Activism Discussion: When Scholarship & Politics Collided At Yale

When Scholarship & Politics Collided At Yale
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Dan Clore
2005-12-30 20:02:05 EST
News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

[Hello to Smygo member David Graeber.--DC]

The New York Times
December 28, 2005
When Scholarship and Politics Collided at Yale
By KAREN W. ARENSON

David Graeber pulled a green object shaped like a Champagne
cork out of his pocket.

"Do you know what this is?" he asked recently. "It's a
plastic bullet." The bullet, he said, was fired by the
police in Quebec City during a protest against globalization
in 2001, grazing his head.

Battles with the police are a fact of life for Dr. Graeber,
an associate professor of anthropology at Yale and a
self-proclaimed anarchist. It was his battle with Yale that
surprised him.

The university notified him in the spring of 2005 that it
would not renew his contract next year. Yale gave no reason,
and officials said they could not discuss the dismissal
because personnel matters were confidential.

But to Dr. Graeber the reason was obvious: his politics. He
appealed, and supporters around the world wrote letters on
his behalf, some calling him one of the most brilliant
anthropologists of his generation.

This month, Yale, which says that personal political beliefs
"are not a consideration" in appointments, amended its
decision; it offered Dr. Graeber a paid sabbatical if he
would drop his appeal. He accepted.

"So many academics lead such frightened lives," he said.
"The whole system sometimes seems designed to encourage
paranoia and timidity. I wasn't willing to live like that."

A Yale spokesman and three of Dr. Graeber's colleagues
declined to comment about Dr. Graeber, repeating that
personnel matters were confidential.

Dr. Graeber said that criticism of his behavior -- like
coming late to class and turning in reports late -- did not
surface until his politics became visible.

"They couldn't criticize my research or my teaching, so they
talked about my community work," he said.
["community" or committee work?--DC]

In theory, Dr. Graeber agrees that an anarchist professor
might have problems in establishment institutions. In a
online article, "Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology"
(http://www.prickly-paradigm.com ), he declared, "Being an
openly anarchist professor would mean challenging the way
universities are run."

But Dr. Graeber, 44, a slender man with tousled hair and a
chipped front tooth, says: "I'm not really an anarchist as a
professor. I'm a very conventional professor really. I do
much more lecturing, for example, than sitting around doing
free egalitarian discussion."

Known in anthropological circles for his work on value
theory -- how societies determine what is important -- and
anarchism, he said he had tried to compartmentalize the two
sides of his life: "I figured I'd be a scholar in New Haven
and an activist in New York."

Over barbecued beef wrapped in grape leaves and jumbo shrimp
on chipped ice, he described his path from a teenager who
translated hieroglyphic passages that had never before been
translated to a scholar whose books and articles are used in
college classrooms around the world and an anarchist who is
a card-carrying member of the Industrial Workers of the World.

Dr. Graeber said his comfort with anarchism stemmed, in
part, from his family -- his father fought in the Spanish
Civil War and his mother was a garment worker. "Anarchy
wasn't dinner table conversation," he said, "but it was on
the horizon."

And as an anthropologist, he said, he realized that
"throughout most of human history, people got by without
centralized governments."

In Madagascar, where he worked on his doctoral thesis, he
lived in an area where "state authority had effectively
disappeared," he said.

He began his anthropology studies at Purchase College of the
State University of New York.

Judith Friedlander, an anthropologist who taught him there
and is now at Hunter College, said he was "hands down, the
most brilliant student I ever had."

At the University of Chicago, he won a Fulbright fellowship
and completed a Ph.D. thesis on magic, slavery and politics
in Madagascar. Two years later, in 1998, he joined Yale as
an assistant professor, even though junior professors there
were not on a tenure track.

"I figured it was the best temporary job you could possibly
have," he said. "For 10 years, you don't have too big a
teaching load. It had lots of prestige. And the pay was O.K."

He added, "I'm up to about $63,000."

He was by many accounts a prolific writer and popular
teacher. Although he sometimes came late, his classes were
crowded.

Joseph Hill, a Yale graduate student in anthropology who
supports Dr. Graeber, described his classes as "highly
interesting and provocative."

He added: "They are all over the map, which makes it hard
for some students to follow. But students who like to see
how diverse little facts and grand theories come together
actually find his lectures very well put together and easy
to follow."

Dr. Graeber's first three years went well, and he was given
a second three-year contract. By then, he had become
captivated by direct political action. He said he found the
large protests against globalization in Seattle and
Washington "transformative -- 30,000 people and no
leadership. People coming to a consensus without anyone
running the show. You wouldn't think it could happen, but it
does. And it's compelling."

He joined groups like the Direct Action Network, and his
political activity became more visible. He was an organizer
and spokesman for the protest against the World Economic
Forum in New York in 2001. And he was one of several hundred
people arrested during a protest against the International
Monetary Fund in Washington in 2002.

When he returned from a sabbatical for his second three
years, he said, some colleagues would not talk to him. Three
years later, he was given two years instead of a standard
four-year contract and told to contribute more and be more
careful about things like arriving at class on time. "I was
told I was unreliable," he said.

He said that after that critical review, he directed a
colloquium series, took part in more meetings, taught more
and was more careful about promptness. But he also had
disagreements with senior colleagues, including defending a
student active in the graduate student unionization movement.

Yale decided in the spring not to give him two more years,
prompting outcries. More than 4,500 people signed petitions
in his support. Maurice Bloch, a noted anthropologist at the
London School of Economics, who says Dr. Graeber is "the
best anthropological theorist of his generation," called on
Yale to rescind the dismissal.

"I know nothing about the circumstances which have led you
to your decision," he said, "but I cannot believe that a
university such as yours cannot cope with erratic behavior
or that it can afford to lose so extraordinarily talented a
colleague."

But some of his colleagues say it was not really about Dr.
Graeber's politics. Linda-Anne Rebhun, an associate
professor in anthropology at Yale who recently failed to win
tenure, said the problem was "the Yale system" that has
forced many junior faculty to leave.

"It says something about Dr. Graeber's sense of politics,"
she added, "that he seems to take this as an individual,
personal thing rather than taking a more anthropological
view of the nature of the system that affects all junior
scholars at Yale."

Mr. Hill said that while politics may not have been the
overt cause for Dr. Graeber's dismissal, his anarchistic
manner was undoubtedly a factor.

"I don't think senior faculty sat behind closed doors and
actually adduced the fact that he's an anarchist in making
the case against him: 'All in favor of the anarchist say
aye,'" Mr. Hill said. "But it seems to me that he was fired
at least in part for being who he is, a large part of which
is his egalitarian philosophy and practice of life, his
contempt for authority."

Others said they were not surprised that Yale did not want
to keep him. "I actually think places like Yale are not for
people like David Graeber," said Stanley Aronowitz, a
left-leaning professor at the Graduate Center of the City
University of New York. "He's a public intellectual. He
speaks out. He participates. He's not someone who simply
does good scholarship; he's an activist and a controversial
person."

Dr. Graeber said he planned to use his paid sabbatical year
for research, writing, activism and a job search. He said
that he had already had some nibbles and that he was leaving
Yale with his "integrity intact." He says with some
satisfaction that while his department did not renew his
contract, "I'm better known than most of them."

David Graber's official Web site:
http://www.yale.edu/anthropology/people/dgraeber.html

Student-run protest site:
http://www.geocities.com/graebersolidarity/

Read his books:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0312240457/thedanclorenecro
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0972819649/thedanclorenecro

--
Dan Clore

Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
http://www.wildsidepress.com/index2.htm
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1587154838/thedanclorenecro
Lord Weÿrdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/9879/
News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

"Don't just question authority,
Don't forget to question me."
-- Jello Biafra

















James A. Donald
2005-12-31 14:19:48 EST
--
On Fri, 30 Dec 2005 17:02:05 -0800, Dan Clore
<*e@columbia-center.org> wrote:

> News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
> http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo
>
> [Hello to Smygo member David Graeber.--DC]
>
> The New York Times December 28, 2005 When Scholarship and Politics
> Collided at Yale By KAREN W. ARENSON
>
> The university notified him in the spring of 2005 that it would not
> renew his contract next year. Yale gave no reason, and officials
> said they could not discuss the dismissal because personnel matters
> were confidential.

Graeber's record of publication in peer reviewed journals is mighty
slim. It is publish or perish. Graeber perished. Some of his posts
in this newsgroup incline me to doubt he knows much about
anthropology.

--digsig
James A. Donald
6YeGpsZR+nOTh/cGwvITnSR3TdzclVpR0+pr3YYQdkG
VosfRONZMl6oVLXtOzwzKqiSaSKDC5AztzRMPswT
4+j19z2ZZ526hDLoa/EKMFy4GTXDo8QVkmEnyjzEI


Bruce Scott TOK
2006-01-01 12:05:11 EST
I seriously doubt a rabid right wingnut like James Donald is in any
position to discuss someone's qualifications as an anthropologist.



--
ciao,
Bruce

drift wave turbulence: http://www.rzg.mpg.de/~bds/


James A. Donald
2006-01-01 12:59:01 EST
--
Bruce Scott TOK
> I seriously doubt a rabid right wingnut like James
> Donald is in any position to discuss someone's
> qualifications as an anthropologist.

Let us recall Graeber's infamous posts on wage labor.
Message-ID: <6da4fe$f24$1@news.nyu.edu>
http://tinyurl.com/a9chj

critiqued in Message-ID: <6dd3uk$5cv$1@nntp2.ba.best.com>
http://tinyurl.com/bcs4c

Reckon I know more anthropology than *Professor*
Graeber.

--digsig
James A. Donald
6YeGpsZR+nOTh/cGwvITnSR3TdzclVpR0+pr3YYQdkG
DV2NlZQDprkkIiLBcjheVZstUfOcQfN75hmQnkHK
4/aUYLDD2VvgtFDnG8Cr2hRTGz6/V81OqCnZCthUv


Dan Clore
2006-01-02 01:25:18 EST
Bruce Scott TOK wrote:

> I seriously doubt a rabid right wingnut like James Donald is in any
> position to discuss someone's qualifications as an anthropologist.

David Graeber participated on Usenet a few years back. He
regularly made a total fool of James Donald, who frequently
asserted that Graeber could not possibly really be an
anthropologist at all. Their debates often became so
ridiculous that they bordered on the surreal. JAD made some
false claims about wampum, for example, and asserted that
Graeber knew nothing about the subject. Graeber, who has
made this subject one of his specialties, responded by
posting a comprehensive bibliography of the scholarly work
on the subject, which he had compiled as a matter of course
while doing his work on it.

--
Dan Clore

My collected fiction, _The Unspeakable and Others_:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1587154838/thedanclorenecro/
Lord Weÿrdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/9879/
News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

Strange pleasures are known to him who flaunts the
immarcescible purple of poetry before the color-blind.
-- Clark Ashton Smith, "Epigrams and Apothegms"


Bruce Scott TOK
2006-01-02 11:01:33 EST
Dan Clore wrote:

>Bruce Scott TOK wrote:
>
>> I seriously doubt a rabid right wingnut like James Donald is in any
>> position to discuss someone's qualifications as an anthropologist.
>
>David Graeber participated on Usenet a few years back. He
>regularly made a total fool of James Donald, who frequently
>asserted that Graeber could not possibly really be an
>anthropologist at all. Their debates often became so
>ridiculous that they bordered on the surreal. JAD made some
>false claims about wampum, for example, and asserted that
>Graeber knew nothing about the subject. Graeber, who has
>made this subject one of his specialties, responded by
>posting a comprehensive bibliography of the scholarly work
>on the subject, which he had compiled as a matter of course
>while doing his work on it.

Thanks for these notes... sort of makes claims Graber has no
publications pretty ridicolous doesn't it. Of course Donald will
continue to repeat his rubbish. None of this will have any effect on
what he posts.

The interest in the Graber situation for me is mainly the collision
between a difficult free thinker and the system. Particularly the
ingrown nature of academia (universities or big labs, which is worse?
I'm not sure actually...). I have run into this in physics myself. It
is not a feature limited to any particular subject of the curriculum.

Basically, he is like Galileo before the Pope, always noting that the
things they complain about now were never problems in the past. Of
course that is not the point. Some people simply don't like him (more
for personality or style than for actual politics), and the stuff they
complain about is nothing more than tactics. Of course the
"confidentiality" rules are mainly there to help them cover it up. I am
sure what did him in at Yale is nothing more than personal petty venal
stuff. Someone with influence doesn't like his face and knows how to
pull levers and that's that.

Of course this is on-topic in an anthro newsgroup. I wish studies of
this phenomenon were widespread.

--
ciao,
Bruce

drift wave turbulence: http://www.rzg.mpg.de/~bds/


James A. Donald
2006-01-02 12:14:05 EST
--
On Sun, 01 Jan 2006 22:25:18 -0800, Dan Clore
<*e@columbia-center.org> wrote:

> Bruce Scott TOK wrote:
>
> > I seriously doubt a rabid right wingnut like James Donald is in any
> > position to discuss someone's qualifications as an anthropologist.
>
> David Graeber participated on Usenet a few years back. He
> regularly made a total fool of James Donald, who frequently
> asserted that Graeber could not possibly really be an
> anthropologist at all. Their debates often became so
> ridiculous that they bordered on the surreal. JAD made some
> false claims about wampum, for example, and asserted that
> Graeber knew nothing about the subject. Graeber, who has
> made this subject one of his specialties, responded by
> posting a comprehensive bibliography of the scholarly work
> on the subject, which he had compiled as a matter of course
> while doing his work on it.

A bibliography of books whose actual contents entirely disagreed with
his claims

--digsig
James A. Donald
6YeGpsZR+nOTh/cGwvITnSR3TdzclVpR0+pr3YYQdkG
ZTEqQ+PkWR0j02HRZ9hn8YQFvkEDUAF7nGiNACur
4j1WznpPSrvnhVrBeMdimhYlvNkEAvFzjB8IaXlHd


James A. Donald
2006-01-02 12:15:47 EST
--
rOn Mon, 2 Jan 2006 17:01:33 +0100 (MET), Bruce Scott TOK
<Use-Author-Supplied-Address-Header@[127.1]> wrote:

> Dan Clore wrote:
>
> >Bruce Scott TOK wrote:
> >
> >> I seriously doubt a rabid right wingnut like James Donald is in any
> >> position to discuss someone's qualifications as an anthropologist.
> >
> >David Graeber participated on Usenet a few years back. He
> >regularly made a total fool of James Donald, who frequently
> >asserted that Graeber could not possibly really be an
> >anthropologist at all. Their debates often became so
> >ridiculous that they bordered on the surreal. JAD made some
> >false claims about wampum, for example, and asserted that
> >Graeber knew nothing about the subject. Graeber, who has
> >made this subject one of his specialties, responded by
> >posting a comprehensive bibliography of the scholarly work
> >on the subject, which he had compiled as a matter of course
> >while doing his work on it.
>
> Thanks for these notes... sort of makes claims Graber has no
> publications pretty ridicolous doesn't it.
'
Greaber has very few peer reviewed publications, and his non peer
reviewed publications, as for example on wampum, tend to make
assertions wildly different from those generally accepted.

--digsig
James A. Donald
6YeGpsZR+nOTh/cGwvITnSR3TdzclVpR0+pr3YYQdkG
dtb6Zd3WjwMk6dRjYwg8L5J9U4u+nuHkd/SQm/Gj
40blnwxLis70RJ41uy3yaSGki95pwsaMVBYh7G5qW


Dan Clore
2006-01-03 01:18:15 EST
Bruce Scott TOK wrote:
> Dan Clore wrote:
>>Bruce Scott TOK wrote:

>>>I seriously doubt a rabid right wingnut like James Donald is in any
>>>position to discuss someone's qualifications as an anthropologist.
>>
>>David Graeber participated on Usenet a few years back. He
>>regularly made a total fool of James Donald, who frequently
>>asserted that Graeber could not possibly really be an
>>anthropologist at all. Their debates often became so
>>ridiculous that they bordered on the surreal. JAD made some
>>false claims about wampum, for example, and asserted that
>>Graeber knew nothing about the subject. Graeber, who has
>>made this subject one of his specialties, responded by
>>posting a comprehensive bibliography of the scholarly work
>>on the subject, which he had compiled as a matter of course
>>while doing his work on it.
>
> Thanks for these notes... sort of makes claims Graber has no
> publications pretty ridicolous doesn't it. Of course Donald will
> continue to repeat his rubbish. None of this will have any effect on
> what he posts.

I find his claims particularly ironic in light of the fact
that articles about Graeber frequently quote well-known
anthropologists attesting to the quality of his work,
including one book now used as textbook in a large number of
anthropology courses. Not that it means much, but I can also
attest to the quality of his work from my own reading.

--
Dan Clore

My collected fiction, _The Unspeakable and Others_:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1587154838/thedanclorenecro/
Lord Weÿrdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/9879/
News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

Strange pleasures are known to him who flaunts the
immarcescible purple of poetry before the color-blind.
-- Clark Ashton Smith, "Epigrams and Apothegms"

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