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Direct action : an ethnography by David…
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Direct action : an ethnography (2009)

by David Graeber

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First of all, I read this book with theory in mind, despite the fact that Graeber sees theory in ethnography as largely irrelevant. Nevertheless, Graeber's main theoretical objective seems to be to reintroduce the idea of alienation, an important idea associated with Marxism that was seemingly banished from social discourse in the wake of the widely ramifying disillusionments of 1968. His argument hinges on what he calls the "politics of imagination" to which he juxtaposes the modern hegemony of a "politics of violence." For the sake of brevity, these are simply fundamentally different conceptions of the "real" as understood by regular people. The politics of violence asserts (implicitly) that the fundamental reality that society is based on is essentially the rule of force. The politics of imagination, on the other hand, always present in art and revolutionary moments, and revived in the contemporary anarchist movements that comprise Graeber's ethnographic subject, acknowledges that imagination underlies all social reality. Even the rule of force requires an underlying imagination of social possibility, however narrow, in order to be realized in practice. When, instead, imagination is free of such restriction, the presumed necessity of the rule of force completely disappears. Popular recognition of this openness of possibility can only come after an acknowledgement of existing alienation, which is the direct outcome of the subordination of imagination to the rule of force. This, Graeber argues, is why art and revolution are so often in close company.

Direct action is distinguished from other forms of political practice by its "pre-figurative" character, its incorporation of the ideals of the revolutionary imagination into the actions we take within the present context which we ultimately seek to change. The implication, I think, is that any revolution worth having must begin, not after the strategy and tactics and aspirations are worked out presumably by the "smart" people, but instead revolution begins in that very process of imagining revolution. This means any egalitarian society can only be created through an egalitarian process, something along the lines of the consensus process that Graeber documents in detail. This is the basic meaning of direct action: acting as if one is already free. The bulk of the book is concerned with this nitty gritty business, as Graeber describes his participant observation experiences with the Direct Action Network in the planning and execution of a massive protest against corporate globalization in Quebec in 2002. A very engaging and informative read. ( )
1 vote dmac7 | Jun 14, 2013 |
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