value at lse

Friday Seminar 29 20 2021 Theory of Value.. Chris Gregory and Don Kalb

Chris Gregory (Australian National University Emeritus Prof Anthropology) –

Gregory’s analysis, together with Michael Hudson’s writings, inspired David Graeber’s discussion of the present era in Chapter 12 his bestselling book “Debt: the first 5000 years

and Don Kalb (Bergen Prof Anthropology)

Chris Gregory is on fire . . @davidgraeber the ethnographer, he notes, learned the inside language of the Wall Street bulls AND of the young who stood with him, against them, on the streets. It allowed him to expose bullshit theory, and to ask human questions with human answers.

Original Tweet:

part of lse graeber series

theory of value by david graeber

notes/quotes from 80 min video:

alpa: first published in 2002.. first bold attempt to provide a new theory of almost everything..

10 min – chris: first time i met david i was unimpressed.. covered 5000 yrs in 50 min.. thought he was rambling/incoherent.. i thought he was a bs artist.. over past yrs.. changed my mind completely.. david’s contribution to t of v has changed the debate.. david wasn’t first to offer bs as a theory of value.. what struck me about all these books.. extraordinary unity on theme/content.. 5 volumes (value, debt, direct action, bs jobs, anarch anthro).. focus on 3 words: bs, false coins, dreams.. false coin of our own dreams (subtitle of value) as metaphor in all 5 volumes.. the question is.. what does he mean by this paradox

13 min – chris: my short answer is that he’s referring to the political battle over those big ideas that can change the world.. for him the value question is about the battle over competing images of wealth.. the false coins are the images of wealth produced by the dreamers of yesterday.. the false coin is an image that has become adulterated/debased thru excessive use over time.. david.. the old fashioned dreamer .. want to re-coin these debased images of wealth to create a new image of what could be

14 min – chris: his dream is not a fantasy.. it’s a real possibility grounded in econ history, cultural geography, and the political present.. david the dreamer then.. is a political activist who wants to appropriate the false coins of the (?).. knock them down and forge something new.. so what is this image of wealth..

chris (showing image of statue of little girl facing bull – w headline – ‘blah blah blah’ greta thunberg lambasts leaders over climate.. secretly installed first on wall st): this image captures his approach as i understand it.. can be read in a number of ways.. just two 1\ blah blah blah.. yah yah yah.. raises question of what no more blah blah blah means.. enter david.. bilingual wall street writer/blogger.. my interp of david’s respone: ‘tell us the truth about climate, bs jobs, .. there are other ways’

16 min – chris: distinction here between liar and bs-er is important.. which david mentions but doesn’t elab.. (talks about academics who work for/against wall st et al).. lots of activists in schools of econ and politics.. but not in anthro.. on why is that

19 min – chris: on false coin being nobel prize of econ.. not a noble prize.. rather.. swedish central bank prize..

nobel peace prize ness..

21 min – chris: david talks of false coins.. but leaves this out.. his search for alt wealth.. he has no new answers to old questions.. his focus is on limitations.. he has no manifestos.. just interesting questions.. if looking for simple answers.. won’t find in david’s works.. he teaches us how to think not what to think

22 min – chris: t of v is most hotly disputed subject in econ.. though when image of wealth.. remarkable agreement.. the horn of plenty – (then onto adam smith wealth of nations et al)

to me.. blah blah going on here

29 min – chris: on nitty gritty arguments in david’s book – esp ch 6.. and how needs revision due to panama papers.. hope is in greta replacing girl in front of bull

32 min – don: my is much more boring/shorter.. title is constituent imagination 1\ law of failure.. david made history by attacking established centers of wealth

34 min – don: i felt it was hard to get to know david.. seemed to talk/laugh w himself.. if not in convo w him before.. was hard to get into it with him.. reminded of this while reading t of v.. meandering et al.. david may make you feel like he’s slowing you down.. but he can also take you by the hand into a conceptual jump

38 min – don: on constituent imagination.. via many.. graeber’s value doesn’t work to solidify social reproduction.. on the contrary.. it feeds the social imagination both collectively/individually and is both agonistic/liberating..t

43 min – don: on david writing to make turner’s complexity readable

44 min – don: david prefers to talk about creative powers than labor

god i miss david.. could listen to him for hours.. not these guys..

48 min – don: constituent imagination is david’s core concept.. on way to move out from hierarchy ness

51 min – don: on david improving on value book in debt book.. david was utopiast w great feel of on the ground work.. but he didn’t anticipate rise of rivalrous right


53 min – alpa: chris.. i would like a critique on don’s message and on the removal of the little girl statue

55 min – chris: my thinking about value question come from my own history.. my issue as looking at image of value.. so prescriptive/descriptive.. so for me.. what i see david doing.. on strathern’s no money on our skin.. so david’s ethnography was great in expanding our imagination.. it’s wonderful to be critiqued by david.. because he takes you seriously and can move you on.. very enlightening..

58 min – chris: for me david’s critique of value is surpassing traditional anthro critique.. ie: only part of the story.. so issue for me.. on all revolutionary thinkers.. but now at beginning of 21st cent.. and greta is speaking truth to power on climate.. and we need to speak our truth to power

1:01 – don: i think debt has methodological change but not theoretical.. (from t of v).. debt a more structural book..

1:03 – chris: for me.. among other things david is an econ historian.. and geo scholar.. it’s a meandering style that takes a while to get used to.. but he plays around w things and gets you thinking about new ways of thinking.. he’s not a theorist.. just wants to stir up the pot.. he’s a visionary.. a political activist concerned about the human conditions.. he’s concerned about tomorrow via today and the past.. looking forward to next week on debt

1:07 – holli: i loved don’s comments about what it’s like to be david.. like travel writing into ideas.. after i read i feel i’m getting a lot out of it.. but if someone asks.. hard to summarize.. so some say.. wasn’t david just a bs-er..

1:08 – chris: point i was making about ambiguity is that manure is valuable.. for david.. the journey was important.. and finding the limits/constraints to our imagination to org life and move ahead..t

imagine if we ness

1:11 – don: on david’s rhythm of discovery .. i think in anthro ed we don’t talk enough about discovery and our skills in making discovery..

1:14 – don: the idea that just our dreams of desires can lead us to constitute ourselves/lives in fully autonomous way.. are complete bs.. the whole marxian dialectic of people being free to make their lives.. but not under circumstance of their own choosing is essential.. i don’t want to make too much about socially necessary labor time and all these necessarily technical marxist concepts.. but what they all do is emphasize on issue of not under circumstances of our own choosing.. what significant about value.. is sticks w native pov.. ie: my values/desires are not synchronous w the desires of the system.. but nevertheless i have to struggle with the system to realize them as a perennial struggle.. i always talk about everyday politics.. we move/do all the time.. and in that we learn about the system.. not only about our constituent imagination.. so constituting that imagination is a fight/struggle.. not just w own little societies but about big world society that globalized capitalism has created.. so that’s what i think a theory of value must do.. it must be dialectical in that sense of making our own world but on the conditions not of our own choosing and not with the resources that we would like to have.. t

? – oh my – that’s not imagination.. that’s keeping things as is.. ie: hari rat park law et al

today we have the means to let go of that same song.. that struggle ness.. a means to undo hierarchical listening

if we just let go of all these blah blah blahs.. long enough to see what would happen if we org’d around legit needs

ie: a nother way

alpa: next session 2 weeks from today





lse graeber series