Direct Action: An Ethnography Summary Notes of Ch. 7,8,9,10

Chapters 7, 8, 9, 10 from Graeber, David. Direct Action: An Ethnography. Oakland: AK Press, 2009. Print.

David Graeber’s ethnography follows the social world of the “global justice movement.” Chapter 7 details the NYC Direct Action Network’s approach to conducting consensus-based decision making trainings. For DAN, and anarchist groups in general, Graeber explains,consensus is an alternative to violent coercion and voting. Graeber next discusses what direct action is, what those actions are, and the key elements make that make up these actions. The purpose for these protests is to create zones of autonomy, build communities, and build allegiances with other progressive groups. Graeber moves from action to how anarchist groups and events are represented by other communities: corporate media, law enforcement, and writers in general. Graeber’s point is that everyone has their own account of what happen. Those who benefit the most from these accounts lie. This discussion leads into Graeber’s theory on how violence and imagination work together.

The titles of the chapters we read for Tuesday can best be understood when we look at the names of the first six chapters. Before Graeber offers longer and more descriptive titles. I haven’t read any of these chapters, but I think Graeber starts with a broad history, then moves to broad descriptions of activism in general before ending on what I take to be the main components of direct action, components that link together. Meetings lead to actions, but when you take action publicly you find yourself in an arena of representation. Imagination seems to be the fuel for everything, the foundation for any kind of action, especially violence. For Graeber, we need an alternative to violence and it requires real creative thought to find those alternatives to make change happen in society.

This book is very different from last week’s boo, Persuasion and Social Movements. Last wee’ks book presented an objective, neutral take on social movements. In fact, these authors seemed to be outsiders–scholars observing history and current events to draw conclusions on the rhetorical value of social movements. Graeber comes from the inside of anarchist groups. His ethnography is just as argumentative. He admits his bias, and  his description of the philosophy that guides direct action addresses the public’s misunderstanding of global protest movements. As I understand, Graeber contends that although these groups challenge the status quo, it isn’t a danger to society but rather the institutions that oppress other people. Note the language of his book–it’s not academic. It’s written in the vernacular; it’s written for the public. Unlike Persuasion and Social Movements, which is written for upper level undergraduate courses and graduate students.

I’m approaching these two texts from standpoint of methodology. I’m taking a methods seminar now, so I’m in this mode to see everything in terms of method and theory. What’s the more effective approach in helping us as graduate students (and the public) understand social movements? Graeber or Steward and company? Does Graeber help us better understand social movements because he comes from a different position and uses a more descriptive “on the ground” book? How does Stewart and company’s rhetorical framework for studying social movements as communication complement or contradict Graeber’s book? What are the limitations and affordances of these two methods in helping us understand social movements?

Published by aabyrd

I'm the instructor for WCATY's Media Studies in a Digital Age course for Summer 2015.

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