David Graeber

David Graeber
David Graeber

Born 1961 (1961)
Citizenship  United States
Fields Anthropology
Institutions Yale University
Goldsmiths, University of London
Alma mater State University of New York at Purchase
University of Chicago

David Rolfe Graeber (born 12 February 1961) is an American anthropologist and anarchist who currently holds the position of Reader in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London.[1] He was an associate professor of anthropology at Yale University, although Yale controversially declined to rehire him, and his term there ended in June 2007.[citation needed] Graeber has a history of social and political activism, including his role in protests against the World Economic Forum in New York City (2002), membership in the labor union Industrial Workers of the World, and an early role in Occupy Wall Street.


Biography and early life

Graeber's father, Kenneth Graeber, participated in the Spanish Revolution in Barcelona and fought in the Spanish Civil War [2] and his mother, then Ruth Rubinstein, was part of the original cast of the 1930s labor stage review Pins & Needles, performed entirely by garment workers [3]. Graeber's father ultimately found work as a plate stripper and Graeber has sometimes suggested his working class upbringing might have played at least as large a role in the problems he later encountered in academic life as his political engagements.

Graeber received his B.A. from the State University of New York at Purchase in 1984. He gained his Masters degree and Doctorate at the University of Chicago.


David Graeber is the author of Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology and Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams. He has done extensive anthropological work in Madagascar, writing his doctoral thesis (The Disastrous Ordeal of 1987: Memory and Violence in Rural Madagascar) on the continuing social division between the descendants of nobles and the descendants of former slaves. A book based on his dissertation, Lost People: Magic and the Legacy of Slavery in Madagascar appeared from Indiana University Press in September 2007. A book of collected essays, Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire was published by AK Press in November 2007 and Direct Action: An Ethnography appeared from the same press in August 2009, as well as a collection of essays co-edited with Stevphen Shukaitis called “Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations//Collective Theorization” (AK Press, May 2007). These were followed by a major historical monograph, Debt: the First Five Thousand Years (Melville House), which appeared in July 2011. He is currently said to be working on a briefer, more academic work tentatively entitled A New Prolegomenon to World History.

Dismissal from Yale

In May 2005, the Yale anthropology department decided not to renew Graeber's contract, preventing him from coming up for consideration for tenure as he would otherwise have been scheduled to do in 2008. Pointing to Graeber's highly regarded anthropological scholarship, his supporters (including fellow anthropologists, former students, and anarchists) have accused the dismissal decision of being politically motivated. The Yale administration argued that Graeber's dismissal was in keeping with Yale's policy of granting tenure to few junior faculty and Yale has given no formal explanation for its actions. Graeber has suggested that his support of a student of his who was targeted for expulsion because of her membership in GESO, Yale's graduate student union, may have played a role in Yale's decision.[4][5][6]

In December 2005, Graeber agreed to leave the university after a one-year paid sabbatical. That spring he taught two final classes: an introduction to cultural anthropology (attended by over 200 students) and a course entitled “Direct Action and Radical Social Theory” – the only explicitly radical-themed course at Yale he ever taught.

On 25 May 2006, Graeber was invited to give the Malinowski Lecture at the London School of Economics. Maurice Bloch, Professor of Anthropology (retired) at the LSE and European Professor at the Collège de France, and world renowned scholar on Madagascar, made the following statement about Graeber in a letter to Yale University: “His writings on anthropological theory are outstanding. I consider him the best anthropological theorist of his generation from anywhere in the world.” The Anthropology Department at the LSE honors an anthropologist at a relatively early stage of his or her career to give The Malinowski Lecture each year, and only invite those who are considered to have made a significant contribution to anthropological theory. That same year, he was asked to present the keynote address in the 100th anniversary Diamond Jubilee meetings of the Association of Social Anthropologists [1]. In April 2011 he presented the Anthropology Department's annual Distinguished Lecture at Berkeley.


In addition to his academic work, Graeber has a history of both direct and indirect involvement in political activism, including playing an organizing role in, and speaking in favor of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Comparing it to the Arab Spring, he claimed that this and other contemporary grassroots protests represent "the opening salvo in a wave of negotiations over the dissolution of the American Empire."[7]





  1. ^ Goldsmiths: Department of Anthropology – Dr David Graeber
  2. ^ Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Spanish Civil War History and Education: Kenneth Graeber
  3. ^ Ruth R. Graeber; Was In 'Pins And Needles' (NYTimes obituary)
  4. ^ Counterpunch.org, Frank, Joshua, An Interview with David Graeber, other references to the controversy include: "When Scholarship and Politics Collided at Yale," Karen W. Arenson, The New York Times, December 28, 2005;
  5. ^ "Early Exit", David Epstein, Inside Higher Education, May 18, 2005
  6. ^ InsideHighered.com, Silenced!: academic freedom, scientific inquiry, and the First Amendment, Bruce Elliott Johansen], Greenwood Publishing, 2007, pages 110-112.
  7. ^ Graeber, David (September 25, 2011). "Occupy Wall Street Protest". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Ltd. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/sep/25/occupy-wall-street-protest. Retrieved October 06, 2011. 

External links


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