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Direct Action: An Ethnography [Paperback]

David Graeber

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Book Description

30 Sep 2009
In the best tradition of participant-observation, anthropologist David Graeber undertakes the first detailed ethnographic study of the global justice movement. Starting from the assumption that, when dealing with possibilities of global transformation and emerging political forms, a disinterested, "objective" perspective is impossible, he writes as both scholar and activist. At the same time, his experiment in the application of ethnographic methods to important ongoing political events is a serious and unique contribution to the field of anthropology, as well as an inquiry into anthropology's political implications. The case study at the center of Direct Action is the organizing and events that led to the dramatic protest against the Summit of the Americas in Québec City in 2001. Written in a clear, accessible style (with a minimum of academic jargon), this study brings readers behind the scenes of a movement that has changed the terms of debate about world power relations. From informal conversations in coffee shops to large "spokescouncil" planning meetings and teargas-drenched street actions, Graeber paints a vivid and fascinating picture. Along the way, he addresses matters of deep interest to anthropologists: meeting structure and process, language, symbolism, representation, the specific rituals of activist culture, and much more.

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Direct Action: An Ethnography + Revolutions in Reverse: Essays on Politics, Violence, Art, and Imagination + Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology
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This case study, as much as the actions he describes, itself has radical implications- that one can be both an ethnographer and a participant who is not a faceless, subjective figure. Graeber has found a crucial intersection between radical politics and scholarship where neither are sacrificed for the sake of the other. --Jeffrey Panettiere, Political Media Review

At over 500 pages, Direct Action is at times a daunting and disorganized read. But overall, Graeber has produced an important social history of some of the direct action anarchists who played such a decisive role in the global justice movement. Graeber has captured significant experiments in radical organizing that might otherwise be lost. --Jackie Esmonde, New Socialist

Direct Action shows us that not only is another world possible, but, for all its faults, the practice of the global justice movement helps illustrate what this world might look like. --Matt Waserman, The Indypendent

About the Author

David Graeber is an anthropologist and activist who teaches at the University of London. Active in numerous direct-action political organizations, he is the author of Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology; Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value; and Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the best book ever written about the global justice movement! 2 Oct 2009
By wildflowerboy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Don't let the word "ethnography" intimidate you. While this is certainly a serious scholastic work, it does not at all read like an anthropology textbook. In fact, at times it reads like a really good novel, full of dramatic street actions, colorful characters, and passionate conversations. In the first half of the book, Graeber provides a vivid history of the intense political organizing that culminated in the mass mobilization against the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. Along the way, he provides a rich description of the various groups behind the protests like the Direct Action Network, the NYC Ya Basta! collective, CLAC, SalAMI, the Pagan Cluster, and the Black Bloc, among others. While the first half of the book will for sure keep you on the edge of your seat, the second portion is no less fascinating. Here, Graeber gives a detailed study of anarchist culture in North America, from consensus decision-making and spokescouncils to infoshops, Indymedia, giant puppets, DIY punk, and vegan diets. Besides recounting large events like the World Bank/IMF protests in DC and the FTAA protests in Miami, Graeber also describes many smaller actions like Critical Mass bike rides and the walkout of employees of the Museum of Modern Art in midtown Manhatten. So, if you want to better understand what the anti-capitalist movement is all about, I strongly urge you to read this insightful book. It will make you yearn for a better world.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All Power to the Ethnographic Imagination 23 Aug 2009
By S. Shukaitis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
With "Direct Action" David Graeber has written an important and timely book. If, as he argues, the ideology of the global justice movement, is embodied in its practices, then it really doesn't make sense to try and understand it by some generic or superficial description of its stated ideologies. Rather, it would have to begin from an analysis of movement building practices and organizing, and what kinds of collective compositions they create and sustain. In other words, it would necessarily involve something like the ethnographic understanding that Graeber elaborates here. And it is precisely this kind of detailed and imaginative analysis that is valuable now at the point where these movements have been dispersed and it is time to take a step back and learn from these experiences, to appreciate what they made possible and what was inadequate to the situation. This is precisely the book needed for such a task, one that in doing so reveals and elaborates the potentialities both of social movement organizing and the imaginative power of politically engaged scholarship.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Graeber may well be the voice of a generation 29 Oct 2012
By E. J. Ford - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
My experience with David Graeber's work began with his monumental "Debt: The First 5000 Years" - a book I have recommended to more students than I can count. That book draws on an amazing array of ethnographic data to make a larger, theoretical point. So does "Direct Action: An Ethnography," in a slightly different way.
The book chronicles the buildup and execution of a large scale direct action protest. Graeber's detailed ethnographic writing draw you into this moment in time and the book serves to tell the tale in a way that offers plenty of object lessons in how to lay seige to the institutions of industrial capitalism. Graeber's commitment to activism and his willingness to place his body on the line are inspirational.
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