anarchism in the academy

I’ve always liked Marx but hated Marxism. Growing up, I identified mostly with anarchism, and was moved particularly by its critique of power and hierarchy, and the violence that undergirds them. And where Marxism was severe and joyless, anarchism to me seemed playful and creative. In critical sociology, of course, Marxist and Marxian perspectives — I know, I know there’s a difference in the two — have been dominant, and the influence of anarchism has been marginal at best. I don’t write about anarchism either, and sadly don’t think of it very often, but I’m heartened to see that it’s finally making some waves in the academy. First, James C. Scott wrote the marvelous The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia and Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play. And now anthropologist David Graeber has been getting a lot of press for his work with Occupy, and for not getting tenure at Yale. See this piece in the New Yorker. (I don’t really know Graeber or his work, so I can’t say much about it). In any event, it’s nice to see scholars take this political philosophy seriously, both as a topic of study and as an analytic perspective (especially given that it’s been proven exactly right in its critique of Marxism over the years).

4 thoughts on “anarchism in the academy”

  1. I think you mean David Graeber

    (Unless you’re making some kind of point about he’s such an anarchist he can’t be bound by his own first name. Smash the birth certificate!).


  2. Graeber is interesting–he’s got a realistic perspective on history, but his rhetoric sets off tics. (He compared other companies buying US bonds that are used to pay for our worldwide military presence to “tribute,” which appears to have particularly piqued Brad DeLong.*) And then there was the glorious set of sentences that proved I didn’t copyedit Debt (and whoever did should stick to fiction):

    “Apple computers is a famous example: it was founded by (mostly Republican) computer engineers who broke from IBM in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, forming little democratic circles of twenty to forty people with their laptops in each other’s garages.” (Kindle location 1859)

    I’m not certain how many errors are in that sentence–Woz may be a Republican, but it’s not the way to bet and that’s the least dubious thought there.

    Aside: I tried to buy a “portable computer” ca. 1985–it weighed more than my bicycle and had a green screen about the size of a small portable television. No one in their right mind would have spoken of portables from the 1980s as “laptops.” Maybe table tops…

    *The tribute reference [location 142]: “So what is the status of all this money continually being funneled [by Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the Gulf States and China] into the U.S. treasury [sic]? Are these loans? Or is it tribute? In the past, military powers that maintained hundreds of military bases outside their own home territory were ordinarily referred to as ’empires,’ and empires regularly demanded tribute.” Disclaimers the author does not wholly believe follow.


  3. As someone who was also influenced by anarchism when I was younger, I too am intrigued (and pleased) by the attention Graeber and Scott have gotten for their work. I happen to know quite a few other academics who are influenced by anarchism, but often it is in more subtle ways. Anarchism certainly helped to shape my interest in subjectivity and agency (which initially was influenced by reading Scott’s “Weapons of the Weak”), as well as my critique of authoritarian states. I think that’s true for others as well.


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