Yale Targets David Graeber

by on May 13th, 2005

The latest assault on radical professors comes at Yale, this time targeting anarchist anthropology professor David Graeber. There’s a petition started by Graeber’s students to appeal the non-renewal of his contract. And there’s plenty to read by Graeber himself on the web, including this criticism of police action targeting anti-globalization protesters and a useful article he wrote with Andrej Grubacic, Anarchism, or The Revolutionary Movement of the 21th Century.

Elsewhere, Grubacic explains the situation his friend Graeber faces at Yale:

Recently David Graeber and I wrote an article together attempting to explain why anarchist ideas have received almost no attention in the

academy. When you think of it, academia is full of Marxist radicals, but

only a handful of professed anarchists. We came to a conclusion that it

must have something to do with anarchism’s concern with forms of

practice; with its insistence that one’s means most be consonant with

one’s ends; with its stubborn rejection of the idea that we can create

freedom through authoritarian means, embracing instead the position that

we should embody the society we wish to create. All of this does not

square very well with operating within a university. The university has

survived in much the same form since the middle ages, waging

intellectual battles at conferences, re-enforcing class distinctions,

making cabalistic decisions in secret rooms. As we stated in our

article: “At the very least, one would imagine being an openly anarchist

professor would mean challenging the way universities are run and that,

of course, is going to get one in far more trouble than anything one

could ever write”.

Ironically enough, as if he was testing his own hypothesis,

internationally respected anarchist anthropologist, David Graeber, was

fired from Yale University a few days ago…..

I was especially interested in this burb about a pamphlet of Graeber’s, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology:

Everywhere anarchism is on the upswing as a political philosophy — everywhere, that is, except the academy. Anarchists repeatedly appeal to anthropologists for ideas about how society might be reorganized on a more egalitarian, less alienating basis. Anthropologists, terrified of being accused of romanticism, respond with silence . . . . But what if they didn’t? This pamphlet ponders what that response would be, and explores the implications of linking anthropology to anarchism. Here, David Graeber invites readers to imagine this discipline that currently only exists in the realm of possibility: anarchist anthropology.

My own 1980s effort to write about anarchism for an academic psychology audience was influenced strongly by my reading of anthropology, which always seemed to me the most useful subject to bring home the realization that most of what we take for granted about “human nature” and the organization of human society is inaccurate. We are, in many crucial ways, more malleable than fixed. It’s good to see Graeber pushing his field to transform its knowledge base into action.

Grubacic’s description of Graeber’s problems at Yale remind me of my own experiences at the University of Illinois at Springfield when it was emerging from the late Sangamon State University. I realized at the time that universities can easily incorporate armchair radicals who conform to standard academic norms, but not professors who engage in political action that blurs the distinction between academics and activism. Unlike Graeber, though, I was fortunate to be at a low-profile interdisciplinary teaching university with an unusual history of tolerating radical activists — though that history was one of the reasons the state legislature finally pushed SSU into the U of I system. Today’s escalating assaults on radical academics remains focused on those who, like Graeber, step over the line.

Dennis Fox