David Graeber

From Monoskop
(Redirected from Graeber)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

David Rolfe Graeber (12 February 1961, New York City – 2 September 2020, Venice, Italy) was an American anthropologist, anarchist activist and author known for his books Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011), The Utopia of Rules (2015) and Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2018). He worked at the Anthropology department at Yale (1998-2005), as reader in social anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London (2007-2013), and afterwards, until his death, as a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics.


Sourced from David Graeber's official website (2020).

"I was born and raised in New York, the child of Kenneth Graeber, a plate stripper (offset photolithography), originally from Kansas, who had fought with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, and Ruth (Rubinstein) Graeber, born in Poland, a garment worker and home-maker who had been the female lead in the 1930s Labor Stage musical, Pins & Needles.

Brought up in the Penn South Coops in Chelsea, I attended local public schools, PS 11, and IS 70, was discovered by some Maya archaeologists because of an odd hobby I had developed of translating Maya hieroglyphics, received a scholarship to attend a fancy boarding school for three years (Phillips Academy at Andover), before returning to state school, at SUNY Purchase, where I graduated with a BA in Anthropology in 1984.

From there I went on to University of Chicago. I lived in Chicago for over a decade, apart from two years (between 1989 and 1991) during which I was doing anthropological fieldwork in highland Madagascar, received a PhD in 1996, and then held a series of academic jobs. These included some graduate teaching at Chicago, though admittedly not much, a year at Haverford, a year of unemployment including a visiting scholar status and one course at NYU, and a junior faculty position at Yale. In 2004, the Yale department voted not to continue my contract, before I could begin the process of coming up for tenure. This was a very unusual procedure where new rules had to be invented for my case (i.e., no student or outside reviews were allowed.) Yale gave no reason for its decision other than dissatisfaction with my scholarship but some felt it might not have been entirely irrelevant that I was by this time quite active in the Global Justice Movement and other anarchist-inspired projects.

After Yale I found myself unemployable in my own country, but for some mysterious reason, being avidly shopped pretty much everywhere else. I ended up at Goldsmiths, University of London, from 2007-2013, working with inspiring colleagues and wonderful students, and now, as a full professor, at the London School of Economics, where I am surrounded by some of the best and most interesting people one could hope to be around. After living for some years in several countries at once, I’ve finally settled full-time in London.

I told a magazine once that I’ve been an anarchist since I was 16, so I guess that must be true, but I only really became active in any meaningful way after the beginning 2000, when I threw myself into the Alter-Globalization movement and it might be said that all my work since has been exploring the relation between anthropology as an intellectual pursuit, and practical attempts to create a free society, free, at least, of capitalism, patriarchy, and coercive state bureaucracies. As a result I sometimes feel I’ve had to pursue two full-time careers of research and writing, one peer-reviewed, the other not, since in my activist-oriented work I am interested in trying to ask the sort of question those actively engaged in trying to change the world find useful or important, rather than those of funders and those influenced by same. Still, the two strains intertwine and influence one another in endless, and, I hope, creative and mutually reinforcing ways.

The first book I wrote was Lost People, an ethnography of Betafo (Arivonimamo), a community in Madagascar divided between descendants of nobles and slaves, and I still think it’s my best, because it’s really co-written by all the characters (characters in every sense of the term) who inhabit it. It’s an attempt at a truly dialogic ethnography but as a result it’s a bit long so it took forever to publish it - it was effectively written in 1997 but only appeared ten years later (2007).

The first to be published was Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value (2001), in part my homage to one of my most inspiring teachers at Chicago, Terry Turner. Later, when another inspiring former mentor, Marshall Sahlins, put out a pamphlet series and asked me to contribute a volume, I wrote a tiny little book called Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, which has doomed me ever since to be referred to as “the anarchist anthropologist” (despite the fact that the book largely argues that anarchist anthropology doesn’t and probably couldn’t really exist. Please don’t do that. You don’t call people “the social democrat anthropologist” do you?) I also wrote a vast ethnography of Direct Action (called Direct Action: an Ethnography) which hardly anyone ever reads, a collection of largely academic essays called Possibilities, an edited volume called Constituent Imagination with Stevphen Shukaitis, a book of political essays called Revolutions in Reverse, and a book on debt called Debt: the First 5000 Years which virtually everyone seems to have read. This was followed by the Democracy Project (which I actually wanted to call “As If We Were Already Free”), the Utopia of Rules (which I wanted to call “Three Essays on Bureaucracy”), On Kings (a collection co-written with Marshall Sahlins), and Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. I am currently working with the archaeologist David Wengrow on a whole series of works completely re-imagining the whole question of “the origins of social inequality,” starting with the way the question is framed to begin with. After that, who knows?

I’ve continued to be actively engaged in social movements of one sort or another, insofar as I actually can, living in exile with a full-time job. I was involved in the initial meetings that helped set up Occupy Wall Street, for instance, and have been working with the Kurdish Freedom Movement in various capacities as well.

Oh, and since this is a matter of some historical contention: no, I didn’t personally come up with the slogan “We are the 99%.” I did first suggest that we call ourselves the 99%. Then two Spanish indignados and a Greek anarchist added the “we” and later a food-not-bombs veteran put the “are” between them. And they say you can’t create something worthwhile by committee! I’d include their names but considering the way Police Intelligence has been coming after early OWS organisers, maybe it would be better not to."



  • Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, Nov 2001, xiii+337 pp. Author. (English)
    • 가치이론에대한인류학적접근-교환과가치, 사회의재구성, Seoul: Greenbee Publishing, 2009. (Korean)
    • Die falsche Münze unserer Träume, Berlin: Diaphanes, 2013. (German)
    • Hacia una teoría antropológica del valor, Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2014. (Spanish)
    • Değer teorisi. Antropolojik Bir Giriş, Ankara: Sel Publishing, 2015. (Turkish)
  • Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, Apr 2004, 118 pp. Author. Publisher. (English)
    • Pour une anthropologie anarchiste, trans. Karine Peschard, Montréal: Lux, 2006, 166 pp. (French)
    • Frammenti di antropologia anarchica, Milan: Elèuthera, 2006. (Italian)
    • アナーキスト人類学のための断章, Tokyo: Ibunsha, 2006, 200 pp. [1] (Japanese)
    • Frei von Herrschaft: Fragmente einer anarchistischen Anthropologie, trans. Werner Petermann, Wuppertal: Hammer, 2008, 254 pp. (German)
    • Απόσπασμα μιας αναρχικής ανθρωπολογίας, Athens: Black Pepper, 2007. (Greek)
    • Fragmentos de antropología anarquista, trans. Ambar Sewell, Barcelona: Virus, 2011. Excerpt. (Spanish)
    • Anarsist Bir Antropolojiden Parçalar, Istanbul: Butek Bogazici, 2013. (Turkish)
    • Fragmenty anarchistické antropologie, trans. Martin Ritter, Prague: tranzit.cz, 2013, 104 pp. Review: Profant (Sociální studia). [2] (Czech)
    • Fragmenti anarhistične antropologije, Ljubljana: cf., 2014. (Slovenian)
    • 无政府主义人类学碎片, Beijing: Gaungxi Normal University Press, 2014. (Chinese)
    • Fragmentos de antropología anarquista y otros textos, Mexico: Ediciones la Sociale, 2015. (Spanish)
    • Brudstykker af en anarkistisk antropologi, Copenhagen: OVO, 2016, 119 pp. (Danish)
    • trans., Seoul, 2016. (Korean)
  • Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion and Desire, Oakland, CA: AK Press, Nov 2007, 417 pp. Author. (English)
    • Sto lykófos ton protoporión: I anádysi ton sýnchronon koinonikón kinimáton [Στο λυκόφως των πρωτοποριών: Η ανάδυση των σύγχρονων κοινωνικών κινημάτων], trans. Spyros Kourouklis [Σπύρος Κουρούκλης] and Lida Mantzourani [Λήδα Μαντζουράνη], Athens: Stasei Ekpiptontes [Στάσει Εκπίπτοντες], 2012, 265 pp. (Greek)
    • Critica della democrazia occidentale. Nuovi movimenti, crisi dello stato, democrazia diretta, pref. Stefano Boni, trans. Arturo Potassa Cravani, Milan: Elèuthera, 2012, 119 pp. Trans. of ch. 11: "There Never Was a West". (Italian)
    • La démocratie aux marges, pref. Alain Caillé, trans. Philippe Chanial, Paris: Flammarion, 2014, 123 pp. Trans. of ch. 11: "There Never Was a West". (French)
    • Des fins du capitalisme, Paris: Payot, 2014. Partial trans. (French)
    • Ganeungseongdeul, Seoul: Geurinbi, 2016, 672 pp. (Korean)
    • Minshu shugi no hiseiyō kigen ni tsuite: aida no kūkan no minshu shugi [民主主義の非西洋起源について: 「あいだ」の空間の民主主義], trans. Daisuke Kataoka, Tokyo: Ibunsha, 2020, 192 pp. Based on French edition (La démocratie aux marges). Incl. trans. of ch. 11: "There Never Was a West". [3] (Japanese)
  • Κίνημα, βία, τέχνηκαιεπανάσταση, ed. & trans. Spyros Koyroykis [Σπύρος Κουρούκλης], Athens: Stasei Ekpiptontes [Στάσει Εκπίπτοντες], 2009. (Greek)
    • Revolutions in Reverse: Essays on Politics, Violence, Art and Imagination, Minor Compositions, Sep 2011. Author. (English)
    • Kampf dem Kamikaze-Kapitalismus. Es gibt Alternativen zum herrschenden System, Munich: Pantheon, 2012, 160 pp. (German)
    • La rivoluzione che viene. Come ripartire dopo la fine del capitalismo, San Cesario di Lecce: Manni, 2012, 179 pp. (Italian)
    • Tersine devrimler: siyaset, şiddet, sanat ve hayalgücü üzerine denemeler, Istanbul: Everest Yayınları, 2014, 133 pp. (Turkish)
    • Revoluce naopak: eseje o politice, násilí, umění a představivosti, trans. Jaroslava Kočová, Olomouc: Broken Books, 2014, 146 pp. (Czech)
    • Revolusjoner i revers: essay om politikk, vold og fantasi, trans. Lars Holm-Hansen, forew. Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Oslo: Cappelen Damm, 2018, 180 pp. (Norwegian)
  • Oltre il Poetere e la Burocrazia: L'immaginazione contro la violenza, l'ignoranza e la stupidità, Milan: Eleuthera, May 2013. Contains “Dead Zones of the Imagination” and “On the Phenomenology of Giant Puppets.” (Italian)
  • The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy, Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, Feb 2015, 261 pp, EPUB. Author. (English)
    • Bureaucratie, trans. Paul Chemla, Paris: Les Liens qui libèrent, 2015, 295 pp. (French)
    • La utopía de las normas: de la tecnología, la estupidez y los secretos placeres de la burocracia, trans. Joan Andreano Weyland, Barcelona: Ariel, 2015, 253 pp. (Spanish)
    • Burocrazia: perché le regole ci perseguitano e perché ci rendono felici, trans. Fabrizio Saulini, Milan: Il saggiatore, 2016, 217 pp. (Italian)
    • Reglernas utopi: om teknologi, enfald och byråkratins hemliga fröjder, trans. Joel Nordqvist, Göteborg: Daidalos, 2016, 272 pp. (Swedish)
    • Kuralların ütopyası: teknoloji, aptallık ve bürokrasinin gizli zevkleri üzerine, trans. Muammer Pehlivan, Istanbul: Everat, 2016. (Turkish)
    • Utopia regulaminów: o technologii, tępociei ukrytych rozkoszach biurokracji, trans. Marek Jedliński, Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, 2016. (Polish)
    • Gui ze de wu tuo bang: guan liao zhi du de zhen xiang yu quan li you huo [規則的烏托邦: 官僚制度的真相與權力誘惑], trans. Li Shangyuan, Taibei Shi: Shang zhou chu ban, 2016, 334 pp. (Chinese)
    • Bürokratie die Utopie der Regeln, trans. Hans Freundl and Henning Dedekind, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2016. (German)
    • trans. Young Bae Kim, Seoul: Medicimedia, 2016, 359 pp. (Korean)
    • Kanryōsei no yūtopia: tekunorojī kōzōteki orokasa riberarizumu no tessoku [官僚制のユートピア: テクノロジー, 構造的愚かさ, リベラリズムの鉄則], trans. Takashi Sakai, Tokyo: Ibunsha, 2017. (Japanese)
    • Utopija pravil: o tehnologiji, neumnosti in skrivnih radostih birokracije, trans. Seta Knop, Ljubljana: Beletrina, 2017. (Slovenian)
    • Utopie pravidel: o technologii, stupiditě a skryté přitažlivosti byrokracie, trans. Pavel Pokorný, Prague: Prostor, 2017, 284 pp. [5] (Czech)
  • with Marshall Sahlins, On Kings, Chicago: HAU Books, Nov 2017, xv+536 pp. Publisher. (English)
    • Il potere dei re: tra cosmologia e politica, trans. Piero Vereni, Milan: Cortina, 2019, xxii+629 pp. (Italian)
  • Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, Simon & Schuster, May 2018, 368 pp; Allen Lane/Penguin, May 2018, EPUB. First published as an essay. Author. (English)
    • Bullshit jobs, trans. Élise Roy, Paris: Les Liens qui libèrent, 2018, 224 pp. (French)
    • Bullshit jobs, trans. Albertine Cerutti, Milan: Garzanti, 2018, 396 pp. (Italian)
    • Trabajos de mierda: una teoría, trans. Iván Barbeitos García, Barcelona: Ariel, 2018, 432 pp. (Spanish)
    • Bullshit Jobs: vom wahren Sinn der Arbeit, trans. Sebastian Vogel, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2018, 463 pp. (German)
    • Bullshit jobs: over zinloos werk, waarom het toeneemt en hoe we het kunnen bestrijden, forew. Rutger Bregman, trans. Tracey Droste-Plegt, Amsterdam: Business Contact, 2018, 335 pp. (Dutch)
    • Bullshit jobs: 40%的工作沒意義, 為什麼還搶著做: 論狗屁工作的出現與勞動價值的再思, Taipei: Cite Publishing (Shang zhou chu ban), 2019. (Chinese)
    • Feines absurdes: una teoria, trans. Miki, Barcelona: Descontrol, 2019, 423 pp. (Catalan)
    • Praca bez sensu: teoria, trans. Mikołaj Denderski, Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, 2019, 448 pp. (Polish)
    • Burushitto jobu: kuso dōdemo ii shigoto no riron [ブルシット・ジョブ: クソどうでもいい仕事の理論], Tokyo: Iwanamishoten, 2020, 426 pp. (Japanese)

Selected essays[edit]


  • Shihonshugi no ato no Sekai—New Anachizimu no Perspective [資本主義後の世界のために (新しいアナーキズムの視座); The World After Capitalism—the Perspective of New Anarchism, Interviews and a Debate with David Graeber], ed. & trans. Sabu Kohso, Tokyo: Ibunsha, Apr 2009, 216 pp. [6] (Japanese)
    • trans. (Korean)