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Direct Action: An Ethnography (2009)

de David Graeber

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A radical anthropologist studies the global justice movement.
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This book is important for me. I have been considering myself as a passive anarchist for a time now. I am more of a bottom-feeder, content to live underground and feast on the scraps than a come above ground to stir up the Spectacle that drove us underground type. I cannot involve myself in any sort of direct action. Though, through this thorough and thoughtful tome, I better understand the movement.

Graeber's book encapsulates the genius, tedium, idiocy and comradery of those involved in direct action. Why would anyone (when viewed from an outsider's perspective) spend their time with direct action, dedicate their lives to planning protests, non-violently combatting police who would like to mow then down to size, forming a culture that seemingly shoots itself in the foot? All of this makes much more sense to me after reading this one. I will continue to strive to understand this perspective while being open to allowing criticism of it when it moves into extreme territory. I feel that direct action limits what the anarchist position is about but this is a personal opinion rather than something based on experience.

I have served as a clerk for a Quaker meeting and been involved with Quaker consensus process for about five years. Graeber's ethnography covers all aspects of the consensus process. Meetings can go on for hours around one very small, very particular item of action. One person can change the direction of a meeting or grind it to a halt. When in the midst of the process it can seem like nothing is accomplished. Take a step back and one can witness progress, see the evolution of the group. If I were to participate in DAN or some similar anarchist movement, I can see myself as a moderator for consensus meetings.

Our current era sees spikes of revolutionary action from all sides. Rather than take the view of "world-gone-down-the-tube" I'd like to think that these revolutions are signs of a movement towards that which emits a deeper life. ( )
  DouglasDuff | Jun 21, 2021 |
First of all, I read this book with theory in mind, despite the fact that Graeber sees theory in ethnography as largely irrelevant. Nevertheless, Graeber's main theoretical objective seems to be to reintroduce the idea of alienation, an important idea associated with Marxism that was seemingly banished from social discourse in the wake of the widely ramifying disillusionments of 1968. His argument hinges on what he calls the "politics of imagination" to which he juxtaposes the modern hegemony of a "politics of violence." For the sake of brevity, these are simply fundamentally different conceptions of the "real" as understood by regular people. The politics of violence asserts (implicitly) that the fundamental reality that society is based on is essentially the rule of force. 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. When, instead, imagination is free of such restriction, the presumed necessity of the rule of force completely disappears. 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. This, Graeber argues, is why art and revolution are so often in close company.

Direct action is distinguished from other forms of political practice by its "pre-figurative" character, its incorporation of the ideals of the revolutionary imagination into the actions we take within the present context which we ultimately seek to change. The implication, I think, is that any revolution worth having must begin, not after the strategy and tactics and aspirations are worked out presumably by the "smart" people, but instead revolution begins in that very process of imagining revolution. This means any egalitarian society can only be created through an egalitarian process, something along the lines of the consensus process that Graeber documents in detail. This is the basic meaning of direct action: acting as if one is already free. The bulk of the book is concerned with this nitty gritty business, as Graeber describes his participant observation experiences with the Direct Action Network in the planning and execution of a massive protest against corporate globalization in Quebec in 2002. A very engaging and informative read. ( )
1 vota dmac7 | Jun 14, 2013 |
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