Direct Action: An Ethnography
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Anthropologist David Graeber undertakes the first detailed ethnographic study of the global justice movement. The case study at the center of Direct Action is the organizing and events that led to the one of the most dramatic and militant mass protests in recent years—against the Summit of the Americas in Québec City. Written in a clear, accessible style (with a minimum of academic jargon), this study brings readers behind the scenes of a movement that has changed the terms of debate about world power relations. From informal conversations in coffee shops to large “spokescouncil” planning meetings and tear gas-drenched street actions, Graeber paints a vivid and fascinating picture.
Along the way, he addresses matters of deep interest to anthropologists: meeting structure and process, language, symbolism and representation, the specific rituals of activist culture, and much more. Starting from the assumption that, when dealing with possibilities of global transformation and emerging political forms, a disinterested, “objective” perspective is impossible, Graeber writes as both scholar and activist. At the same time, his experiment in the application of ethnographic methods to important ongoing political events is a serious and unique contribution to the field of anthropology, as well as an inquiry into anthropology’s political implications.
David Graeber is an anthropologist and activist who teaches at the University of London. Active in numerous direct-action political organizations, he has written for Harper’s Magazine and is the author of Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value, and Possibilities.
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international events, on the grounds that they are likely to provide a perspective their readers feel comfortable with. 128 Normally I have not been citing direct quotes from smaller meetings like this, not open to the public. However, this particular meeting was being filmed by Alexis for his documentary, and everyone involved had agreed to this. 129 Many of the arguments contained in this section I later adopted into an essay called “On the Phenomenology of Giant Puppets,” that has
their “show the text” action in Ottawa. We show up at the border, we tell them politely that we’re going to join the protests in Ottawa; we get turned back; we hold a press conference. Explain to them this is what we have to do to get any media attention. That’s pretty much it. To make this work, though, we’re going to need lots more people at the meetings. We only got three or four last time. I’m going as Bush, Nicky will be a dollar bill. Julie from the Urban Justice League is going to be a
exists.” Apparently, tensions between the trainers had been the spark. The training, held on a UVM campus soccer field, had actually drawn a fair-sized crowd, perhaps fifty all told, and that was on the first day of the convergence when not many people had arrived. There was a kind of vast foam party as everyone played around with different sorts of possible body-armor, then the idea was to have everyone practice group formations in their newly created gear. That was where things began to fall
the “10:15 meeting.” “Plan B” Then, something interesting starts happening. Somehow, it’s not at all clear when, the plan for a Ya Basta! meeting transmogrifies into something else. It becomes a meeting, sponsored by Ya Basta!, for everyone who feels stifled by the structure of the spokescouncil, and who wants to talk about strategies for actually getting through. When I first walk into the room, I’m startled: there’s at least sixty people already around the table, a pretty substantial
near the port several kilometers away. The parade was supposed to set out at noon, marching to the summit; we’ve definitely missed that. Anyway, I’m reluctant to head that far from the city without knowing how I’m going to get back. She offers to drop us both off at the IMC, where Heidi has to do a radio show. We agree to meet with the rest of our group at the party under the highway in the Green Zone that evening, and I head up toward the park to see if I can find La Resistance. 3:20PM,