direct action an ethnography

(2009) by david graeber

Anthropologist David Graeber undertakes the first detailed ethnographic study of the global justice movement. The case study at the center of Direct Action is the organizing and events that led to the one of the most dramatic and militant mass protests in recent years—against the Summit of the Americas in Québec City. 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 tear gas-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 and representation, the specific rituals of activist culture, and much more. Starting from the assumption that, when dealing with possibilities of global transformation and emerging political forms, a disinterested, “objective” perspective is impossible, Graeber 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.

intro’d to it via suggested reading for museum of care reading group – or lse tangent group..? can’t remember which





there is no particular argument to this book – the general is in the service of the particular.. anarchists and direct action campaigns don’t exist to allow some academic to make a theoretical point or prove some rival’s theory wrong.. i would like to think.. interest for book might endure not only for those motivated by historical curiosity who wish to understand what it was actually like to have been in the middle of these events.. but to ask the same sort of questions the actors in it were raising.. about the nature of democracy, autonomy and possibilities.. or for that matter, dilemmas, limitations.. of strategies of transformative political action

(1st account stories at protests)


5 – direct action, anarchism, direct democracy

david on direct action.. fragments of an anarchist anthropology.. the democracy project.. et al

direct action; anarch\ism; democracy


rob sparrow: da aims to achieve goals thru own activity rather than thru actions of others..

emma goldman: anarchism stands for direct action.. open defiance of and resistance to all laws/restrictions, econ, social and moral.. calls for free independent spirits..


da .. to build new society in shell of old.. acting as if already free

as if already free ness


basic principles of anarchism: self org, voluntary association, mutual aid, opposition to all forms of coercive authority..


a is in no sense a doctrine.. it’s a movement.. a relationship.. a process of purifications, inspiration and experiment..


yippies and abbie hoffman.. none of these groups combined interest in da with an emphaiss on decentralized dm

decision making is unmooring us law


jo freeman and tyrranny of structurelessness

freeman structure law (?)


any actiist group will have different abilities; levels of dedication; experiences; et al.. as result.. some sort of elite or leadership structure will ineveitalee develo.. freeman: unacknolwedle leadership can be more dmageing than having a form one.. holding accountable .. et al

yeah.. i don’t buy the leadership structure.. i mean.. i don’t think we have to do that today.. i think that’s the thing that’s diff now.. what tech can now afford us.. is a means to undo hierarchical listening – and so to ground (seeming) chaos of 8b (has to be all or it won’t work) legit free people

one reason for essay’s popularity.. it can support a wide variety of positions.. ie: anarchist org will fail; a call for anarchists to formalize process;

if want to keep dm to smalles tgrops possible.. how do thos groups coord.. how to keep some from taking over et al

by not focusing on dm.. but rather on curiosity over decision making.. imagine if we et al


the great problem has been how to translate the flow of info into structure of collective dm.. since dm is the one thing that is almost impossible to do on the internet.. or more precisely the question is: when and on what level are structures of collective dm required..?

so.. i’d say let go of that.. we’ve spent so much energy on spinach or rock ness.. let alone so much energy as whales deciding between spinach or rock ness..

imagine if we

let’s try that

7 – meetings


on consensus

i start w affinity groups since thee might be considered the elementary particle of voluntary association.. essentially, they are just small groups of people who feel they share something important in common and decide to work together on a common project.. term from spanish .. referred to clusters of friends..

imagine if we did that everyday.. anew.. and we used tech to listen to self-talk as data to make those affinity connections.. so that i’m not trying to jump thru hoops to be accepted by you/your group/project and vice versa.. ie: brown belonging law et al

this was our focus.. how to have our gatherings in a space.. always be ones that matter to everyone.. that day

these were our findings:

1\ undisturbed ecosystem (common\ing) can happen

2\ if we create a way to ground the chaos of 8b free people


the min version i learned in dan trainings : 1\ facilitator to org group dm 2\ someone who had med training 3\ someone who had legal training..

all we need is some means to non hierarchical listening aka: no judge\ment.. perhaps that’s tech’s gift to us

also – see training et al as red flag we’re going it wrong


what works what doesn’t

consensus dm

public consensus always oppresses someone(s)

decision making is unmooring us law

8 – actions


the main purpose of meetings are to plan event referred to as ‘actions’.. short for ‘direct actions’..

let’s try curiosity over decision making.. via 2 conversations.. in the city.. as the day..

offense (itch-in-the-soul) over defense (voluntary compliance; spinach or rock; voice ness; et al)

9 – representations

representation ness – red flag


collective rep – becoming the media


why do cops hate puppets

giant puppets et al

10 – imagination


on violence and imaginative displacement

dead zones of imagination et al


the anarchist problem remains how to bring that sort of experience and the imaginative power that lies behind it, into the daily lives of those outside the small autonomous bubbles they have already been abel tot create.. this is a continual problem.. there’s no way to be sure it’s even possible.. but there seems every reason to believe that were it possible.. the power of the police cosmology and with it, the power of the police themselves.. would simply melt away

gershenfeld something else law – making it for even inspectors of inspectors

imagine if we




direct action

david on direct action

as if already free ness