Given the present air of social discontent spreading across the world, it seems apt that this weekend’s suggested reading explores both the dimensions of social disorder and resistance and where commentators and academics fit in the quest for social and global justice. David Graeber‘s book “Direct Action: An Ethnography” reflects on this issue within the context of the 2001 Summit of the Americas at Quebec City. Graeber, an anthropologist interested in activist networks, mass militant action and direct action movements, presents a detailed potrait of the dynamics of global resistance movements from the position of an ‘academic-activist’. Written in a clear, highly-evocative style, Graeber draws out the ‘lived experience’ of protest movements, illustrating the symbolism of resistance and the rituals of activism.
In addition to eliciting a vibrant discussion on the dynamics of social movements, Graeber’s work provides a strong argument for a reconsideration of the nature of academic research into social justice issues. Criticising the language of ‘academic objectivity’ and the image of the academic research as ‘participant-observer’, Graeber argues that a serious engagement with social justice makes ‘being objective’ impossible.
Theoretically, Graeber’s work combines critical pedagogical ideals of ‘situated knowledges’ with Clifford Geertz’s notion that researching a social group does not mean penetration, it means standing in the group’s way and allowing them to enmesh you (Geertz “After the Fact: Two Countries, Four Decades and One Anthropologist”).