Theorizing Debt for Social Change
Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization 13(3): 659-673, 2013
15 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2014
Date Written: 2013
Review of: Graeber, D. (2011) Debt: The First 5000 years. Melville House Publishing: New York. (HB, pp.534, US$22.00, ISBN 9781933633862).
David Graeber’s 2011 book, Debt: The first 5000 years, has received a great deal of attention in academic, activist, and popular media venues (see Hann, 2012; Kear, 2011; Luban, 2012; Meaney, 2011). Graeber himself has been credited as instigator and theorist of the Occupy movement (Meaney, 2011); and one of the central goals of Graeber’s book – a crossover book intended for a broad readership – is clearly to support detachment from the sense of moral obligation too many people feel to pay financial debts to financial institutions that feel no reciprocal obligation. As debt now plays a leading role among the strategies of capital accumulation (deployed to strip assets from variously targeted populations) and as our sense of moral obligation can only be accounted as an instance of what Lauren Berlant calls ‘cruel optimism’, that is, an attachment that will be self-undermining, Graeber’s effort is commendable.
Keywords: debt, community, exchange, Occupy Wall Street
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