Direct Action: An Ethnography

Direct Action: An Ethnography

by David Graeber

Anthropologist David Graeber undertakes the first detailed ethnographic study of the global justice movement.

The case study at the center of Direct Action is the organizing and events that led to the one of the most dramatic and militant mass protests in recent yearsagainst the Summit of the Americas in Québec City.

At the same time, his experiment in the application of ethnographic methods to important ongoing political events is a serious and unique contribution to the field of anthropology, as well as an inquiry into anthropologys political implications.David Graeber is an anthropologist and activist who teaches at the University of London.

Active in numerous direct-action political organizations, he has written for Harpers Magazine and is the author of Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value, and Possibilities.In Oakland, California on March 24, 2015 a fire destroyed the AK Press warehouse along with several other businesses.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Anthropology
  • Rating: 4.14
  • Pages: 568
  • Publish Date: September 1st 2009 by AK Press
  • Isbn10: 1904859798
  • Isbn13: 9781904859796

What People Think about "Direct Action: An Ethnography"

There is craft, care, and handiwork evident throughout the book; Graeber really attempted to fashion an anarchist ethnography, a story and interpretation for outsiders of a culture to which he belongs, positing theory and conclusions without ever resorting to sweeping generalizations, simplification, or dismissals of diversity. The book itself can be viewed as a direct action, a conscious process of redefining ethnography from patronizing colonial narratives and empty post-colonial relativism to an example of a people's ability to critically define their culture for themselves. A stunning amount of time is devoted to meetings, both in the case study and in the later 70+ page chapter titled "Meetings." I was getting pretty skeptical of Graber's artistic vision as the book began to reflect the exhausting qualities of my own life seemingly trapped in endless collective and organizing meetings-- but that was the point. Graber makes the case that the real magic of direct democracy occurs in meetings when people take the time and energy to enact consensus process. Our visibility comes in the form of giant puppets and smashed windows, two images Graeber explores at length, but images that do not convey the practical vision of what a new world could look like, inherent in intentional, mindful meeting process. The global justice movement's anarchist backbone meant that while the uprising was meant to resist "an unaccountable world neoliberal government that sought to suppress existing democratic rights in the name of corporate power," the movement's participants "were determined to organize the whole action according to directly democratic principles and thus provide a living example of how genuine egalitarian decision making might work" (210). He credits the women's liberation movement in the 70s as offering the critique of 60s/70s centralized, hierarchical revolutionary practice that resulted in searching out new forms of decision making and the embracing of Quaker-style consensus, affinity groups, spokescouncils, and facilitation.

And it is precisely this kind of detailed and imaginative analysis that is valuable now at the point where these movements have been dispersed and it is time to take a step back and learn from these experiences, precisely to appreciate what they made possible and what was inadequate to the situation.

This may be one of my favorite anthropology books of the last decade.

The first section is highly conversational, and easy to follow. He follows an affinity group from initial discussions through to action on the streets of Quebec, showing the full gamut of anarchist organisation and action. This section gets a little more theoretical, but still in Graeber's easy conversational style.

The book was captivating and I learned a lot, particularly stylistically how to write a successful auto-ethnography.

The politics of imagination, on the other hand, always present in art and revolutionary moments, and revived in the contemporary anarchist movements that comprise Graeber's ethnographic subject, acknowledges that imagination underlies all social reality. Even the rule of force requires an underlying imagination of social possibility, however narrow, in order to be realized in practice. Popular recognition of this openness of possibility can only come after an acknowledgement of existing alienation, which is the direct outcome of the subordination of imagination to the rule of force.

(8/10) In Direct Action, David Graeber sets out on what is ostensibly an anthropological ethnography of anarchist politics and the anti-globalization movement. For people like me who are less interested in the summit-protesting, window-smashing form of activism, this is a bit of a disappointment, and I remain unpersuaded by Graeber's arguments about the efficacy of the actions he describes.