David Graeber- Indigenous Perspectives on the Modern State

LSE SU Terra, an indigenous rights group at LSE who I have the pleasure of knowing and sometimes working with, organised Indigenous Genius week last week. There was a string of events- talks on ‘The Dread’ of New Zealand, a meeting with Nixiwaka Yawanawá, an indigenous Amazonian working with Survival International, and a panel debate on whether ‘Development=Progress?’. 

One of the most enjoyable was this- a talk from the anthropologist David Graeber on ‘Imagining Alternatives: Indigenous Perspectives on the Modern State’. We managed to record it, and you can have a listen here. It’s a chatty, entertaining talk where David upturns all sorts of logics about ‘indigenous people’, people in general, and the world’s history. 

My favourite bit being: ‘So we have these hierarchical state-like formations, urban civilisations [in North America] that collapse and two generations later, European settlers turn up and basically find these hippies; extremely egalitarian, individualistic people who want to be one with nature, and nobody puts these two things together’ 




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First Meeting and Structure

On Wednesday 13th November 2013 we had a great first meeting, chewing over Ingold’s ‘Rethinking the Animate, Reanimating Thought’  and exchanging interests and ideas for the structure of future meetings: What do we want to know about? Why? How do we access this knowledge? Do we care just about examples from past and present human experience, or do we want theory? How do we maintain themes from month to month to help ourselves learn something deeper?

The result was this, a template for all future meetings’ content:


Start with a story. This can be a myth from the society we’re looking at, an account of events, some quotes from a conversation or a snippet from an ethnography. It should provide an entertaining and engaging introduction to what we’re going to look at: how did this story come to be? How, and in what context, does it make sense?


The presenter then fleshes out the context of the story: Where is it happening? In what kind of natural and social environment does it take place? What is the history of these people? What political situation are they entangled with? How do they get their food?


If there’s a theory presented in the reading, or one the presenter thinks is relevant, this is outlined. How have people tried to frame this way of thinking about the environment?  We always leave this for last, we want to engage with the ‘raw’ material before trying to fit it into some kind of structure.


Then we talk. What does it remind us of? How do we make sense of it? Where else could it make sense? Basically, what’s going on?

If you want to join a meeting, check our ‘Upcoming Events’ schedule at the bottom of the page (we meet on the second Wednesday of the month) and come along.
Presentations and discussions remain informal, open and in plain English: Surrounding Thought should be engaging and informative for anyone who fancies dropping in.
If you can’t, a summary of the content and discussion will be posted on here the next day.

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