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Direct Action: An Ethnography Paperback – September 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

David Graeber is an anthropologist and activist who currently teaches at the University of London and has been active in direct-action groups, including the Direct Action Network, People's Global Action, and Anti-Capitalist Convergence. He is the author of Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value, and Lost People: Magic and the Legacy of Slavery in Madagascar.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 600 pages
  • Publisher: AK Press; First Edition edition (September 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1904859798
  • ISBN-13: 978-1904859796
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #683,998 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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.
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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.
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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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david graeber is an excellent author.
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While many reviewers embrace the author's two-fold "talent" for non-academic prose and commitment to his subject, I do not. Considering it was billed as a scholarly tome, the absence of elevated style and objectivity ruined this book for me. If something like the "movement", if one can even call such contradictory and juvenile notions a movement, is close to the author's heart, then why pretend to pen an objective study? This is pure polemic. And while that may contain its own literary beauty, this belongs next to Lenin and Che Guevara rather than Veblen and Spengler.
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