Introducing the David Graeber Memorial Lecture Series
This Spring inaugurates our Annual David Graeber Memorial Lecture Series, bringing together David’s friends, collaborators, colleagues, and readers across international and disciplinary boundaries.
David saw anarchism as something you do, and not an identity. While ultimately rejecting the label “anarchist Anthropologist,” David nonetheless undertook a body of work in his lifetime that responds in a singular way to the oddities, contradictions, and limitations of bureaucracy and capitalism, often with a focus on those spaces outside capital domination. This can be seen from his early work in Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (2004), and Lost People: Magic and Legacy of Slavery in Madagascar (2007). But it is in the field where David formed the relationships and friendships for which he is so fondly remembered, blurring the lines between activism and academia. As much at home talking to Charlie Rose on PBS as he was addressing a general assembly at Occupy Wall Street, David became known as the one who popularized the guiding slogan of Occupy, “We are the 99 Percent!”
Through his activist involvement and a series of book length works on historical anthropology, David still consistently managed a dizzying range of speaking engagements, even while becoming an academic-in-exile after a highly political departure from Yale University, followed by a stint at Goldsmiths (2008-2013), and finally a professorship at London School of Economics from 2013 onwards. His later publications delve into historical anthropology along with critiques of bureaucracy and managerialism, in Debt: The First 5000 Years (2015), The Utopia of Rules: on Technology, Stupidity, and Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (2015), and Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2018). A posthumous collaboration with David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity is due out in late 2021.
Care and freedom remained at the center of David’s work and thought. He believed that all revolutions are essentially moral transformations. It is in that spirit that we offer these memorial lectures, as a way of remaining in dialogue around ideas that are as much about future society as they are the present moment.
The David Graeber Memorial Lecture Series is a collaborative project of Anthropology and Social Change (CIIS), The Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences (BUAP), The Élisabeth Bruyère School of Social Innovation (St. Paul University), The Department of Anthropology at London School of Economics, and University of Rojava.
David Graeber Memorial Lecture 2021
May 11th: 5pm London, 9am San Francisco, 11am Central Mexico, 12 noon Ottawa, 7pm Syria
A co-presentation of Anthropology and Social Change (CIIS), The Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences (BUAP), The Élisabeth Bruyère School of Social Innovation (St. Paul University), and Rojava University.
Democracy by Sortition, Liberal Elections and Communist Revolutionaries
What if we selected our leaders by lottery? Zooming out of the mud hut villages of indigenous communities in the forested hills of eastern India, this lecture will compare three different models of leadership and democracy: liberal electoral democracy, Marxist-Leninist-Maoist democracy, and sortition, that is the drawing of lots. It will turn how we think about democracy and leadership on its head to provide a new vision for the future.
Alpa Shah is Associate Professor-Reader in Anthropology at LSE and leads a research team at the LSE International Inequalities Institute on ‘Global Economies of Care’.
Alpa's "Nightmarch: Among India’s Revolutionary Guerrillas” was winner of the 2020 Association of Political and Legal Anthropology Book Prize, shortlisted for the 2019 Orwell Prize for Political Writing and the New India Foundation Book Prize. It was also a 2018 Book of the Year for the New Statesman, History Workshop, Sroll India, a Hindu Year in Review Book, a Hong Kong Free Press Best Human Rights Book and a Public Anthropologist Must Read. Nightmarch refers to a seven-night trek when Alpa found herself dressed as a man amidst a Naxalite guerrilla platoon, walking 250 km across the dense forests of Eastern India at the peak of counterinsurgency operations in 2010.
Framed by the government and the media as a deadly terrorist group, the Naxalites are Marx, Lenin and Mao-inspired ideologues and tribal combatants, seeking to overthrow a system that has abused them for decades, in what is now the world’s longest running armed insurgency.
Based on years of living as an anthropologist with indigenous communities, Alpa explores why they have taken up arms to fight for a fairer society and asks how they may be undermining their own aims.
Alpa has also co-authored “Ground Down by Growth: Tribe, Caste, Class and Inequality in 21st Century India”, a 2018 Book of the Year for the Hindu. Alpa has also co-curated a photo exhibition, ‘Behind the Indian Boom’ based on this research.
Alpa’s first book “In the Shadows of the State (2010)” is about indigenous politics, environmentalism, migration and development, and is based on long term participant observation amongst indigenous people in the forested state of Jharkhand, India. Alpa has edited seven other volumes on issues ranging from affirmative action, agrarian change, revolution in India and Nepal, emancipatory politics, economic growth in India, and Adivasi and Dalit political pathways.