David Graeber, a man who wore many hats, an anthropologist, activist, and author of best-selling books on jobs, economy, and society including Debt: The First 5,000 Years and Bullshit Jobs: A Theory has died aged 59 in a hospital in Venice, Italy.
His wife Nika Dubrovsky informed about this death through twitter.
Yesterday the best person in a world, my husband and my friend .@davidgraeber died in a hospital in Venice.
— Nika Dubrovsky (@nikadubrovsky) September 3, 2020
Graeber was until yesterday active on twitter and had posted a video on YouTube on 28 August saying that he had been feeling “a little under the weather” but that he was also beginning to feel better.
Graeber was a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. He was one of the leading figures of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Movement also credited to have coined the famous ‘We are the 99%’.
He has done extensive anthropological work in Madagascar, writing his doctoral thesis (The Disastrous Ordeal of 1987: Memory and Violence in Rural Madagascar) on the continuing social division between the descendants of nobles and the descendants of former slaves.
Debt: The First 5,000 years and Bullshit Jobs
Debt: The First 5,000 Years the book was published in 2011. The book explores the historical relationship of debt with social institutions such as barter, marriage, friendship, slavery, law, religion, war, and government; in short, much of the fabric of human life in society. It draws on the history and anthropology of a number of civilizations, large and small, from the first known records of debt from Sumer in 3500 BC until the present.
The book won the inaugural Bread and Roses Award for radical literature, and the 2012 Bateson Award of the American Society for Cultural Anthropology.
The New York Review of Books called the book “an encyclopedic survey...an authoritative account of the background to the recent crisis…an exhaustive, engaging, and occasionally exasperating book”.
The Globe and Mail said, “This is a big book of big ideas: Within its 500 pages, you’ll find a theory of capitalism, religion, the state, world history and money, with evidence reaching back more than 5,000 years, from the Inuit to the Aztecs, the Mughals to the Mongols”.
Much of Graeber’s recent scholarship has focused on the topic of nature of work and “bullshit jobs,” proliferated by bureaucracy and what Graeber calls “managerial feudalism”. One of the points he raises in his 2013 book The Democracy Project – on the Occupy movement – is the increase in what he calls bullshit jobs, referring to forms of employment that even those holding the jobs feel should not or do not need to exist. He sees such jobs as being typically “concentrated in professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers”.
In addition to his academic work, Graeber had a history of both direct and indirect involvement in political activism, including membership in the labor union Industrial Workers of the World, a role in protests against the World Economic Forum in New York City in 2002, support for the 2010 UK student protests and an early role in the Occupy Wall Street movement. He was a co-founder of the Anti-Capitalist Convergence.
Public Reaction to his Death
The news of his sudden demise saw an outpour of support from fans remembering him and how his impact on their lives.These include his colleagues, members of Labour party, UK to world leaders.
I am so sorry. This is so shocking. I counted David as a much valued friend and ally. His iconoclastic research and writing opened us all up to fresh thinking and such innovative approaches to political activism. We will all miss him hugely. I send my deepest sympathy.
— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) September 3, 2020
“Debt is the most efficient means ever created to take relations that are fundamentally based on violence and violent inequality and make them seem right and proper.” David Graeber, who passed away today. Here he is a few months ago on DiEM-TV https://t.co/rG78uNnA6i
— Yanis Varoufakis (@yanisvaroufakis) September 3, 2020
David Graeber was a rarity in the academy. He was a fantastic scholar but the ivory tower was never his residence of choice. He coined the term "we are the 99%". He was denied tenure at Yale for actively supporting grad students fighting to form a union. His loss is immeasurable. https://t.co/omI3NlTN5i
— Aisha Ahmad (@aishaismad) September 3, 2020
Shocked to my core to hear that David Graeber has passed away. He's been a teacher to so many of us, full of kindness and mischief and patience. I can't believe it. This is completely devastating.
— Ash Sarkar (@AyoCaesar) September 3, 2020
RIP David Graeber, a true friend of the Kurds and of revolutionaries around the world, an intellectual who put his words into action. He visited Kurdistan and spoke out about the Rojava revolution. He always came to Kurdish demos and was at our founding meeting. RIP Heval! pic.twitter.com/BgurjuYU5g
— Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign (@KurdsCampaign) September 3, 2020