fragments of an anarchist anthropology

Why are there so few anarchists in the academy?  That’s the opening question in David Graeber’s book (free pdf) Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology.  Check it out.

Here are the opening two paragraphs:

What follows are a series of thoughts, sketches of potential theories, and tiny manifestos—all meant to offer a glimpse at the outline of a body of radical theory that does not actually exist, though it might possibly exist at some point in the future.

Since there are very good reasons why an anarchist anthropology really ought to exist, we might start by asking why one doesn’t—or, for that matter, why an anarchist sociology doesn’t exist, or an anarchist economics, anarchist literary theory, or anarchist political science.

Written by teppo

October 28, 2011 at 9:34 pm

14 Responses

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  1. Well, I have to admit, I’m intrigued. Some definitions would help.



    October 28, 2011 at 9:42 pm

  2. It’s a good book – I scarcely agree with many things in it, but it’s really a fun/quick read.



    October 28, 2011 at 9:43 pm

  3. It seems like the obvious answer to the opening question is “consider the base rate.” Are there any fields, aside from punk rock musicians, where anarchists are found in appreciable numbers?



    October 28, 2011 at 10:56 pm

  4. I would expect anarchists are dramatically OVERrepresented in academia relative to the general population. What does he think of the representation of evangelicals in academia relative to the general population?

    Ah, I see gabriel beat me to it.


    Wonks Anonymous

    October 28, 2011 at 11:20 pm

  5. One of my undergrad papers is on Google Docs, “Atheists: Overlooked by Sociology?” Any minor trend or little group can claim to be marginalized unfairly, but the moral claim first needs statistical relevance. I had readings from anarchist Larry Tefft assigned in graduate criminology theory, so I have to agree with Wonks and Gabriel above that anarchists are represented. How so statistically is anyone’s guess. And why so is another question entirely.

    I read from the linked booklet and searched for key words to follow. My studies in criminology and work experience in private security only underscored my own libertarianism. However, that so-called “anarcho-capitalism” was ignored by this one author. It is his freedom to do so, but the fact remains that whatever “anarchism” may be as a set of solutions to social problems, Graeber might have touched on nearly half of it. He is an anti-capitalist, anti-western neo-marxist, well within the mainstream of academic thought.

    Better anarchism is to be found at and Cafe Hayek, but even they are mired in their own assumptions. I note that governments were not imposed on humanity by Martians. Like religion, we may well leave government behind in a new and better time. Government meets very real needs of human action, or it would not exist in the first place.

    Moreover, Graeber places all of everything “western” and therefore evil under the rubric he calls “capitalism.” In fact, the horrors inflicted by the conquistadores are only extrapolations from mass beatings recorded 5000 years earlier in Uruk. Rather, as Dierdre McCloskey’s writings argue so clearly, bourgeois virtue and bourgeois dignity opened new opportunities for common decency.


    Michael Marotta

    October 29, 2011 at 3:20 am

  6. There have been notable anarchist academics. Chomsky is an anarchists. Murray Bookchin as well. Right wing anarchists include Murray Rothbard. It’s out there.



    October 29, 2011 at 4:39 am

  7. Sure, sure – there are many. Nozick also fits, as do many Austrians, and others.

    But – I still found the Graeber book entertaining.



    October 29, 2011 at 5:15 am

  8. Michael,

    To a certain extent parsing who is the real anarchist is an issue of what you think a stateless society would look like. Graeber has some pretty good reasons (which he explores to great effect in Debt) for expecting that a stateless society wouldn’t exactly be what the anarcho-capitalists expect it to be. On the other hand, it’s also a bit of sophistry to deny the accepted meaning of a word, like when people say Hamas can’t be “antisemitic” because Arabs are semites too. So in that sense lets put on our nominalist hat and acknowledge that the movement that for better or worse we identify by convention as “anarchism” is the one that includes figures like Proudhon, Bakunin, Chomsky, and now Graeber.

    For that matter, Graeber is definitely not a neo-Marxist and calling him one is a bit like calling a libertarian a paleocon.



    October 29, 2011 at 6:45 am

  9. FWIW – here are some responses Graeber emailed me:

    “my point in the book is that there are hardly any anarchists compared with the very significant number of Marxists. I suspect there are more anarchists per capita in the US than there are Marxists, but in academia it’s like 100:1. If you look at US activism, you’ll find anarchists are very strongly represented.

    As for evangelicals – they have their own universities. Anarchists don’t.”

    Liked by 1 person


    October 29, 2011 at 6:54 am

  10. Tads

    October 29, 2011 at 6:30 pm

  11. Teppo (and by extension, David Graeber),

    Interesting. Of course in the general population both anarchists and Marxists are massively outnumbered by liberals and conservatives. Nonetheless, the Marxist to anarchist comparison is an interesting one, although it does implicitly treat the ideological sorting process as as being a two-stage one where one first decides whether to affiliate with the far left and then decides exactly which sort of far left to affiliate with. That is to say, if we treat the ideology of academics as the sort of thing that would be modeled by multinomial logit then the Marxist comparison is a non-sequitur but if we treat it as the sort of thing we’d model with nested logit, then it’s an interesting argument.



    October 30, 2011 at 2:56 pm

  12. Even taking into account evangelical universities, I’d say the ratio of evangelical academics to evangelical Americans is much lower than the ratio of anarchist academics to anarchist Americans. Gallup reported 42% of Americans being evangelical or born-again. A different group found 33% of Americans are evangelicals while 11% of academics are:
    Marxists and anarchists make up a low enough portion of the general population (though I’m sure activists are a very different sample) that it would be hard to get good numbers to compare them. In “The Social and Political Views of American Professors” 3% of academics identified as Marxists. If you focus in on the social sciences they rise to 17.6%, and narrowing further to their most represented field they make up 25.5% of sociologists. They also had categories for radicals or activists (though not all of them identified with the left). Within the humanities & social sciences about a quarter identified as radical or activist. Such identification among total faculty increased with age (suggesting a 1960s effect), with youngest cohort being less than a third as likely to identify as a liberal radical/activist.

    By the way, Fabio’s book is cited in that paper.


    Wonks Anonymous

    October 30, 2011 at 8:40 pm

  13. “Better anarchism is to be found at and Cafe Hayek, but even they are mired in their own assumptions. I note that governments were not imposed on humanity by Martians. Like religion, we may well leave government behind in a new and better time. Government meets very real needs of human action, or it would not exist in the first place”

    Well, I think this is the central difference between “classic” anarchism of Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman et. al. and its more modern theorists like Bookchin, Ward and now Graeber. The classic tradition tended to be concerned with multiple systems of control and domination (government, religion, big business, patriarchy, hierarchy etc.) while the right deviation of anarcho-capitalism (some of whom draw from Hayek, Mises, Rothbard et. al) tends to focus on the government as the sole source of domination and add economic efficiency arguments to advocate for rule by the market. Anarchism, at least classically, was a lot more than simply “anti-government”.
    Kropotkin and Goldman tend to read like a proto-critical theory and critical theory sometimes reads like an intellectually evolved anarchism by another name. Kropotkin’s work is probably the most systematic of any of the the classical anarchists and a good read for anyone who likes classic social theory (whatever that is). “The Conquest of Bread” might be the first book in the sociology of food and ag.
    I really like Graeber’s work. However, he doesn’t make a clear enough distinction between academic Marxism and “actual” Marxism (or Marxism in practice), the latter of which has been the bane of anarchists for over a century. However, I’m not sure that an “anarchist sociology”, for example, would look all that different from “sociological Marxism” especially when the latter is at it’s most critical. The distinction seems mostly political, not analytic.
    In any event, I don’t think it’s good for anyone’s career to go around calling yourself an anarchist.


    Silly Wabbit

    October 31, 2011 at 6:58 am

  14. A piece in BW on David as the “anti-leader” of Occupy Wall Street (featured on front page of bw web site) –



    November 1, 2011 at 4:16 pm

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