(Graeber 2004) Fragments of an anarchist anthropology


Graeber, David. Fragments of an anarchist anthropology. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press; 2004. Available from: http://prickly-paradigm.com/titles/fragments-anarchist-anthropology. Accessed 2012 Apr 21. Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/676RIl5R8.

Anarchist and anthropologist David Graeber outlines ways in which the academic discipline of anthropology could inform the politics of anarchism. Since anarchism is antithetical to any form of vanguardism, it needs to be guided not by a priori political theorizing, but by the ethnography of past or present examples of the actual practice of voluntary social self-organization. Graeber writes (p. 97) that anthropology is

… the only discipline in a position to make generalizations about humanity as a whole—since it is the only discipline that actually takes all of humanity into account, and is familiar with all the anomalous cases. (“All societies practice marriage, you say? Well that depends on how you define ‘marriage.’ Among the Nayar…”)

Nevertheless, Graeber also emphasizes the commonalities of Western technological civilization with the cultural forms of other times and places, rejecting any kind of modernist or Westernist exceptionalism.

Graeber defines the state by its claim to a monopoly on the right to use violence, and anarchism by its opposition to the existence of such a monopoly. Ethnography of existing anarchistic or near-anarchistic cultures reveals consistently that they are obsessed with myths and fears of the tyrannical use of arbitrary power. They do not take the absence of a state for granted, but rather forestall its establishment by various forms of “counterpower”, especially those involving negotiation and consensus. The paradox of states is that they are at once utopian projects and schemes of extortion, leading to sharp contradictions between ideal and reality. The actual extent of state tyranny and extortion does not correlate well at all with the professed democratic vs. autocratic character of the government; Graeber traces the origin of majoritarian democracy to its role in averting violent mutiny within ancient military organizations, and even acknowledges that there is some truth to traditional elitist criticisms of majoritarianism as a thinly disguised form of violent mob rule. State violence is complemented by violent arrangements in the economic sphere, especially capitalist wage labor, which is criticized as closely akin to slavery in its origins and function. Graeber deplores the influence of Foucault’s theory of the association between knowledge and power, which blinds academics to the pervasive role of violence in maintaining existing social structures; instead, Graeber emphasizes that violence is the one mode of social influence that does not depend on any understanding of the people being influenced.

 

 

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