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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