Interview with David Graeber

Ellen Evans and Jon Moses in The White Review:

ScreenHunter_03 Dec. 09 17.44His most recent book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, which explores an alternative history of money and markets that is steeped in violence and oppression, has been described by Bloomberg Business Week as providing ‘an intellectual frame and a sort of genealogy’ for the occupations. Meanwhile, in recent articles and interviews Graeber has been particularly vocal on the point of demands, or more specifically the lack of, from OWS and its ilk – a strategy the media has remained utterly baffled by, insisting it to be antithetical to the change they seek, and using it as evidence of the protestor’s ‘lack of clear aims’ or understanding.

Instead, Graeber has put the spotlight on the anarchist principles of the Occupy movement, explaining that the lack of concrete demands is part of a pre-figurative politics. The protestors act as though they are ‘already living in a free society’, and thus refuse to accept the legitimacy of existing political institutions and legal order – both of which, he says, are immediately recognised in the placing of demands.

The White Review — Could you tell us a little bit about your life, your parents and your family background?

David Graeber — I grew up in a cooperative in New York – in Manhattan, Chelsea. My father was a plate stripper and my mother was a garment worker. My mother had also been the female lead in a musical review entirely made up of garment workers called Pins and Needles. The play became a hit on Broadway, so she was a star for three or four years —and then had to go back to being an ordinary person again. My father was working class, but I guess we were what’s sometimes described as working class aristocracy – book-lovers, engaged in an artisanal kind of skilled labour – but we never had money. I found this background was a great impediment, especially in grad school, because it meant while I usually knew far more about, say, the Oresteia than the bourgeois students, I was completely lacking in professional manners.

More here.