[Marxism] David Graeber on his firing

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 12 12:18:47 MDT 2005

(please feel free to circulate)

Many people have asked for proof that I was fired for political reasons. 
This is the best response I can make in this matter:

1) There is no way to produce "proof" of what was in the minds of those who 
voted to terminate me. In fact, there's no way to produce "proof" of 
anything they said. All the meetings were conducted in secrecy and all 
participants are forbidden, by Yale rules, to reveal anything about what 
was discussed in them. This means: if accusations of any sort were made 
against me, not only was I not allowed to reply, I'm not even allowed to 
know what those accusations were, even after the fact. Thus the whole 
system is constructed so as to ensure no one can prove anything, know 
anything, at all. One can only speculate. And then of course anything one 
comes up with can be written off as "only speculation". Still, some facts 
are undeniable:

2) What happened to me is extremely unusual. This should have been a 
routine promotion. (It's getting tenure at Yale that's usually difficult.)

3) Normally one can expect to be given some sort of reason for non-renewal. 
I was, very unusually, given no reasons whatsoever.

4) All this happened despite the fact that I have by now enough 
publications accumulated to get tenure two or three times over in any 
normal university. For example I have two books already published, one in 
press, and a fourth already written and under consideration. The first two 
are being assigned in courses in anthro departments around the country 
(Chicago, Columbia, Brown...) and receiving attention internationally. My 
essays have been translated into something like twelve different languages 
by now. My name (jeez, this is so immodest - I'm really not normally a 
person to boast like this but I've rather been driven to a position where I 
don't have much alternative)has appeared, or is appearing, in series and 
collections alongside names like Marshall Sahlins, Bruno Latour, Jacques 
Ranciere, Hans Joas, Donna Haraway, Alain Badiou... To give you some idea, 
here are a couple quotes about my book from the publisher's web page:

(blurbs from the palgrave web page:)

'I have not enjoyed or been so inspired by a work in anthropological theory 
for quite some time - I am convinced that this book is extremely important 
to the field of anthropology and to social theory more generally, offering 
alternatives to the relentlessly bleak theorizing of most 
post-structuralist and postmodernist critical theory - I think this book 
might well become a classic.' - Thomas Abercrombie, NYU

'David Graeber is probably the most exciting young anthropologist in the 
field today.' - Judith Friedlander, Dean of Social Sciences (Graduate 
Faculty), New School for Social Research

(this one is from the back of the book):

'This is an extraordinary contribution to social science theory. What a 
contrast to the self-righteous sludge we usually have to endure! It is 
written with the verve, the clarity and the humour of Swift. It is learned 
and not pedantic. It is an unpretentious, yet totally committed, attempt to 
understand the human condition - nothing less.' - Maurice Bloch, LSE


anyway, you get the idea. It's been fairly well received.

5) My external reviews were uniformly positive.

6) I am one of the most popular undergraduate teachers in the department 
and have strong support from the graduate students, who produced an 
unprecedented volume of letters on my behalf and are now campaigning to 
have me reinstated.

7) I am one of the only declared anarchists currently active in American 
academia, and probably the best recognized one.

8) Starting in 2001 my name began appearing in the papers as a spokesman 
for activist groups in the global justice movement - particularly the 
Direct Action Network in New York. also the ACC, Ya Basta!...

9) During the protests against the World Economic Forum in New York in 
2001, I was widely quoted (actually, misquoted mostly, but that's another 
matter) as an anarchist spokesman. Certain right wing Yale alumni began a 
letter-writing campaign demanding I be fired.

10) When I returned from my 2001-2002 sabbatical researching a book on 
direct action and direct democracy in the global justice movement, some of 
my senior colleagues were no longer speaking to me. Some have continued to 
refuse to say hello to me in the hall or speak to me in any circumstances 
not required by their official functions ever since.

11) The anthropology department is wracked by notorious and bitter 
divisions over graduate student unionization and the same small number of 
senior faculty who seem most publicly hostile to me are also notorious in 
their hostility to the union. This year one of them led an attempt to expel 
a very brilliant and accomplished graduate student, who also happened to be 
a major union organizer, from the department. I was the one member of her 
committee who openly stood up to those demanding that she leave the 
program, and aggressively defended her. With the help a number of other 
decent and principled faculty members we were successful, despite tensions 
surrounding a week-long strike that was being called at that time. The 
student - who is soon going to be going public with this story - and the 
union are convinced this was the primary reason I was targeted.

You can put the pieces together as you care to. But when a popular teacher 
and extremely well-recognized scholar who happens to be an anarchist is 
suddenly fired, with no explanation, from an elite university, after 
defending a union organizer, in the context of a major strike, in an 
extremely irregular fashion... well, it seems not unreasonable to assume 
that there might have been a political element involved.

Can't prove it though. David



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