Book Review: Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology
Steven Shaviro, professor in English at Wayne State University
David Graeber's Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology is filled with interesting and provocative ideas. Graeber wants to ally the discipline of anthropology with the anarchist currents that have shown up, most recently, in the anti-globalization movement. Each, he says, has a lot to offer the other.
What anarchism can offer anthropology, according to Graeber, is a way out of academicist impasses, a way that anthropology might change the world, rather than merely interpret it. This is the most upfront side of the book, but also its least convincing one. For I fear that here Graeber overly idealizes academia, and the discipline of anthropology in particular.
Graeber is far more interesting when he writes about what anthropology can offer anarchism. Graeber discusses Marcel Mauss' theory of the gift as an alternative to orthodox economic assumptions about the centrality of markets and "exchange", and Pierre Clastres' arguments about societies that explicitly sought to avoid the formation of a State.
Many anthropologists would agree that there is an affinity between anthropology and anarchism and there are many convinced anarchists among anthropologists, but fewer of them might support "resistance against civilization" as the webpage Radical Anthropology calls for. Nevertheless, this website has some interesting articles, like Anthropology and Anarchism by anthropologist Brian Morris at Goldsmiths College, London. (UPDATE: The website was closed down, I've linked to copies in the Web Archive)
See also another review on Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology in Green Pepper Magazine that among other states that "in the last three decades of the twentieth century, it was the work of Sahlins and other critical anthropologists such as Richard Lee and Pierre Clastres that produced some of the most outstanding changes within anarchist theory."
>> download "Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology" (Link updated)