[OPE-L] "Value" in a neo-liberal world -David Graeber

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Fri Dec 09 2005 - 19:39:47 EST

The following is a description of a workshop offered by David Graebner
in 2004 at The Danish Research School of Anthropology and Ethnography.
It is interesting on more than one level:  Graebner is an anarchist
anthopologist who was recently not re-rehired at Yale University (see
Associated Press story reprinted at <http://info.interactivist.net>).
The AP story says that "his work on value theory is taught worldwide",
yet we haven't gotten around to discussing that perspective on OPE-L,
have we? Nor have we talked about Kojin Karatani (mentioned below), have
we?  Are any of Karatani's writings on value theory available in English?
More broadly, have we talked about specifically _anthropological_
conceptions of value and their relation to Marx's value theory? I
can't remember.  In any event, the following provides some food for
thought, e.g. what do you think about what he writes in the 2nd
paragraph about the concept of consumption?

In solidarity, Jerry

      An appetizer by David Graeber February 18, 2004:
      Value in a Neoliberal World
      The word "value" has been bandied about in anthropological circles
      for some time now. Almost everyone writes as if an anthropological
      theory of value would be very important, particularly in reconciling
      certain fundamental, outstanding problems in social theory: notably
      problems of structure and agency that seem to crop up every
      generation in a different form, never to be genuinely resolved.
      In "Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value" I tried to suggest
      what such a theory might actually look like, drawing on
      what I call the "Heracleitian tradition" which assumes that actions
      and processes are the fundamental constituents of social reality,
      and particularly anthropological reinterpretations of Marx's value
      theory as the basis for a theory of symbolic action which can then
      be applied to places where capitalist markets do not exist and value
      is constructed rather differently.  In this seminar I'd like to move
      back the other way again, back to capitalism,  and see how an
      understanding of other structures of value can also help us
      understand what's happening in the current age of the global market.
      I will argue that much of what currently passes for "globalization
      theory" - with theoretical terms like identity, consumption, flow -
      is simply neoliberalism  in anthropological form. Academics in
      America in particular have been essentially importing a certain
      strand of French "Pensee 68", which arose in reaction to the
      apparent failure of revolutionary dreams, and have been
      reexporting it to the rest of the world in essentially neoliberal
      form; meanwhile, real revolutionary movements which are rapidly
      reemerging have tended  to ignore most of this theory and are
      instead drawing on the tradition of theory from the years
      immediately before May '60 (the Situationists, Socialisme ou
      Barbarie) to develop an alternative; reintegrating it with an
      activist tradition which basically develops out of anarchism. Most
      of this work - with the exception of certain strands of autonomist
      thought - has happened outside of the academy. Though there are
      signs of reintegraton: for xxample, in the work of Japanese scholar
      Kojin Karatani, which attempts to reconcile Marxian value theory
      and anarchist-inspired politics.

      In this seminar I'd like to present some ideas of how the pieces might
      be tied together. I'll begin by looking at what happened to world-
      systems theory, how it might be reconstructed around a value theory
      that recognizes that  most significant human action is always,
      everywhere about the shaping of people, not the production of things.
      Such a perspective will make it possible to  see the state and
      market structures that dominate the world today as structures of
      radical simplication of the richness human relations, forms of
      radical stupidity, in effect, created by the introjection of forms
      of social relation first mainly typical of long-distance relations
      between people with little ability to understand one another (eg,
      violence, commercial exchange that was strictly about objects rather
      than social relations) back into more intimate, local relations
      which could easily operate - and often do tend to operate,
      unofficially - on a very different, much richer basis. This set
      the stage for the reimagining of all human activity along the same
      simplistic lines. One example I will develop at some length here
      is the concept of "consumption": how did it come about that almost
      all forms of human desire and self-realization have come, even
      within anthropology, to be imagined as modeled on eating food, of
      all things, as destroying the object in the act of use, despite
      the fact that this clearly is not true, and what does it say about
      current theory that we continue to use such terms rather than
      develop different  ones. I will end by suggesting how the
      alternative tradition can provide some directions for a new theory,
      based on the mutually constitutive and ever-changing relation
      between a revolutionary theoretical imaginary and the sense of a
      resistant, material social reality, one which might be
      able to grasp such phenomenon in something like their real richness,
      without, at the same time, losing a critical perspective.

      About David Graeber
      David Graeber studied in University of Chicago with Marshall
Sahlins, Terence Turner, and others; he has taught at Haverford
College, New York University, and now, at Yale, where he is an
assistant professor of anthropology. He carried out fieldwork in
Madagascar between 1989 and 1991, and has for the last four years
been engaged in a research project on direct action and anarchism in
the alter-globalization movement. His books (mostly unpublished at
the moment), include: Catastrophe: Magic and History in Rural
Madagascar (probably to come out from Yale next year), Toward An
Anthropological Theory of Value (Palgrave 2001), Fragments of an
Anarchist Anthropology (Prickly Paradigm Press, to appear April
2004), Reinventing Revolution (possibly New Press, next year
hopefully - an extension of my paper in New Left Review in
January/February 2002), and Direct Action: An Ethnography (in
preparation). In addition to his academic work he has been active in
a wide variety of direct-action oriented groups (the Direct Action
Network, People's Global Action, the Planetary Alternatives Network,
etc), and written for a number of publications ranging from In These
Times and The Nation to New Left Review, on themes ranging from
magic in the ancient world to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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