Posts Tagged ‘david graeber’

I spent the weekend in Tübingen at a conference organised by John Weisweiler on Debt: the first 3500 years, exploring different aspects of the ideas presented by David Graeber in Debt: the first 5000 years within ancient contexts, from early Babylonia to the early Islamic period; programme can be downloaded here, or follow my attempts at pithy summary on Twitter under #Debt3500. My initial reaction to the idea was that it’s amazing no one had thought of doing this before. It’s not just that Graeber’s book offers some provocative ideas about the roles of debt and money in shaping human relationships (above all, different forms of dependence) that seem well worth exploring in the context of antiquity, but also that the periods we ancient historians are concerned with play a significant role in his overall schema of historical development – this is the Axial Age, in the phrase he borrows from Karl Jaspers, where world-changing intellectual developments went hand in hand with far-reaching economic and social changes, with dramatic implications for everything that then followed up to the slow-motion car crash of contemporary capitalism. (more…)

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I’m a participant in an online seminar in David Graeber’s Debt: the first 5,000 years, a book that I heartily recommend. I also heartily recommend the debate, at http://crookedtimber.org/, but since it is primarily focused on economics and politics I thought I would also reproduce my contribution – I assume I was asked primarily as an ancient historian to comment on the historical dimension of the book – here.

David Graeber’s Debt is, in the most positive sense, rather an old-fashioned book, in its conception and approach if not in its matey and approachable style.  It ignores disciplinary boundaries within the human sciences, especially those between economics, history and social studies, in a manner that recalls polymaths like Max Weber or the free-wheeling early years of political economy with figures like Smith and Malthus.  In its search for the connecting thread between an astonishing diversity of cultural practices and texts from across time and space, it resembles the early classics of speculative anthropology – not Malinowski but J.G. Frazer.  In its ambition to offer an account of the trajectory of the whole of human history, it undoubtedly runs the risk of being confused with the likes of Jared Diamond or Niall Ferguson, but it strikes me rather as in the vein of Arnold Toynbee, not least in the weight of scholarship that underpins this work of imaginative reconstruction. I feel the need to stress again that I don’t offer these comparisons as a criticism… (more…)

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