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Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
No Need To Shout
From David Graeber, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology--
Academics love Michel Foucault's argument that identifies knowledge and power, and insists that brute force is no longer a major factor in social control. They love it because it flatters them: the perfect formula for people who like to think of themselves as political radicals even though all they do is write essays likely to be read by a few dozen other people in an institutional environment. Of course, if any of these academics were to walk into their university library to consult some volume of Foucault without having remembered to bring a valid ID, and decided to enter the stacks anyway, they would soon discover that brute force is really not so far away as like to image -- a man with a big stick, trained in exactly how hard to hit people with it, would rapidly appear to eject them.

In fact the threat of that man with the stick permeates our world at ever moment; most of us have given up even thinking of crossing the innumerable lines and barriers he creates, just so we don't have to remind ourselves of his existence. If you see a hungry woman standing several yards away from a huge pile of food -- a daily occurrence for most of us who live in cities -- there is a reason you can't just take some and give it to her. A man with a big stick will come and very likely hit you. Anarchists, in contrast, have often delighted in reminding us of him. Residents of the squatter community in Christiana, Denmark, for example, have a Christmastide ritual where they dress in Santa suits, take toys from department stores and distribute them to children on the street, partly just so everyone can relish the images of the cops beating down Santa and snatching the toys back from crying children (71-72).

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slanderous From: slanderous Date: March 10th, 2009 02:19 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Ugh, this seems like a real misreading of Foucault's body of work and academics who find him useful, and reminds me why I can't stand self-congratulatory whiteboy anarchists. "It's the big stick, stupid!"

It's not as if the Muslim academic who's writing about rendition and deportation (like my colleague) isn't aware of big sticks when he draws upon Foucault's lectures on security and race war. This excerpt also seems to deliberately misrecognize that a good number of critical race/feminist academics, for instance, might find notions of biopolitics and governmentality useful in considering histories of medicine and its scientific "objects" (e.g., gynecology's foundation upon enslaved women's bodies) or social work projects of uplift and empowerment aimed at "problem" populations of the poor, the immigrant, et cetera. These forms committed violence, too. It seems so "New Left" to insist that it only looks like a big stick.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: March 10th, 2009 02:46 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks for commenting! I agree that it's a misreading of Foucault, as well as the way he's used by progressive intellectuals of the sort that you are thinking about. There are aspects of this sort of critique of academic work that appeal to me, I freely admit. And there are things about Graeber's book that I really like. This particular passage is a cheap shot, however, which explains my subject header.
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