David Graeber died unexpectedly this week, aged only 59. Author of Debt the First 5000 Years (2011), and Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2018), the key achievement in his anthropological career was his provocative intellectual engagement with wealth and social inequality, questioning the dominant economic paradigms of our time through rigourous anthropological and historical investigation. Additionally, Graeber walked the talk, writing his first book Debt, the first 5000 Years while contributing to the organisation of Occupy Wall Street. He became a prominent figure in the movement, being credited with the popularisation of the phrase “we are the 99%”.
Graeber faced tensions in academia for his activism. His criticism of capitalism is what he attributed to his Associate Professorship at Yale not being renewed in 2005. However, he went on to have a successful career in Britain, and at the time of his death, was a professor at the London School of Economics. Managing to straddle activism and sound anthropological research has earned him a name well beyond the discipline of anthropology. His works on kingship and economic and political anthropology earned him a name as one of the most important anthropological thinkers of our time. He remained a vocal supporter of many causes including the Corbynist UK social movements and the Kurdish revolution in Rojava.
His marriage of political activism with anthropology was an inspiration to many. As students who will drive the future of the discipline, we will surely continue to be inspired by his work.
His future contributions will be missed, but his legacy lives on.
Vale David Graeber.
The Australian Network of Student Anthropologists (ANSA) Executive for 2020
Hanne, Bronwyn & Leela