m of care – may 25


on andrew johnson’s bureaucrats w guns.. about david graeber‘s giant puppets.. police ness.. et al


On May 25, we will be discussing Andrew Johnson’s Bureaucrats with guns: Or, how we can abolish the police if we just stop believing in them. The reading group will be led and moderated by Steve Bachelor.


David Graeber’s essay On the phenomenology of giant puppets: Broken windows, imaginary jars of urineand the cosmological role of police in American culture (2007) is a ground-breaking yet unappreciated essay that re-evaluates theories of police. The central question animating Graeber’s “interpretative” essay is: why do cops hate activist puppeteers? Graeber’s “tenuous” answer is that police are a form of structural violence and that their power is derived from their cosmological or imagined status. The police are one of the central themes animating Graeber’s work from the beginning of his career to the end. As an anthropologist, he repeatedly turns his attention to places that lack formal police institutions or maintain police forces utterly alien to modern sensibilities. These unusual places are the animus for his recasting of the traditional concepts of political theory: sovereignty, hierarchy, and the state. Graeber’s later work, attacking bureaucracy and meaningless labour, continues his critical interpretation of police. It is impossible to understand the significance and importance of Graeber’s scholarship, in toto, without understanding what he has to say about the police. Most importantly, what Graeber has to say about the police is an altogether original interpretation that should be of importance to those studying the police and to social movements seeking to diminish their political power. Some of Graeber’s observations represent considerable challenges to the cause of police abolition, whereas others provide supporting theses that could aid our struggle against police authoritarianism. I conclude, contra Graeber, that the unreasonableness of the police is not sufficient for them to melt away.

notes/quotes from meeting:

steve: intros andrew

andrew: intro ing the piece: david’s essay puppets.. for me was an influential essay as a young person.. began lifelong study of the mysterious nature of police.. interesting how little people engage w this essay and david’s work w/in police studies.. i used this essay and theme of police to re read david’s entire career: 1\ police to talk about political anthro 2\ use dialogue between police and protesters via david 3\ use police work to rethink what david has to say about bs jobs and left for ignoring critiques of B

andrew: i have an interesting conclusion.. not just a faithful reader.. like him a joker.. use it to establish my own political voice (andrew gone.. connection)

nika: finishing book about city.. good subject for me now.. so hoping he’ll return soon..

steve: happy to jump in and give gloss of first part.. andrew tackles question of sovereignty.. apply to police studies.. no one has grappled with.. graeber/sahlins on kings say need to take on question of sovereignty.. so police do that.. so they are this divine/separate/mysterious class.. then he’s able to go into lit on police abolitionism and how it doesn’t grapple w this.. so only able to do limited critique


andrew: i’m really fascinated by polit anthro and using it to rethink core concepts of polit theory.. graeber does really well.. there’s states w/o police and police w/o states.. challenges a lot of the folk wisdom.. so i look at world before police.. et al.. lays out first section of my article

michael: expalin how you think of sovereignty and how you think graeber/sahlins think of sovereignty

mark in chat: [Doesn’t DG point to ‘defining the situation’ as the crux of sovereignty (on the street)?]

andrew: graeber’s work really important for thinking of origins of sovereignty.. & how difficult it is to abolish.. people fetishize word abolish.. from david’s work.. trying to shift away from state.. show how difficult to create a realistic abolitionism.. because sovereignty exists in so many types of ways ie: clown police

moten abolition law et al

i like his short answers/comments

pablo arias-benavides: i remember anxiously to read on kings w you (andrew) when it first came out.. david brings up.. maybe first oppression is woman by a man in fam.. so real issues we can target

nika & silvia on divorce et al

on kings

andrew: gets at heart.. i think in one respect.. i can’t help but be fascinated in graeber’s work.. at same time.. want to great materialist thought that criticizes graeber’s use of political imaginaries.. as one of most important social movement figures in 1st couple decades of 21 st cent.. he was thinking about strategy.. how to win social movement struggles.. i criticize graeber for use of politic imaginaries.. but also realize that’s inaccurate.. and he was good at being involved.. also his style.. he’s so optimistic.. he thought of global justice movement as not a failure.. and i’m such an angry thinker.. so i want to make a claim for a pessimistic imaginary.. but there’s still a lot i agree on.. the criticisms i make very foundational to his own thinking

steve: one of things nice about article.. overview of graeber’s whole career.. bring together diff threads.. rare to have a piece like yours that’s not directly about david.. using david to make larger insights about field of police abolitionism.. one para relies on kings.. another relies on direct action.. vastly diff fields synthesized in one article is a real treat for the reader.. you say ‘whimsical giggles’ .. able to provide synopsis of graeber’s work .. and bring together and apply to work that his work hasn’t yet been applied to .. i think it’s one of best ethnography pieces i’ve read in last year.. so playful.. when did you first encounter graeber’s work

andrew: i put my whole soul into this essay.. also did want to stand as a testament in scholarship on graeber’s impact.. but wanted to stand for me as well.. it’s typical of how i want to write.. also why his work has been so influential.. he’s a master stylist.. an amazing writer.. first came across his work w giant puppets.. first reading of it was an experience of being.. this shows exactly why police are un interested in a fair sense of democracy.. breaking the rules to engage in a covert war.. largely to defend capitalist interest et al.. so was really influential and stylistically amazing.. who writes about police and puppets.. my work just gradually shifted to writing more about police..

giant puppets

andrew: i met david in amsterdam when i was presenting work on this topic.. importance of anthro in challenging assumption in polit theory.. he was keynote speaker w wengrow.. so heard his mischievous giggle in person.. and was shocked to hear about his early demise in pandemic.. that’s when i started to use his work.. what i wanted to say about anthro and apply it thru his lens

steve: really stood out to me.. you used term ‘provisional police power’.. tell us more.. very provocative

andrew: is way i use ie of ghost police.. practice of indigenous policing that exists at diff times.. rotation ness.. so .. use term as opp of ‘provisional autonomous zones’.. so police powers pop up and disappear.. not w/power we’re used to.. one of pablo’s criticism of this essay is that policing begins in ritual.. so am trying to rethink that.. i think that phrase is one of the more provocative thoughts i have

jovian radheshwar: so timely.. this article.. what’s going on w vigilante aspect of all this.. just recently in nyc man murdered in subway.. soc media network of people praising this idea.. thinking of bernard getz in 80s shooting people in subways.. i take it most people have watched the wire.. and critical of it.. we have this blanketing idea.. this use of term metahumans.. like humans to be exterminated by metahumans.. which are whatever super oriented group.. white, rich, et al.. this self deputization seems to be new front.. not even people who do it but their support networks that embolden them to do it

andrew: so this might be ie of provisional police power.. people deputizing selves.. real push against trying to think about police as badge/uni.. also associated w mock police.. who are given a type of immunity to use power in an ad hoc sort of way.. police and relationship w media.. media creating moral panic.. so becomes an arm of police apparatus to create conditions necessary for militaristic response.. those interested in police study very interested in this tight relationships between police and white supremicists.. ie: jan 6.. et al.. something needs to be made about this.. and that police are a right wing institution..

andrew: also this use of metahumans.. graeber loves to use ie: batman et al.. so hollywood cops as superheroes.. you see police thru vigilante violence.. often times inseparable..

michael: part of this is police have origin in respect for authority.. so sovereignty.. so interest in ie’s of police w/o a state .. vigilanteism.. david points to role of violence as actual thing that structures/shapes our world.. so looking at police as able to use violence legitimately.. what happens when .. at individual level lots of police not seen as legit.. but becomes true as you go up class structure.. as people are vested in some type of authority.. ie in uppers of uni.. et al.. when you say claim that police will go away if don’t believe in them.. can we separate that out from police as sovereignty and as violence.. does graeber separate that out? he’s said to unthink the police.. cop in head.. got to kill it.. what happens we de legit police.. there’s still violence.. is that still a victory.. also .. role of police in the army

anderew: a lot there.. but will touch on a few.. legitimacy: one reason i want to weaponize graeber’s mischievous giggle.. as type of social movement strategy.. so i defend idea of silly abolitionism.. so keep police around as long as outfit them in clown suits et al.. .. comes out of graeber’s work.. puppets.. the black blok

intro’d to Fred and Stefano and the undercommons via Michael Hardt 

michael: on police getting funded on because of their sovereignty and violence

tessa roscoe in chat: [https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/17/opinion/the-art-of-changing-a-city.html – ny times to paywalled.. Editorial written by the former mayor that instituted the mime/traffic cop experiment in Bogota]

andrew: i use graeber’s anal on bs jobs.. on to me.. police jobs being bs.. even though police think of selves as superheroes.. so contradiction w what graeber defines as bs job.. so i argue against this.. to make a case for bs ness of police jobs and case that abolitionists in defunding police add necessary aspect to socialist left.. that we spend so much for violence vs care work.. graeber says social movements to come are setting up big battle between those doing care/violence work.. that’s an important thing a lot are struggling with

managerial feudalism to revolt of caring classes

bs jobs from birth et al

andrew: all public budgets being wasted on violence ness

pablo: i want to change this idea of changing imaginaries.. a lot of reason for paralysis in us.. ie: democrats try to be reasonable and get nowhere.. when say first need to create a struggle.. and then can change imaginaries.. ie: cuban revolution first did victory then created a project.. same with where i am.. so does this do a disservice.. can’t negotiate w people that have no faith in social relations

andrew: graeber doesn’t mean ie: police lack polit imaginaries.. they can make them real thru use of violence.. that’s reflected in my own conclusions.. an outright militancy you might see toward conclusion.. graeber says ‘no rev is succeeded w/o police laying down arms’.. uses this to analyze whether police are 99%.. abolitionists would not like this comment..

andrew: on charging protesters who show up to watch movie screenings.. the techs and sophistications of state violence.. real challenge about whether rev’s are still possible.. i don’t know that that’s the case

to me.. haven’t yet had a legit rev

a d justice: money seems to be factor as well in combating police institution..

andrew: abolitionists been at forefront in raising arms about ie: black lives matter.. becoming institutions.. using black lives matter as moniker of taking money away from everyday people.. soc movements are easily coopted by (money ness).. important to know their founders..we can criticize movement millionaires.. how they’re corrupted thru donors and institutionalization.. at same time they did have powerful impact.. in history we’ve been living in ..

nika: time.. practical solutions.. if violence used .. david has article of violence as stupidity.. of absence of dialogue.. if can’t talk any more.. beat w stick.. maybe we can continue this discussion in sept.. invite others like cory doctorow.. on new waves of power to violence.. debts and connection to violence.. he would be important part of this debate.. so we can create a little group to discuss possible follow up

graeber man with stick law et al









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