory are outstanding. I consider him the best anthropological theorist of his generation from anywhere in the world."[11]

The Yale administration argued that Graeber's dismissal was in keeping with Yale's policy of granting tenure to few junior faculty (thus generating the widespread false impression that this was, in fact, a tenure case) and gave no formal explanation for its actions. Graeber has suggested that the University's decision might have been influenced by his support of a student of his who was targeted for expulsion because of her membership in GESO, Yale's graduate student union.[2][12][13][14]

In December 2005, Graeber agreed to leave the university after a one-year paid sabbatical. That spring he taught two final classes: "Introduction to Cultural Anthropology" (attended by over 200 students) and a seminar entitled “Direct Action and Radical Social Theory”[15] The latter was the only explicitly radical-themed course he taught at Yale.

On 25 May 2006, Graeber was invited to give the Malinowski Lecture at the London School of Economics; his address was entitled "Beyond Power/Knowledge: an exploration of the relation of power, ignorance and stupidity".[16] This lecture has since been edited into an essay, titled "Dead zones of the imagination: On violence, bureaucracy and interpretive labor".[17] The anthropology department at the University asks an anthropologist at a relatively early stage of their career to give the Malinowski Lecture each year, and only invites those who are considered to have made a significant contribution to anthropological theory. That same year, Graeber was asked to present the keynote address in the 100th anniversary Diamond Jubilee meetings of the Association of Social Anthropologists.[18] In April 2011, he presented the anthropology department's annual Distinguished Lecture at Berkeley,[19] and in May 2012 delivered the Second Annual Marilyn Strathern Lecture at Cambridge.

From 2008 through Spring 2013, Graeber was a lecturer and a reader at Goldsmith's College of the University of London. In 2013, he accepted a professorship at the London School of Economics.[20][21]


Graeber is the author of Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology and Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams. He has done extensive anthropological work in Madagascar, writing his doctoral thesis (The Disastrous Ordeal of 1987: Memory and Violence in Rural Madagascar) on the continuing social division between the descendants of nobles and the descendants of former slaves. A book based on his dissertation, Lost People: Magic and the Legacy of Slavery in Madagascar, appeared from Indiana University Press in September 2007. A book of collected essays, Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire was published by AK Press in November 2007 and Direct Action: An Ethnography appeared from the same press in August 2009, as well as a collection of essays co-edited with Stevphen Shukaitis called Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations//Collective Theorization (AK Press, May 2007). These were followed by a major historical monograph, Debt: The First 5000 Years (Melville House), which appeared in July 2011.[22] Speaking about Debt with the Brooklyn Rail, Graeber remarked:

The IMF ( [23]

He is currently working on an historical work on the origins of social inequality with University College London archaeologist David Wengrow, and a collection of essays entitled "Kings" with his former teacher Marshall Sahlins.

His book on the Occupy movement and related issues was released as The Democracy Project in 2013. One of the points he raises in this book is the increase in what he calls bullshit jobs, referring to meaningless employment. He sees such jobs as being "concentrated in professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers".[24] As he explained also in an article in STRIKE! magazine:

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.[25]

Since January 2013, Graeber has been a contributing editor at The Baffler magazine in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since 2011, he has also been editor at large in the free online journal HAU: The Journal of Ethnographic Theory, for which he and Giovanni da Col co-wrote the founding theoretical statement.


Graeber (left) at a rally for immigrant rights at Union Square, New York City in 2007

In addition to his academic work, Graeber has a history of both direct and indirect involvement in political activism, including membership in the labor union Industrial Workers of the World, a role in protests against the World Economic Forum in New York City in 2002, support for the 2010 UK student protests,[26] and an early role in the Occupy Wall Street movement. He is co-founder of the Anti-Capitalist Convergence.[27]

In November 2011, nonviolent resistance. A few days after the encampment of Zuccotti Park began, he left New York for Austin, Texas.[5]

Graeber has argued that the Occupy Wall Street movement's lack of recognition of the legitimacy of either existing political institutions or the legal structure, its embrace of non-hierarchical

External links

  • Sutton, David (September 2004). "Anthropology's Value(s): A Review of David Graeber's Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value". Anthropological Theory 4 (3): 373–379.  
  • Guyer, Jane I. (December 2009). "On 'possibility': A response to ‘How Is Anthropology Going?’". Anthropological Theory 9 (4): 355–370.  

Further reading

  1. ^ "London School of Economics Department of Anthropology Staff List".  
  2. ^ a b c d e Arenson, Karen W. (December 28, 2005). "When Scholarship and Politics Collided at Yale". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Graeber, David". Goldsmiths, University of London. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  4. ^  
  5. ^ a b c d e Bennett, Drake (26 October 2011). "David Graeber, the Anti-Leader of Occupy Wall Street: Meet the anthropologist, activist, and anarchist who helped transform a hapless rally into a global protest movement". Business Week. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  6. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths: Graeber, Ruth R.". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). April 20, 2006. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  7. ^ "Kenneth Graeber". Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Spanish Civil War History and Education. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  8. ^ Mamatas, Nick (31 May 2005). "Take It From the Top: Speaking with anarchist professor David Graeber, canned from Yale". Village Voice. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  9. ^ Berrett, Dan (16 October 2011). "Intellectual Roots of Wall St. Protest Lie in Academe". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  10. ^ Graeber, David (2004). "David Graeber". Yale University Department of Anthropology. Yale University. Archived from the original on 22 February 2004. 
  11. ^ Bloch, Maurice. "Letter from Maurice Bloch, London School of Economics". Solidarity with David Graeber. Archived from the original on October 27, 2009. Retrieved October 27, 2009. 
  12. ^ Frank, Joshua (May 13–15, 2005). "Without Cause: Yale Fires An Acclaimed Anarchist Scholar".  
  13. ^ Epstein, David (May 18, 2005). "Early Exit".  
  14. ^ Johansen, Bruce E (2007). Silenced!: academic freedom, scientific inquiry, and the First Amendment. New York: Praeger. pp. 110–112.  
  15. ^ Marsden, Jessica (9 December 2005). "Graeber agrees to leave University". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 5 May 2015. 
  16. ^ Graeber, David (May 26, 2006). "Beyond Power/Knowledge: an exploration of the relation of power, ignorance and stupidity" (pdf). London School of Economics. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  17. ^ Graeber, David. "Dead zones of the imagination: On violence, bureaucracy, and interpretive labor. The 2006 Malinowski Memorial Lecture.". 
  18. ^ Graeber, David. "There Never Was a West: Democracy as a form of interstitial cosmopolitanism". Association of Social Anthropologists. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  19. ^ """Anthropology Department Distinguished Lecture 2011: "Utopias of Debt. Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley. Archived from the original on July 24, 2011. Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  20. ^ Shea, Christopher (April 15, 2013). "'"A Radical Anthropologist Finds Himself in Academic 'Exile. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved April 15, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Occupying Democracy".  
  22. ^ Habash, Gabe (December 2, 2011). "Melville House Finds Hit for the 99%".  
  23. ^ Woodman, Spencer (September 2011). "WORLD OF DEBT: DAVID GRAEBER with Spencer Woodman". The Brooklyn Rail. 
  24. ^  
  25. ^ "On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs". 2013-07-17. 
  26. ^ Rayner, Gordon; Roberts, Laura (November 12, 2010). "Student tuition fee protests: security guards were powerless to act, then riot ringleaders". The Daily Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group). Retrieved December 4, 2011. 
  27. ^ Fries, Jacob H. (January 28, 2002). "Anarchy Has an Image Problem; In the Face of New York Police, Taste for Conflict Wavers". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved February 15, 2012. 
  28. ^ Graeber, David (2013). The Democracy Project.  
  29. ^ Sharlet, Jeff (10 November 2011). "Inside Occupy Wall Street: How a bunch of anarchists and radicals with nothing but sleeping bags launched a nationwide movement". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  30. ^ Graeber, David (November 30, 2011). "Occupy Wall Street's anarchist roots".  
  31. ^ Graeber, David (September 25, 2011). "Occupy Wall Street Protest". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Retrieved October 6, 2011. 
  32. ^ "International Organization for a Participatory Society Interim Committee". Retrieved March 31, 2012. 


  • — (December 27, 1998). "Rebel Without a God". In These Times. Retrieved February 15, 2012.  A meditation on the anti-authoritarian elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • — (August 21, 2000). "Give it Away".   An article about the French intellectual Marcel Mauss
  • — (January–February 2002). "The New Anarchists".  
  • — (June 1, 2003). "The Twilight of Vanguardism". Indymedia DC. Retrieved February 15, 2012.  An essay originally delivered as a keynote address during the "History Matters: Social Movements Past, Present, and Future" conference at the New School for Social Research on May 3, 2003
  • — (January 6, 2004). "Anarchism in the 21st Century".   Co-authored with Andrej Grubacic
  • — (December 6, 2005). "On the Phenomenology of Giant Puppets: Broken Windows, Imaginary Jars of Urine, and the Cosmological Role of the Police in American Culture" (PDF). Retrieved February 15, 2012.  Originally an address to Anthropology, Art and Activism Seminar Series at Brown University's Watson Institute, December 6, 2005
  • — (January 2007). "Army of Altruists". An attempt to solve the riddle of why so many working class Americans vote right-wing  
  • — (October 12, 2007). "The Shock of Victory".  
  • — (October 16, 2007). "Revolution in Reverse". Infoshop News. Retrieved February 15, 2012. 
  • — (April 1, 2008). "The Sadness of Post-Workerism, or, "Art and Immaterial Labour" Conference: a Sort of Review" (PDF). The Commoner. Retrieved February 15, 2012.  An assessment of recent trendy autonomist theory (à la Negri, Lazzarato, etc.), with some comments on the relation of art, value, scams, and the fate of the Future.
  • — (November 17, 2008). "Hope in Common". Archived from the original on February 10, 2009. Retrieved February 15, 2012. 
  • — (February 10, 2009). "Debt: The First Five Thousand Years".  
  • — (November 2010). "Against Kamikaze Capitalism: Oil, Climate Change and the French refinery blockades".  
  • — (December 7, 2010). "To Have Is to Owe".   An illustrated essay on the history of debt, containing excerpts from Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011)
  • — (September 25, 2011). "Occupy Wall Street Rediscovers the Radical Imagination". Retrieved January 18, 2013. 
  • — (March 2012). "Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit".  
  • — (April 2013). "A Practical Utopian's Guide to the Coming Collapse".  
  • — (August 2013). "On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs.".  
  • — (February 2014). "What's the Point If We Can't Have Fun.".  
  • — (March 26, 2014). "Caring too much. That's the curse of the working classes".  
  • — (May 30, 2014). "Savage capitalism is back – and it will not tame itself".  


  • — (March 2006). "Transformation of Slavery Turning Modes of Production Inside Out: Or, Why Capitalism is a Transformation of Slavery" (PDF).  
  • — (September 2011). "The Divine Kinghip of the Shilluk: On Violence, Utopia, and the Human Condition, or, Elements for an Archaeology of Sovereignty.". HAU: The Journal of Ethnographic Theory. Retrieved April 16, 2013. 
  • — (December 2012). "Dead Zones of the Imagination: On Violence, Bureaucracy, and Interpretive Labor. The 2006 Malinowski Memorial Lecture.". HAU: The Journal of Ethnographic Theory. Retrieved January 21, 2013. 



  • — (2007). Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations / Collective Theorization. Oakland, CA: AK Press.  
As co-editor
  • — (2001). Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams. New York:  
  • — (2004).  
  • — (2007). Lost People: Magic and the Legacy of Slavery in Madagascar. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.  
  • — (2007). Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire. Oakland, CA: AK Press.  
  • — (2009). Direct Action: An Ethnography. Edinburgh Oakland: AK Press.  
  • — (2011).  
  • — (2011). Revolutions in Reverse: Essays on Politics, Violence, Art, and Imagination. London New York: Minor Compositions.  
  • — (2013).  
  • — (2015).  




This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.