lost people at lse

Tribute @davidgraeber on Madagascar and slavery with Maurice Bloch+Johnny Parry. Despite extraordinary circumstances we @LSEAnthropology pulled it off! @davidwengrow ;)

Friday Seminar 22 10 2021  Lost People Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry https://t.co/NgxvV2XFmI via

Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/alpashah001/status/1451587191386279941

part of lse graeber series

lost people by david graeber

notes/quotes from 70 min video:

alpa (@alpashah001): david’s first initiation as an anthro.. his first book.. first published in 2007.. david saw johnny and maurice as the pair that shaped the anthro dept here.. he also knew maurice well.. shared madagascar as a field site

johnny: lost people started as uni of chicago phd thesis.. not out after put out 2 famous books.. i’m no expert on this.. something i’ve admired david for is the incredible clarity of his writing.. ability to say things.. deeply obvious once he’s said them.. t.. by david’s very high standards.. i’m now out on a limb.. detail overwhelming et al.. often not sure i was getting the point.. aspiration was to produce a dialogist ethnography.. due away w separation created by much soc sci writing.. old style ethno.. window on way of life.. rather than as prop to establish some argument

lost people

10 min – johnny: despite difficulties of text.. easy to summarize.. centrally about slavery.. and its post abolition legacy.. above all about the past/present.. relations between people of free/slave descent.. david’s main window is thru narrative of ordeal held in 1987.. ended by dividing the community.. threads all the way thru the book w new interps endlessly piling up.. notorious for witchcraft/sorcery/turmoil between residents..

14 min – johnny: both elders had each married from other group.. crops of 2 elders completely destroyed.. david started research 2 yrs after (1989).. levels of antagonism might seem amusing (?).. non resulted in murder/boycott..

16 min – johnny: 19th cent slavery really took off.. nearly half slaves.. slavery abolished in 1897.. former slaves became sharecroppers and generally thrives.. downward trend of nobles was said because of slavery.. david offers vivid picture of the richness of the nobles.. still at time of his field work.. nobles would come on them.. lace in gold/silver jewelry

19 min – johnny: w/in tribe.. topic of slavery avoided but nobody could forget it.. et al

21 min – johnny: most important part of story takes place off stage between state and imf.. that’s what really drives the story..

23 min – johnny: if history is as david says about circulation of stories.. if political action.. tended to be recorded/rated.. what effort goes into showing most never recorded..

24 min – johnny: one value that informed david’s work: freedom.. though lost people says little about freedom.. suggests its absence.. in other writings usually some escape from oppression.. here.. past seems almost inescapable..

26 min – johnny: history it seems is some kind of prison.. ‘weighs like a nightmare on the heads of the living‘ – marx (?)

history ness et al

30 min – johnny: (talks about his inability to understand where david is coming from – some things missing to my mind.. hope others can clear it up)

32 min – maurice (on phone so hard to hear): area where david was working.. taken over by slaves.. who were themselves being infiltrated by outsiders.. other group.. pheasants descendants of free people .. story is basically of these people retreating while the slaves were taking over.. simple if that was all there was to it.. but of course.. area was part of big changes in govt.. (more and more close to slaves).. descents of slaves not successful hard to define ancestry.. descents of free leaving

37 min – maurice: tombs very important.. for people who want to reassert their domination.. neither side are going to win.. slaves do succeed in taking crops over.. complication .. descents of free linked to great tombs.. that were (descents of free) haunting the place.. slaves hoping they can take over ancestral rituals.. they fail..

43 min – maurice: in the end.. story is these outsider groups take over.. 1\ local – slaves take over 2\ free – incidental 3\ ancestors of tombs


45 min – a: tell us more about where david was.. how does situation of slaves compare w other ethnographies we have in madagascar.. about johnny’s comment on missing pieces

maurice: david’s work is on local.. so he oscillates between slave and free.. all other ethnographies are irrelevant.. even mine..

47 min – a: could you (david) comment on johnny’s questions

david wengrow: i’m surprised johnny pulled that as an issue from this book.. it seems to me from other contemp anthros the surprising issue is that 1\ soc anthros.. claiingn soc anthro has had nothing to say about freedom.. 2\ others saying we do.. not sure what to make of it.. so if lost people is on freedom.. becomes a bit clearer.. he’s describing a moment in time..

david wengrow

50 min – david: i think an interesting way to read david’s ethnography.. in light of what he went on to write about in debt and our work and other places.. is what are the non material conditions that prevent a discourse on freedom from emerging.. and something he went back to a lot in his later writings is the really durable structural effects of concepts of freedom such as those of the european tradition.. which are rooted in slave relations.. t

51 min – d: it’s not his point entirely.. point famously made by jamaican sociologist who was at lse in fact .. orlando patterson in a number of books in 70s-80s.. that the effects of slavery on european concepts of freedom are still present in our systems of law.. which are essentially the freedoms of the master.. the abstract legal freedoms which presupposed the existence of slaves.. in households and in the wider econ.. even when those slaves are no longer that.. even when they are theoretically free people.. so these are freedoms at the expense of another’s captivity/suffering..t

any form of m\a\pgare enslavement law.. et al

52 min – d: i think in my mind.. what i can detect in this ethnography.. the beginnings of an interest in what other forms of freedom might be.. which are not that.. t

d: but what johnny conveys.. what david seems to be describing is a moment in time which those hadn’t emerged.. and it would be a false projection presumably on his part as the ethnographer to them claim that they exist or to claim that he could predict their emergence.. what he’s describing.. as he says.. people who are imprisoned by their past.. but maybe that unwillingness to actually develop concepts of freedom.. which are in a sense transformation/extensions of the slave/master relationship could in itself be significant in that way

53 min – d: in other words.. i’m suggesting that perhaps what he’s coming to understand or trying to get to grips w here.. is precisely why those forms of freedom are not emerging.. and that that in itself may be interesting or significant by contrast with our own broadly western/european notion of freedom rooted in ancient roman/greek law.. via various medieval intermediaries..

d: so it’s not a direct answer to johnny’s point.. but it didn’t strike me that that was the sort of burning question

a: thanks david .. yeah you’ve taken us to freedom but i guess the point i was picking up from johnny was the relationship between history and narratives

d: i know.. i just think those sort of debates are not hugely interesting.. you know david was often struck by the profound absurdity/silliness of people who do things that look scientific.. lots of graphs/stats.. but essentially what they’re doing is predicting things that have already happened.. t


of math and men et al.. graeber unpredictability/surprise law et al..

54 min – d: you know what’s the point.. when panofsky (?) said .. ‘with the sciences everything is alive and in motion.. the job of the scientist is to temp freeze it so you get a sort of snapshot.. whereas w the historian .. everybody is dead and the historians job is to bring it to life’.. and there’s no getting around that.. it’s just hermeneutic.. just a fact of research.. so what i see in david’s book is an unwillingness to simplify and an unwillingness to set up pretentious sorts of boundaries to his work.. it’s a very vulnerable kind of ethnography.. he talks about people that are his friends.. t

research ness

55 min – maurice: just one thing here.. that is.. locally descendants of slaves mixed w other people from outside are winning.. magnifying (?) they’re not .. .because people in tombs are linked w people who are dominant in their capital and indeed internationally

a: i guess that’s the point that johnny was also making that the wider structural forces are taking place off stage.. the imf.. these guys have gone off to paris and are actually holding court from there.. over whatever they would like to hold court over.. productive assets can be handed over to the descendants..

56 min – fuad musallam: does seem to me (in regard to johnny’s questions) that the mode of writing genre is completely key to understanding that aspect of lost people.. some of this is from having thought w david and his insistence on pulling a week into the anthro theory course that we taught together on dialagism (?).. and at the time.. before i had read lost people.. i was interested.. but i didn’t really understand why he was so insistent on this being a part of it.. laterly made more sense to me.. it seems to be generically what the book is doing quite key in 2 ways: 1\ in terms of question of historical actors.. as tragic figures et al.. in very strong generic sense.. that they put into motion w their political choices precisely the elements that would then bring their own personal downfall .. and scott’s point on this is really to act in the world in this strong sense is to open yourself up to that possibility in the future

57 min – f: for david.. i think the point is much more as maurice was saying a very local version of this.. but nevertheless.. there’s a way to read the events of 1987 and david then walking into the aftermath of that as one way of reading people and how they were interacting with one another and how they fit into the narrative of the story that david is telling.. that they chose to act in this way and here are the consequences that are being drawn out by david in this strongly intersubjective narrative mode.. literary mode..

58 min – f: 2\ i think there’s a point to be raised in terms of putting dialogies (?) in there strongly .. which is that.. in the book.. and more broadly david is hinting in the intro that this is a narrative/dialogic attempt to write an ethnography.. and that knowledge in people’s interactions produced a very conversational mode that he’s involved in but people are with each other.. and there’s a lot of speech in the book.. and i think that does link possibly more strongly to other of david’s work/interest.. because in a way .. the ways in which people understand what is happening is the product of these intersubjective interactions.. contentious as they might be .. and it’s that that produces knowledge/meaning for them.. that’s not to say that everything that is structurally happening is not real or in a sense conditioning what’s happening..

59 min – f: but it is.. seems to me anyway.. that the book is david trying to understand how people create meaning for themselves in this situation.. one.. if you like.. tragically.. where they are not fully in control of what is happening.. but their own actions have been a part of how things then work out for them in this period of time.. in this expanse of the book

f: so i think genre is hugely important and the genre that david was trying to write in and drawing from is hugely important.. i guess the sort of question back to johnny would be.. how much does that matter.. does that kind of strongly generic element invalidate the book .. add to it.. does it then raise questions back to the kind of broader claims that david makes in the intro.. and then i think in the conclusion too.. about the book’s allegiance w history as opposed to soc science perspectives.. i think it maybe raised more questions of how it fits.. but i think the genre element is key to understanding what david was doing in the book and why the book looks the way that it does..

1:00 – a: i think that’s interesting way to read the book fuad.. but at the same time i remember on reading the book and also speaking to david about it.. how much of the narrative is actually very dependent on one particular person he was very close to.. actually two people.. who helped him.. so what happens to the dialogic nature of production of the narrative/script

1:01 – f: may i just add on that point.. i think that’s another link possibly to certain kinds of russian literary writing .. these sort of hetty (?) nobles come down in the world when the world around them is changing.. is very strong figure in russians writing 19th cent.. and we do have like maurice was saying those figures who are also present.. and it might even explain to a degree what maurice was raising about the fact that we hear far more from those figures.. the free people who really are incidental in the sense that brought the story.. they’re not descendants of slaves yet we hear so much more from them.. that might be a reason as well ..

1:02 – yash: tangent to discussion.. on ancestral authority.. seem to sanction freedom for nobles but nobles seem to be free themselves..

1:03 – megan laws: just to pick up on what wengrow was saying.. david being optimist by focusing on legacy of these narratives.. that they have this sort of force.. and also entertaining the reverse.. that we could do away w those narratives.. descendants of slaves trying to do away w narratives that shape their lives in particular ways and ways that they don’t want them to.. and you see this a lot in a lot of david’s work.. he’s trying to essentially tell us that we could do things differently.. and he’s trying to explore the role that narrative plays in that process.. now what johnny’s criticism seems to raise to me is this broader question of the kind of conditions under which we’ll find it possible to do that.. which i think comes up in the most recent book.. thinking about some of the arguments around freedom.. and i’m struck with this feeling of .. why do people not do that.. why is it actually that we don’t do that.. there seems to be some conditions of possibility maybe for actually doing away with narrative.. and in that sense we’re doing away w certain narratives.. and i think there’s some sort of tension there.. basically .. and david’s approach is .. well we need to focus on narrative.. because we tend to overlook its power/centrality.. also just adding to johnny’s comment.. i think david said once that this book was 800 pages long when he sent it to press.. so you got the short version..

graeber and wengrow freedom law

1:06 – johnny: megan – very central in debt is that things could be done differently.. but what i missed was from lost people was that kind of space.. where in lost people was that space drawn attention to.. i don’t see it as terribly optimistic .. all i see is these poor people endlessly reproducing this antagonism thru the generations

1:07 – johnny: yash – yeah.. i think the work david is very strongly attention to .. which comes across to me slightly differently from reading maurice is just how nasty these ancestors are .. basically thoroughly disliked

1:08 – johnny: fuad – i entirely agree that the mode of writing is absolutely key.. but there was a question about its consequences and i think that his consequences are the stress on narratives.. to me.. means that an awful lot this is sociologically/anthropologically important.. gets framed out of the fundamental questions.. and that’s what i was trying to draw attention to .. were the comparative questions that i was asking

1:09 – maurice: important to bear in mind .. it’s a double colonial situation.. descendants of slaves and other people mixed in are fighting the previous owners of the land.. but in fact the real fight is between the more urban people and local people.. the more urban people who are talked about are total saviors..

1:10 – alpa: next week .. on value

theory of value





lse graeber series