We are shocked and saddened to learn of David Graeber’s death. David was a hugely influential anthropologist, political activist and public intellectual. He was a person with so many facets that it is only by opening up this space to a community of remembrance that we can engage with his legacy.
His brilliant work ranged from studies of Madagascan funerary practices, magic, bureaucracy, financialisation to kings, puppets and pirates. Each conversation with him, and reading of his work, took us on a new path. Striking against learned ignorance everywhere he criticised the banal cruelty of debt, bullshit jobs and the devaluation of our humanity. We also remember him as full of humour and quizzical challenge, encouraging us to take risks and think differently. For us all, perhaps, he was what an anthropologist should be—a messenger of other possibilities.
Professor Laura Bear
Head of Department, LSE Anthropology
LSE Anthropology are holding an open space commemoration for David on Wednesday 16th September from 4:30-5:30 via Zoom.
Please sign up on Eventbrite here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/commemoration-david-graeber-tickets-120219751513
Indeed, Prof. David Graeber was an insightful and courageous anthroplogist whom we in the academic world would live to miss. My condolence go to his wife and family, as well as his collaegues, and it’s hoped that his most daring students would continue the magnificent work which has been cut short by his untimely death.
I deeply sad to know that Prof. David Graeber has left us. I was one, of many students, at Goldsmtihs who admired him for his personality and pedagogical inspiration.
I would like to give my condolences to his family and his friends.
David, we love you and miss you deeply already. But you will continue to be a guiding light in your thoughts and actions, a star in these dark times.
I first met David at Goldsmiths as a student then had the joy of knowing him at the LSE. He was an intellectual giant. Unique in that he was brilliant but always open to talk to anyone. Humble, funny and radical. On the front line with students David inspired many movements of resistance. His ideas will live on, his voice prophetic.
Rest In Power Professor. X
What I’m already missing about David are all the amazing projects he was always about to complete, the change he would have brought about, the ways in which he would have remade us through his thinking, passion and sheer humanity.
As a department bureaucrat always nagging David about a task he needed to complete or a deadline he had missed, I sometimes worry I might have helped inspire some of his recent work. Despite this, he only ever showed kindness and warmth to me, coming to the office to share his food, ideas and amazing anecdotes. The office won’t be the same without you, David. I’ll miss you, but like Proust with his madeleines, I’ll remember you every time I eat one of your favourite Choco Leibniz.
Oh that’s lovely.
A brilliant, stimulating colleague. His enthusiastic laughs in moments of recognition, his witted and quirky links to Soviet astronauts or telepathic communication, and his longish digressions on pirates and kings … I will miss having you around David.
I was shocked to hear of David’s death, it is a huge loss. I read his book on debt with absolute awe, it is a masterpiece that will resonate for many, many years to come. He was a brilliant and original thinker.
I did not have the pleasure of being taught by David- I had already graduated by the time he joined LSE- but he was always friendly and receptive to all of my questions about his books, and many of the things I believe in today are guided by them
I remember, in my first few years of uni, finding a newly-minted copy of “Debt: The first 5000 years” in the State Library of Victoria and being blown away by it’s combination of dense historical analysis, social critique, and humor. This year, Bullshit Jobs gave me a framework through which to understand the soul-crushing, guilt-inducing phenomena of well-paying jobs that no-one (not even the people doing them) think should exist. It’s a book with an unexpected power to comfort anyone who has found themselves in a Bullshit Job.
Thank you, David, for your work.
David’s death leaves a hole in activism and social critique and my sympathies go out to his wife and family.
David had the uncommon ability to write clearly and profoundly about almost everything. He was an eclectic, surprising, and exhilarating thinker … He had the uncanny ability to help us see the world for what it is and for what it could be. His writings always made me think and change, that’s more than one can wish of a colleague and a teacher. If there’s any consolation is that there is still so much there to read and learn, and share, but the world will never be the same without his courage and discernment. The loss is for all the years to come where his perspective will be missing and is direly needed, but we will have to imagine it and do it justice. Love and solidarity to Nika and his closest friends. And, gracias, David Graeber, you will be a shining reminder of the wonders of our discipline. One cannot lose faith if touched by your writings.
You left us so soon David. I will never forget your unparalleled combination of analytical skill, political optimism and humane fellowship with people from all walks of life. It is heartbreaking to know that you are gone, so suddenly and prematurely.
But your intellectual, activist and humane legacy inspire us all to keep struggling for the demise of an exploitative capitalist world order that continues to bring suffering and deaths to billions of people around the world.
Rest in peace comrade David, we will not forget you or your wisdom.
David’s tragic and untimely death is a terrible loss for us all. He was a hugely talented intellectual whose work – on value, debt, bureaucracy, kings, BS work and more – illuminated so much for us within anthropology, yet he also had the rare gift of being able to reach a wide non academic audience, communicating complex ideas with lucidity and humour. He believed passionately that the world could be a better place and through his activism showed us how anthropology, and the ideas that it generates might be put to real political use. As a teacher he cared deeply about his students, inspiring them to think about and see the world differently. His office door was always open, and more often than not his room was filled with students who had dropped by to talk. It’s hard to imagine the department without him. Rest in Peace, David. We will miss you.
Dearest David, comrade, colleague, revolutionary thinker. We loved you dearly, we will miss you sorely. Presente!
Liking someone and sharing their politics can encourage over-statement at times like this. David Graeber always seemed to be making or holding space for other people, prioritising those with less power than himself. Listening to him speak could be a magical mystery tour, full of digressions and unexpected turns, but also of new connections, sharp insights and wry humour. In the midst of all his other hard work and achievements it’s not just that he tracked down and mortally wounded some of the founding myths of our society – debt, bullshit jobs – and some more modern shibboleths – calling out bad faith attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, for instance) – it’s that he did it not with triumph and fanfare, but with a shrug and an eye-roll. He understood that it’s not enought to eviscerate the sales pitch of the hucksters of the 1%, the people selling us unending debt peonage, drudgery and environmental catastrophe. We also have to understand that they are neither that smart nor unassailable, that it seems darkest just before dawn. David bought light, power, hope and solidarity to millions. In remembering him, we can commit to following his example. Rest in power, David.
Nika his wife must be in all our thoughts. David and I had planned months ago for us to meet in our neck of the Portobello woods, but kept not making a firm arrangement. Only 59. Whatever killed him cut short the promise of one who had already done much more than any other of us anthropologists could hope to do. Like others I admired the books by him that I had read, but held in reserve the fact that by choosing anarchism he avoided dealing with state power. Anarchism is attractive. His doubly because it was a committed activism and that demands great respect. As a former rebel and from my own commitment to a critical anthropology i think he recognised in me a fellowship. In any case we would meet and talk, sometimes at length, over or after lunch at the School. Once he gleefully shared the quotes on his laptop from people who had responded to his invitation to give testimony about their bullshit jobs.
Cheerful, funny, and with a distinctive dress sense. I enjoyed his company and kept a lookout for his latest waistcoat. Very sad to lose him.
I knew David almost entirely through reading his work. It greatly broadened the Anthropological terrain for us all and reminded non-specialist audiences that Anthropology had something to say about a very wide range of issues. I am immensely sad that that wise flow of insight has now ceased. RIP David.
David was a magical thinker, and his work on Wittgenstein and Frazer on magic, published only on his website for reasons he partly explains there, was a wonderful foil for my own thinking on that theme. I had already discussed some of his ideas on early human history with him, and I was extremely grateful to him for giving time to me and my own developing thoughts on magic over the last year. I am glad that the work I am doing now engages with his, and honours his fiery spirit
As a fresh faced first year, I had no certain idea of what my anthropology degree or indeed anthropology as a whole could or would bring to my life. My very first encounter with David confirmed not only the power of the discipline but that this was exactly what I wanted to be doing. That something could have such political, sociological, global impact, yet always champion and never forget that it is our humanity and human-ness that must remain at the epicentre of it all. Thank you David for all that you taught me. You truly showcased the sheer power of anthropology.
Everything I ever read by David Graeber was consciousness-raising. For scope, depth and humanity I can’t think of another author’s work which matches. Even among those who never met him, such as me, he will be missed.
A terrible blow – I still can’t believe that David, a site of such dynamic force in the world, is suddenly gone. I have known and respected him all my anthropological life, and his death is the loss of a near age-mate in initiation. We first met at graduate school thirty or more years ago, and I still remember our first conversation in the entryway of Regenstein Library at Chicago. Fittingly, like a bookend to that first memory, I also recall the day he printed his doctoral dissertation for final submission and walked it around Haskell Hall in a box, showing it to everyone like the proud father of a new-born baby. That was the beginning of what has tragically been cut short, but he achieved more in his too-brief career than most in a lifetime. What will always remain for me is David’s smile, the distinctive twinkle in his eyes – a sign of his catalytic energy.
I had the privilege of teaching with David as one of his class teachers. David was usually incredibly over-extended. Yet somehow, in-between speaking at public events or welcoming podcast hosts in his office or giving evidence to parliament committees, he’d always make time for preparing to teach. He was an accomplished writer and activist, yes, but also a riveting teacher. He cared deeply about his students, as well as about the welfare of the academic precariat. He liked treating his class teachers to good food. Conversations with him inspired me to remain committed to anthropology. Thank you, David — you will be greatly missed.
‘He cared deeply about his students, as well as about the welfare of the academic precariat. He liked treating his class teachers to good food’.
Beautiful comment. Maybe another world *is* possible…
David was an inspiring teacher. He was the reason I decided to study Social Anthropology at LSE, and is the reason I am doing my masters. Every lecture and class made me question daily life. I remember one particular lecture when he was late and he rushed in with the reasoning “I was debating with someone on Twitter about whether I perform witchcraft in my flat”. He will be sorely missed, what a guy.
David will be missed and remembered by his students as an extravagant and extraordinary teacher and mentor. His lectures and the conversations I had with him were often both confusing and inspiring. His untimely and sudden death is shocking and confusing, and the sadness of losing him will last; but so will the inspiration he spread.
Thank you David, you will be missed!
The first thing I read of David was his Malinowski lecture, which starts off with the bureaucratic absurdities of seeking power of attorney for his mother, and ends asking whether the violence of bureaucracy also applies to anthropological knowledge. Against those who saw in the writings of Evans-Pritchard some kind of Foucauldian panopticon, David pointed out that EP carefully avoided giving the British colonial authorities the information they wanted, at the same time used his knowledge of local society to prevent the more ‘idiotic abuses’ of the colonial officials. ‘As an ethnographer’, David wrote, ‘he ended up doing something very much like traditional women’s work: keeping the system from disaster by tactful interventions meant to protect the oblivious and self-important men in charge from the consequences of their own blindness.’
Sentences like this one embody David’s kind of anthropology: witty and sharp, he had a way with words like no one else, and all of a sudden what you always knew appeared in a new light. At the time, I was doing fieldwork in China and my supervisor Stephan Feuchtwang mentioned David’s Malinowski lecture in an email and pointed out how the powerless are always better in empathising with the powerful than the other way round. This was the case between villagers and officials where I was doing fieldwork; but other than recognising its truth, I didn’t quite know what to do with the idea. David later re-worked and clarified what he liked to call ‘the lop-sided structure of the imagination’ and it is a tragedy that the ‘revolution of the caring classes’ was only outlined in interviews and brief essays.
David was the ‘consummate anthropologist’, his teacher, friend, and co-author Marshall Sahlins said in a blurb. His writings on value, on kingship, and on money have revived anthropological classics and shown their lasting importance for today’s world. Always brimming with new ideas, and there were so many more he hadn’t fully put into writing: only recently he told me about a lecture on the origin of property in the sacred, another essay on the importance of play, and a longer treaty on the core role of sacrifice for politics. The only comfort at this moment is that there is actually a lot of his published work that only few have read – I for one look forward to reading his monograph The Lost People, the long essay on pirates, and the book he just finished together with David Wengrow.
David and I co-taught several courses over the years, and we were supposed to teach together this academic year. He surely was not born to be an administrator, but then his irreverence to any hierarchy always had something refreshing. And he was an incredible teacher, inspiring everyone who listened: For one course a few years ago he put Gregory Bateson’s Naven on the reading list, and over the summer break read just about everything ever written on Naven. The lecture notes he prepared went to about a dozen pages for each week, full of his trademark humour and insight. For the last course we taught together, AN101, the introduction to anthropological theory for first-years, we had changed the course in light of many discussions about decolonizing the curriculum. One of the core ideas for teaching anthropological theory ‘in context’ that emerged was really an idea David had proposed earlier: we should start the course with the idea that anthropology is defined by curiosity – curiosity at the margins of empire. Here again, David just made it plainly obvious what mattered and why asking anthropological questions was the most exciting thing to do: because anthropology was based on curiosity, amazement, and wonder. Why are humans so different, and what are humans anyways?
It is such a shame he is not with us any longer.
I am not sure I have the right words. I met David about eleven months ago when I had my first office hours with him as my academic advisor. I remember waiting for him for about thirty minutes, and with the confusion and curiosity of a newcomer to anthropology, bombarded him with questions for the next 45 minutes. Every conversation with David watered my imagination and helped me think deeply about how to “fly and still land” as he’d tell me. Our last conversation in July was on militaries and ghosts, and the energies that circulate. David was a living ancestor and shall remain as so—an everlasting radical energy that guides us and that continues to live amongst us. He left us with a lot to think about and act upon.
Thank you David for all your care, honesty, guidance, and for modeling to many of us what committed activism looks like/is/ could be.
Rest in kindness.
Thanks for all your teaching and encouragement.
Miss u and always proud of being as your student.
A terrible loss to our community at the LSE, to Anthropology generally, to thinking deeply across the sweep of time, and to turning words into incisive political action. Completely unique, full of friendly chatter and daily inspiration – sorely missed – we will have to work harder now.
Having joined the department the same year as David, I was lucky enough to be taught by him many times over the years in the classroom, in the pub and through his open office door, even throughout my PhD journey. David had a knack for making his students feel heard and their ideas important and appreciated, something which I admired in him as a teacher and person. David was an intellectual giant, but more than that he was a genuinely kind person and a once-in-a-lifetime educator. I will remember him as he was alive, a witty conversationalist, full of incredible observations about the human condition, clad in eye-catching vintage attire, eating all of the crisps at social events. My thoughts are with your family. We will miss you and anthropology will forever miss you too.
This is such a great lose to all revolutionary souls on this planet. Thank you for your courage and inspiration, we will carry on!
Dear David, Comrade, friend and revolutionary thinker. May you rest in power and peace. Your commitment to brilliantly illustrate to us, anthropology could be, despite the perverse academic culture, continues to inspire us. Your passing is a deep and tragic loss, most of all, to the global struggle against capitalism, which you devoted yourself to, even in your academic world. May your ancestral spirit be our guide as we continue with this struggle.
Rest in power.
He was a man of uncommon originality, brilliance, and erudition, an excellent writter–who could push the boundaries of high theory with wit and grounded language, and no trace of pretensiousness or pedantry–and an incredibly insighful teacher. He wielded that ability often aspired to by anthropologists–rendering the familiar unfamiliar as a method of critique–with dazzling ease and sharpness.
Also, and not least, one of those rare senior academics who you could always count on to be in the frontlines.
His insight and presence will be sorely missed by all of us committed to making sense of, and transforming, this world.
You’ll be missed David. Rest in Peace and Power.
The year I joined the LSE Anthropology Department for my master’s degree, David Graeber was assigned to be the academic advisor for a lot of students. He was mine too, and thus I would go once in a while to his office with a bunch of fellow students to discuss our latest essay, anthropology related news, the cleaners strike or complain about the school politics. I was thrilled because his scholarship constituted one of the reasons I chose this school. I was also very intimidated by one of the most influential anthropologists of our time. But his kindness, his anecdotes, the warmth of his office with the carpets and the books everywhere created such an atmosphere that made everybody feel welcome and comfortable.
‘Bullshit jobs’ was published in 2018, and that was about the time I was at the LSE. One evening, as we had a Department event close to his office, a bunch of us somehow ended up in there. His office was full of boxes filled with ‘Bullshit job’ books that probably came out straight from the publishing house. At some point, a student asked if she could have a look at the book. David proposed to give it to her and to sign it. And then another student asked for the same thing. And another. Soon, students were queuing outside of his office for a copy, while David was giving them as if it was fresh baked bread that came right out of the oven. The reception room ended up being filled with all of us having our very own copy of ‘Bullshit jobs’ and laughing about it.
That was David Graeber’s effect. Like a good, witty and inspiring spirit above us that would bring us all together. I hope that the Graeber’s effect will live on through his scholarship in the years to come. May he rest in peace.
A true public intellectual, and friend of many. From London to Berkeley, David will be sorely missed.
David Graeber was a brilliant example of a radical scholar, writer, activist and public intellectual. I first encountered him via Occupy Wall Street, and later knew him through mutual colleagues, comrades and friends at LSE. I’m shocked to hear about his death and send my deepest condolences to his family and loved ones. He’ll be deeply missed but his work will continue to inspire scholars, students and movements around the world.
I am shocked to hear about David’s death, what a terrible loss. His energy, wit and activism combined with outstanding scholarship in unsurpassable ways. His presence made the School connect with something that today feels almost lost, almost intangible in its genuine form, academia in the world and for the world. My deepest condolences to his wife, friends and colleagues in the Department of Anthropology.
Saddened and shocked to hear about David’s death. 2020…what a year you have been!
David was a fantastic individual, but above all else, I will remember him as an incredibly kind man. I have lots of great memories of David, but one of my favourites is David meeting my mum at the MSc graduation reception in 2017. David approached us, and before he had a chance to introduce himself, my lovely mum congratulated him on graduating and asked him if he was happy with his results. I was speechless – my mother had just mistaken the great David Graeber for a graduate student, but he laughed and humbly re-introduced himself as one of my lecturers and said how proud she must be. I am thankful for the time he gave, often to generally catch up on shared friends and interests. It is an honour to have known him, and it goes without saying that the department will not be the same without him.
In any instance, knowing someone first as a teacher, then a friend, and then 15 years later, in a new country, as a colleague…in any instance, that is rare and special. When the person in question is David, it’s remarkable. I remember him as a teacher because he apologized when he returned my first paper—not because he gave me an A-, but because the paper had gotten wet; he had graded it in the bath! I remember him as a friend mostly because of his fierce commitment to those closest to him. David made friends but he also often made kin. I remember him as a colleague as one of the best minds of his generation. He was a giant in anthropology whose voracious reading and skill with words conveyed his deep love for the discipline. What a writer, my goodness. We will be catching up with and learning from his work for years to come.
Alongside the other brilliant writings mentioned above we should remember one of my favourites: his book Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: the false coin of our own dreams. How many more books have we been deprived of by his untimely and shockingly early death? Good bye David…taken away too soon.
My condolences go to David’s loved ones. He was such a generous and brilliant person. I will remember him laughing. Rest in power.
Truly saddened by David’s death – for he was more than a brilliant scholar and a generous teacher but stands for a way of doing anthropology that is engaged, committed, meaningful and speaking boldly to critical issues in today’s world. I never interacted with him personally, but his books made me appreciate what anthropology can and should do, that is, take risks, speak clearly and for the little guy.
rimpianto e bisogno di leggere e studiare
il lavoro d D. Graeber ha portato nel mondo della ricerca passione e coraggio
Pier Giorgio Solinas
David’s untimely death, and the cessation of his sparkling, original and engaging writing, is a sad loss for Anthropology. His work both inspired and transformed people’s thinking, and encouraged many of us to hope that our research will support real change. His writing will live on, but his loss will be keenly felt by his family and friends, and by his colleagues far and wide.
David was a genuinely original voice, an inspiring public intellectual, and a mischievous presence in meetings. I remember him sitting, usually in a waistcoat, in his elaborately-carpeted office, talking and laughing, with an adoring line of students stretching down the hallway, waiting to see him. I cannot comprehend such a shocking loss – his death leaves a huge hole in our department, and in the lives of all his family, friends and students.
I’m pretty certain I would have not taken up a PhD in anthropology were it not for reading Fragments and Possibilities back in 2009, when I was taught by David at Goldsmiths. This says much about the influence he had on me at a personal level. On an intellectual level, it is hard to fathom the void his death leaves on anthropology and activism. He was adept like no one else at looking at other people’s worlds to shed insights into the possibilities of our own, and he did so with unparalleled eclecticism, wit and endearing playfulness. A mind like his, we are all aware, appears once in a century. Reading his work will be a constant reminder that humanity can be much more interesting than we usually think.
Truly saddened by David’s death – for he was more than a brilliant scholar and a generous teacher but stands for a way of doing anthropology that is engaged, committed, meaningful and speaking boldly to critical issues in today’s world. I never interacted with him personally, but his books made me appreciate what anthropology can and should do, that is, take risks, speak clearly and side with the little guy.
I never spoke to David. I always hoped to; I saw him often at lunchtime in the Senior Dining Room and felt sure that some time in the future I would work up the confidence to join him at a table and tell him how highly I regarded his activism, scholarship and public writing. I didn’t get the chance. So, in homage, I urge all of us not to wait. Instead, to share and enjoy our ideas at the table together.
What a mind. I love his essay on belief and the ontological turn–it had the ferocity and clarity of the debates that brought me into the field. He was one of the thinkers that made our field vital. He showed us that anthropology matters, that it has something to say in the cacophony of the disciplines. His commitment to being bold, being clear and being a voice to be heard should lead all of us in the years to come.
I can’t imagine the department without David. Sitting on the floor by the door of the Old Anthropology Library, half listening to the Friday seminar. Leading us mischievously through Turner and Foucault and Strathern in reading groups. Arriving late to seminars, offering sugar doughnuts in apology. Through David, I have been challenged to be more creative, more experimental, more engaged and more thorough. We have lost a force, a shatteringly brilliant mind, a generous teacher and a dear friend.
A lovely post xx
No anthropologist since Margaret Mead has had a similar influence to David Graeber. I feel privileged to have known him as both a teacher and comrade.
From ‘the 99%’ to ‘bullshit jobs,’ David bound together theory and practice, bestowing us with concepts that simultaneously made sense of the world, and charted a course to change it.
As well as a post-fieldwork teacher, David was a “mock-examiner” during the final stages of my PhD. I remember he just could not stop himself commenting on how much he liked my socks (which were bright orange with penguins on, so, of course, he loved them). He’d then return to glance at my chapter and he gave me such insightful sparkling comments that, soon, my writing was littered with footnotes crediting him for all the ideas I’d knicked.
But my last contact with him was just a three-weeks ago, when a Lebanese friend, involved in the ongoing uprising, wrote to me asking if I knew anyone who might be familiar with how to make police-proof concrete sleeves for protestor chaining themselves inside occupied government buildings. Naturally, I emailed David.
Rest in Power
It has been very hard coming to terms with the loss of David. He was so formative to my development as an anthropologist and a caring and wonderful friend. In the book that David always said was his first and his best, Lost People, he wrote that the fundamental measure of our humanity lies in what we cannot know about each other, and that to recognise another person as human would be to recognise the limits of one’s possible knowledge of them. David treated everyone with this basic humanity and it made encounters with him as unusual as they were challenging. I will miss every one of these.
David taught me the AN101 theory module so it could be said that he is the lighthouse leading my way to the field of anthropology. He was also my dissertation mentor. In my heart, he is one of the most extraordinary anthropologists in this contemporary world and arguably the most intelligent person of the our department. RIP My Professor. You are definitely a legend. How lucky I was to be mentored by you genius🌟
What an extraordinary ability to inspire thought and action in the world. What an exceptional – and often exceptionally funny – writer. What a reminder of what anthropology can do. Being his TA (with Teo Zidaru-Barbulescu) was an unforgettable experience. His lectures were frequently met with rounds of applause from the room of undergraduates, which was unsurprising given the wild flourishes with which they concluded. He was, as Teo says, uniquely kind and generous with his time, chatting with us about the history of anthropological theory – or about Corbyn’s Labour, or something else – between sips of his Vietnamese coffee at the place on Kingsway. He was a spark to those of us coming to anthropology – I never did return the copy of “Fragments” Giulio Ongaro lent me in the first year of our PhD – but also to those outside of it. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve said, in conversations with friends, partners, parents, “David Graeber’s got a really interesting take on that”, or sent a link to something David wrote.
Lovely post. Isn’t 2020 just the worst year ever? Condolences to everyone who has been touched by this loss (which is basically everyone).
Joining the department as a PhD student around the time of David’s arrival, it was exhilarating to discover that this voice that was so singular and inspiring in print was no different in person. He was so generous with his intellect, such that he always seemed to be heading somewhere to make a contribution. I shall never forget one impromptu graduate theory seminar that he held over boxes of sushi, at midnight, on the Strand. What I will remember most is his refusal of pessimism and his belief in the capacity of scholarship. He simply would not allow you to entertain the idea that a better world wasn’t possible. His passing is an immense loss.
What shockingly sad news. This is a tragic loss. I didn’t know David at all well, but was astounded by his incisive, creative and witty comments on Friday mornings. His status as an inspirational public intellectual bridging academia and activism offered a wonderful example of commitment to exploring the political imagination of anthropology. I will continue to engage with his ideas through his many works, but sadly can no longer look forward to engaging with him in person.
A tireless revolutionary, a brilliant mind, a prolific teacher, a kind and funny man….
It was an honour to have been his student.
Rest in peace!
I will miss David’s laughter, which came through the partition wall between our offices. Whenever he was in there with other people – students, journalists, fellow activists – he was audibly happy, deeply engaged and mischievously witty. I now wish I had taken more time to talk to him about Madagascar, about magic, games and much more. He was mesmerising when he spoke (apparently) off the cuff, and yet so coherently, taking you by surprise and forcing you to think hard. We’ll miss you, David, but we’ll share your stories.
I met David a handful of times, once we shared a platform fundraising for Greek workers at a Viome factory at the Horse Hospital. He was a generous and inventive thinker and his work will always accompany me. We lost a great thinker and comrade. The world is poorer without David. RIP.
I didn’t know David personally but just having him and his ideas floating around the LSE—particularly, for me, his thoughts on bullshit and class solidarity—made it an *infinitely* better place to be. The School (no, the world!) will be much impoverished by his too-early passing.
I’ve worked with David since we both joined the department around the same time in 2013. He was always kind and respectful, even when being told off by me for his tardiness in keeping office hours or being late for meetings. Because he was David I always forgave him immediately 😊
I’ll miss him walking into our office, usually in his socks and sporting tweed trousers accompanied by a cheerful waistcoat. I’ll miss him eating all our Ferrero Rocher’s and Choco Liebnitz whilst proclaiming he’s on a diet. I’ll miss him sitting down in the visitors chair next to my desk and regaling me at length with stories about his latest activities and projects and then ending considerately with ‘so how are you?’
Since he met Nika he’d been the happiest I’d ever seen him – I’m happy he found love and that he was surrounded by it when he left this world.
Shalom David, I hope your final journey was peaceful. I will miss you, you were a genuinely good person x
“The world is yours, so as ours,but
In the last analysis, yours”
the sun invariably strikes the clock
at eight or nine, see it, say as you may,
as you still are vaguely capable of utterance
As darted paintball rushes alertly over dead bodies
and about the other dead bodies
I read Debt Whilst doing my masters degree and went on to do a PhD on debt inspired by David’s work. He was a huge influence on my thinking and I was delighted to get to meet him in 2018 at a conference based around his work on debt. They say you should never meet your heroes-well, that didn’t apply! David was kind and generous with his time – not one of those academics who is looking over your shoulder to see if someone more important was there. He was engaging and encouraging and I feel very privileged to have met him.
One of the Beautiful Minds! David’s Departure is a Great Loss for Anthro-family. He will be Lived through his Works!
David led the writing-up seminar for one of my terms as a PhD student. I was nervous, not knowing what to expect, and the suspense grew for me when he didn’t make the first session (I think he was in southern Turkey). I was struck by his combination of humility as a reader and person around the table – he genuinely seemed to see himself as on our level – and his joyful enthusiasm, care, and insight when commenting on our work. It felt like he saw something of great value in our muddled first drafts, full of the unprocessed life of recent fieldwork (I wondered if that is partly what excited him). There didn’t seem to be a separation in his mind between supporting our development as anthropologists, or his, and that itself taught a very beautiful lesson. May his memory be a blessing.
David was a hero of mine. I am actually at a loss for words. What a FORCE, that man. What a loss.
As an undergrad, I was lucky enough to stumble across ‘Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology’. This randomly encountered and absolutely brilliant text blew my mind and helped to solidify my political orientation. One of the happiest days of my life was when I got to tell David this in person at the LSE senior dining hall. I was star struck when I saw him eating across the table from me, but I worked up the nerve to approach and introduce myself to him. He kindly bought me a coffee and we talked for an hour about being anarchists in our respective academic fields. It was a genuine honour to get to chat to him, and that will forever be one of my most cherished memories. The Far Left doesn’t have many heroes left, so this is an especially painful loss for many of us. Rest in peace comrade, and solidarity forever.
I have known David since I was a teenager and have been following his work and his activism. He was not only a genius, but also a fervid and dedicated activist who cared about society, values and people. This is a tremendous loss not just for LSE, but for the entire world. His life and his work will stand as an inspiration for many who already know him, and for future generations as well. Although he is gone, his legacy and spirit live on with us. We will never forget you, David.
I have long admired David, even been in awe of him. Since we were graduate students at Chicago, he was an inspiration and intimidation. He was funny, eccentric, principled, brilliant, and had an enormous capacity for work. His writing hummed and crackled with energy and intelligence, but also with his moral and political outrage. He just kept coming up with the goods, time after time, project after project. My condolences to his wife, family, friends, colleagues, students and other comrades. What a devastating loss.
Your life lamp has lit up many sleeping minds. And that spark will continue to shine.
This is such a hard loss.
I was reflecting on it, and I don’t think there’s a single anthropologist whom I’ve read more of than David Graeber. His ideas make up much of my mental map of anthropology as a discipline. His questions and insights shape much of my research. His place in public life was a constant reminder of how much we could be doing as intellectuals and activists. And the clarity of his writing and thinking was an inspiration, pushing as it did against the grain of our typically hard-to-read prose. I’m absolutely dismayed at his untimely passing. My condolences to those who knew and loved him.
It so sad to hear of the passing of a great mentor and friend. “PhD Supervisor” doesn’t really give justice to the intellectual care David Graeber gave to many, including me. It’s just too institutional! He was a genius of narrative and right now, it’s his witty and dark sense of humour that I am missing the most. My thoughts go out to his wife. Rest in Power, David.
Really saddend by his late passing. Think i may of come across him at occupy outside st pauls . an enlightened soul he could of had a big part to play in all our futures with the failure of politics all over the world and his understanding of the way humans and the system worked people would i feel be looking towards such people as him in the future for answers. i saw his last video on twitter were he looked exhausted and have been wondering weather he was passing on a coded message to all of us in his talk about writing a book about pirates? How they were press ganged and when they rebelled they were set free of the limitations of fear the state placed upon them. RIP david
We read ‘Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology’ in my undergraduate theory class at Colby College. Afterwards we all sat around chatting about it in the pub and someone said: ‘if this is what anthropology is and if you can do what this guy does as an anthropologist, then I want to be one!’
I didn’t come to LSE for my PhD because of David but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t delighted to find out he was here. You so rarely get to meet the people who inspired you to walk down a particular path when you were so young.
This year as one of the GTAs on his course, I found out that David was really generous on a personal level as well. He regularly invited us out for lunch and let me order big cake desserts (and I really like cake). He came to support me during my Friday seminar presentation that I was terrified of. He told us about the children’s books he was writing with his wife Nika and let us see the draft, which was shaping up to be hilarious and informative in equal measure.
As a lecturer students found David inspiring and also sometimes confusing:). I asked him to slow down on several occasions because he was dealing with first-years who had no idea who Foucault was, and he always tried…But then his mind darted off on some unforeseen path and we would suddenly find ourselves in the realms of American psychology or hearing a story from his travels. Looking back now I think that bit of confusion students experienced didn’t matter. First year undergraduates left his lectures laughing about his anecdotes, discussing his analyses involving werewolf and vampire stories and inspired by all the things he had done and said and written. And in the end isn’t that what they were meant to get out of their education?
I am glad that I got to meet someone who inspired my mind early in life, but most of all I am happy to have found out that someone whose books have changed a generation, really wanted to write a children’s book and was a person full of whimsy.
I’m not an Anthropologist, just a common reader. But I learned to love anthropology and economics through his work. I came back to anarchists ideas and trust in human social relationships because of him.
His passion, his wording, his brilliant thoughts that came up in every page of his books, what I knew of his activism, everything that I knew about him inspires me. As someone said above, Rest In Power.
So surreally sad. Like so many others I miss David already. He was an irreplaceable example of life and thought entwined. Good to know at least that, as for me, he will continue to inspire many and more to think better and live better lives.
After the Annual William Fagg Lecture (2016), given by Jean and John Comaroff, at the British Museum, I asked David how had it been for him being a working-class anthropologist in academia. He talked about his father joining the international brigades in Spain and working in a factory. My father had also worked in a factory. He talked about it in the press and to students at university. Academics coming from a working-class background have done extraordinary class journeys, and it is to be acknowledged, pretend not only leads to disintegration. He talking about this was helpful. I first met David walking against the increase of University students fees upon my return from fieldwork in London. He was already a renowned anthropologist. He met us all as persons and academics. His academic activism has translated into speaking out about issues close to our hearts- to know deeply how humans are like and also to improve humans lives. His anthropological work is both caring and human. He knew I enjoyed greatly Bullshit Jobs. I was expecting to tell him at this year’s Malinowski lecture that I had become a dv advocate. And that I had not found yet a way to stop being an LSE trained anthropologist. So I had decided I would continue being one. His book On Kings made obvious to me that we were anthropologically related, as both my thesis supervisor Michael W. Scott’s and David’s thesis had been supervised by Marshall Sahlins. David’s life is a call to be courageous and kind. David made me laugh so much. For all of this, I am grateful to him and I will keep him in my thoughts. His last twit says ‘Revolutionary constituencies always involved a tactic alliance between the least alienated and the most oppressed’.
David was a huge figure at LSE, challenging all of us to think differently. He was much loved by students and admired by his colleagues. His work will be a great legacy for current and future scholars and will continue to have impact around the world. We will miss him.
The departure of David Graeber, artisan and partisan of the 99%, hurts. I knew David mostly from his incomparable work, but was lucky enough to meet him a few times in person. In the early 2000s in Toronto, he once told me that he sees no contradiction between marxism and anarchism. The former is the theory, the latter is the practice, he said. I found this enormously provocative and useful, just like everything he’s written. In all of his words and deeds I have had the pleasure of encountering, he was incredibly generous and sincere–in addition to being brilliant and engaged. With David, I always felt like what you saw was what you got. We have lost a truly authentic and radical human being.
Very saddened by the unexpected passing away of such an inspiring contemporary. When I attended the first lecture with him at Goldsmiths in the late 00s, it was clear that he had many of the sort of insights I had expected anthropologists would have and his style was inimitable. I did not chose to officially enroll in his course because I found out that it was quite at odds with the other anthropological teaching, but would then sit in his classes. Many years later, what has had the deepest impact are his original and thought-provoking lectures, and every now and then I would turn to his work to find out what new relevant issues he would shed light onto. That he would no longer be able to accompany us bustling with ideas in challenging times, leaves a feeling of vacuum of intellectual hope. He will be missed.
David is revoluntionary anthropologist in our age. I am hugely inspired by his work on debt when reading for anthropology. He is alwasy so humourous and kind to us and so concerned about human beings. I am completely speechless and deeply sad for the loss of David. But afterwards, i believe he may not want endless sorrow of this news. Your work and spirit will continue to inspire many of us and will be carried on with love. Thank you so much David. With deepest love.
David was one of my best friends for the past 20 years and one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known. Beyond that, though, he was funny, kind, buoyant, generous, an innate caretaker. We lived together in New York until he was exiled to London full time, and I’ll never forget the comical way he spoke to my daughter when she was 2 and 3 and 4 as though she were a 30-year old. He never pandered, not to anyone, and least of all a child he promised me would grow up to change the world. Whenever I visited David in London he’d take me around LSE and introduce me to his wonderful friends there, and then we’d get a coffee and spend hours just writing or working in his office. We’ve both seen ourselves as anarchist academic outliers, so it was heartening to see David at a place he loved to work, with colleagues he respected and adored. Thank you for making that place a home for him. It was a privilege to spend time there. My heart aches, both selfishly and for the world, at this great loss.
I first met David when I happened to look out of my UCL office window one early evening and saw him holding up, what I later learnt, was Michael Gove’s chauffer-driven car on Gordon Square. I leapt out of my room and went down to assist him by holding his umbrella. I think he was grateful because afterwards we become friends and I found him to be hugely generous and a brilliant and innovative thinker, always prefiguring the world he wanted to come into being. What a terrible loss and how much we have to learn from him and his work.
The title of my first monograph based on my PhD was inspired by his work on Anarchy. I will miss talking to a fellow non-British anthropologist who found themselves calling England as their home and British probelms became our problems. He was an anarchist in practice. He never hesitated to turn his anthropological anarchist lens on his own industrial global north society to someone like myself from the global south which is so rare. Last I spoke to him, he was so excited about his interdisciplinary research on sea and the cargo cult. He was so bright and could talk endlessly on so many topics.
I could not believe the tragic until LSE officially released the breaking news. I was shocked and sad, even though I only had half-term supervision time with David during my short but lovely days in LSE social anthropology master programme. Supervisions/office hours were always short but hearty. From the perspective of a student who encountered anthropology three years ago and is still enjoying anthropological journey now, I would say, “thank you David, I feel lucky and proud of being one of your supervised students. You are great, smart, and brave, and really good to students.” Until now, I still keep my printed essays with his marks and keep those valuable memories in my mind. I don’t know your belief but I prayed for you to Buddha. Hope Buddha can send my message to any beings you believe. Rest in Peace. 大衛教授逝世的訊息讓人痛心，人類學界失去瑰寶。雖然教授和自己研究方向不同，日後會好好閱讀教授的著作。回向大衛教授，願他安息。🙏
I was fortunate enough to have David as my academic advisor, and lecturer, in my second year at LSE. Our group meetings scheduled for a short 15 minutes would extend far beyond our time slot. His passion and energy for so many areas of knowledge was contagious. I’ll never forget his humourous stance on the election campaign at the time. Thank you David – a great loss to the world of Anthropology.
David, always provoking us to think and feel in ways we couldn’t have imagined. That is how these last few days have felt, as I have tried to recognize your loss. I am sending deepest condolences to your wife (although we had not met) and closest friends and family. In recent years I’d connected with you most through your writing – reading, discussing with students, reading again, scribbling furiously on the page ‘YES’ at some of the ways you captured precisely what needed to be said, at other times furiously underlining ‘NO’. But peeling back the layers of memory (sometimes the texture of wallpaper, sometimes the smell of an onion) brings me to a dinner table in Brooklyn circa 2003, heated discussions about Maoism in form, content, and lived reality; a seminar room at Goldsmiths where I spoke in early 2011, followed by a long pub drink and talk of remoteness qua Zomia; and around that time, an ongoing conversation in person and over email about how to become a faculty member at Yale without becoming Yale. Positive and encouraging – despite, or perhaps because of, your experience, full of ideas about what more could be done, and survival strategies for doing it that shaped every day of my 3 years there, and echoed in my mind while leaving as nearly all you had predicted came to pass. Most recently, about a month ago, I reread Stone Age economics with your Foreword, and all of these memories came flooding back. I wondered when we would meet again, and here we are, in a manner other than expected, still learning.
David was the first person I met when I arrived at the University of Chicago to begin my doctoral studies. He was sitting in the mezzanine in Haskell Hall, and I joined him. After we realized we were both “new” students, he proceeded to tell me about his ideas on kinship. It was brilliant, dazzling, and fascinating (though, in truth, I did not understand some of it, perhaps much of it). We took many classes together, and he continued to dazzle everyone, when he chose to speak (while scratching the top of his head, further accentuating his already disheveled appearance). We were never close, but David was always unfailingly kind to me. Several years later, we ran into each other (on the mezzanine again). By then I was writing my dissertation and had a baby and a toddler. He told me out of the blue he had spoken to the department chair so I would get one of the coveted graduate student offices that were available. I did not receive an office but his gesture touched me profoundly. Aside from empathizing with my struggles to reconcile motherhood and dissertation writing, David was telling me that I mattered. That was hugely important, given the culture of sexism that prevailed in the department.
Always so inspiring and full of intelligent insights …still cannot believe it…
I am not an anthropologist, nor an LSE member. I haven’t met David in my 22 years of life once, not even a tweet. I am a computer science student from Turkey and nothing but a casual reader of his. Similarly, I come from a working/lower middle class background and I’m on my (merry) way into academia. There is a lot to be said about parasocial relationships here, but I won’t bother saying any. All I can say is how perplexing it is for me to be so heartbroken upon learning his passing. It hurt me, in the way that the passing of a distant but eccentric and inspiring uncle would. Few figures in the world could spark such an emotional response from me.
He helped me understand the value of human life, the joy of human play and the beauty of collective human action. He opened my eyes to the inconsistencies, delusions and misconceptions of the modern world and their incalculable costs to humanity, all through his writings and whatever piece of footage of him ends up on Youtube. His work was a beacon of light that guided me in finding myself and what I want to do with my life.
I can only imagine how impactful he would have been, have we met in person. I wish everyone here and all other close friends/colleagues of David patience and hope for a better future.
Such an untimely and enormous loss. I read his books avidly. I am so grateful for what I was able to learn from his writings. My condolences.
What a great loss for the world. I was lucky enough to have been taught by David during my Master’s at LSE. He was the main reason I chose LSE and his seminar on value was one of the most interesting courses I ever had throughout my student life. As many have said before, he was extremely kind and generous, he would come to us after his class and just stand with us and talk. During Occupy LSE, after the first night when some (mainly anthropology) students occupied the Vera Anstey Room, he was the first to come down and talk to us. He brought sushi.
To me, he was a true anthropologist in the sense of being able to translate his brilliant and always direly needed ideas to a wider community, sparking debate and fresh ideas not only within academia but profoundly touching everyday life and everyday people. His activism and commitment to his ideas is something that has deeply inspired me and guided me throughout my academic life. His greatest gift, I think, was his unfathomable ability to imagine. I am shocked and saddened by his sudden death, but knowing he touched so many lives and inspired generations of students to come, I am at least a little less sad. I will always remember his yellow waist coat and his kind laugh.
Rest in peace and power, dear David, we will continue your legacy.
It is sad to have to acknowledge that David is no longer with us. He was a good and decent person and he left fine evidence of that in his very quotable sentences. If anthropology has been desensitised to the ‘bigger questions’ since the 1980s, then we owe a huge debt to David for finding some of its numb spots. There are more than I had expected: I wonder at the silence of American anthropologists over the last three days. In my last long conversation with David we talked about his life as a North American transplanted in the UK, and about how he took assurance and pleasure at finding an intellectual home in LSE anthropology. David’s absence from our future is an incalculable loss. My condolences to your department and to his family.
It was so shocking to the learning of David’s expire only at 59. I had spent some wonderful time with David while I was a Visiting Scholar at the Department of Anthropology at LSE. It was always a pleasant and great moment for learning while I was spending time with David. I learned much more from his writings, thinkings, and dissent voice. As an anthropologist, a writer, and a public intellectual, David was one of the greatest figures of his time! RIP.
David was a brilliant colleague. He was always kind and jovial, full of original ideas and happy to share them. Running into him in a corridor, or after a meeting, you were guaranteed to have a stimulating conversation. His work was extremely inspiring – such an unusually rich mix of penetrating insight and clarity. He will be deeply missed.
My deepest sympathies to David Graeber’s family, friends and colleagues. His work was remarkable, brave and exciting. I never met him but his work is influential in our department at the University of Cape Town. ‘Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology’ was a set work for many years, thrilling students with possibilities that lay within the anthropological corpus. His death is a huge loss.
This is an incredibly sad and untimely loss for all David’s colleagues and students and for anthropology, to which he made so many, wonderfully varied and imaginative contributions. David’s talks at LSE on all kinds of unexpected subjects from maddening bureaucracies to ancient archeology were thought provoking, trenchant, and a pleasure to hear. When he wrote about terrible political absurdity, they were also sometimes extremely funny as well as deeply serious. David’s work is probably the only piece of analytic writing about Foucault which has ever made me laugh out loud.
David had that very rare combination of being strikingly original and at the same time highly accessible and engaging. My MSc mentees last year, none of them first-language English speakers, all spontaneously extolled his course on value. It opened their eyes to completely new and challenging ideas expressed in a way they could follow. They adored him. He’s an incalculable loss to LSE and anthropology worldwide.
My deep condolences to everyone who loved and admired David Graeber and will be feeling his loss so keenly. I am thinking, too, of all the people I know who, like me, found the laser-sharp insights in his books so exciting, empowering and revelatory.
I’m also thinking with admiration and gratitude of David’s eloquent, forthright, inspiring and important support of Jeremy Corbyn and a Labour Party for the many, not the few. And I am thinking with sorrow of the loss of all he still had to think, write and say.
The New York Times obituary for David is here:
Such a shocking and sad loss. David was an original and inspiring thinker, a sower of intellectual seeds, and an irrepressible activist in the struggle for more principled and human-centred forms of change. Long may his unconventional vibe echo in the halls of the LSE.
I feel so lucky to have been taught by David during my time at LSE. I knew of him before I even decided to study at LSE, so I’m grateful to have been in the presence of such an accomplished and revered anthropologist. My favorite memory of David was when he led one of the “anthropology teach-outs” during the justice for cleaners campaign, and we just sat outside the SU building listening to him talk about pirates for ages. He always seemed so full of life and ideas, and it is sad to think that the discipline of anthropology, and the rest of the world, will be deprived of his words and wisdom from now on. I regret not going to more of his office hours to talk about about things, but I’ll always have his pages and pages of lecture notes to remember him by. RIP
The many, many words of solidarity are refreshing at this time of isolation.
Apart from the experience of reading David, I got to know him as a member of a group that brought together activists from XR with academics interested in rebuilding macroeconomics. David insisted always that the obligation of the academics was to come up with proposals, to make plans and build more. He was not sitting on any laurels, but always pushing ahead.
For those of us here now, then,,to honor his legacy is to always push ahead. Thank you, David, for this precious lesson!
I still can’t quite compass that David has died. It seems almost unimaginable. I’ll always remember him as I met him — fresh back from his fieldwork in Imerina, with a lamba wrapped around his shoulders. He took a hasina coin out of his back pocket to show me. He was a truly amazing anthropologist – he brought out the best the field has to offer. The world feels greatly diminished. My heart goes out to his family, friends and his colleagues at LSE. He will be remembered as an ancestor.
Heartbroken to hear of David Graeber’s passing. For the incommensurable loss that it entails, on a personal level, for anthropology as a discipline, and for society – at such a dark and turbulent moment. Gone far far too soon, David Graeber shone a light through his work that spoke of the power of the human spirit and collective imagination, so utterly needed in our moment.
I had the fortune to know David personally, and was excited in anticipation when I learnt that he would teach our class in the second year of my undergraduate anthropology degree at Goldsmiths in 2012. The teacher I most admired through my time as an undergraduate; he simply sat at wooden table, and spoke directly to his students, hastily moving his coffee around, wittingly joking, and every once and again writing a few words on the whiteboard behind him. Like this, he opened my imagination, and it was through the course of his class, that I knew I wanted to be an anthropologist for the rest of my life. He had the kind heart to take time week after week to listen to a second year student who wanted to talk about a research project with student activists in Mexico, listened patiently and gave the most thought-provoking insights. Always a person to push the limits of imagination and what we might consider possible for a society, he was personally humble, whether speaking at a lecture, sitting in his office, or walking in a demonstration.
A theorist with a sensibility that transmitted passion and energy, fully committed to his ideals, through and through – a true character in himself. May we feel energized through his ideas, legacy and example. And may we as anthropologists, take up the challenge even more strongly from this day to theorise, analyse, and critique the structures of power in our world in a truly radical way – and more than anything, to do by way of direct action.
Graeber leaves an innovative legacy of research in the discipline which many contemporary students will feel compelled by, and may this be the best way to honour David’s memory. May we show, as he beautifully wrote: that creating visible alternatives of society shatters the sense of inevitability of the neoliberal capitalist order. And that global governance is so keen to erase accounts of these other forms of being, precisely because to become aware of them, and to share their knowledge, “allows us to see everything we are already doing in a new light. To realize we’re all already communists when working on a common projects, all already anarchists when we solve problems without recourse to lawyers or police, all revolutionaries when we make something genuinely new” (Graeber 2011).
May we show that life is always more interesting and beautiful than we are told, and that the imagination can always, and will always, spring forth. I will forever miss David, as a teacher, a radical activist, and dare I say, as a friend. Always in solidarity.
Por ti maestro, ni un minuto de silencio. Toda una vida de lucha.
Debt and Bullshitjobs are pivotal for understanding the lives & experiences of youth in the contemporary world i.e. after the first 5.000 years… Good bye David.
David was much loved in Ladbroke Grove and took time to chat with everyone. We are delighted that he had finally found happiness with Nika. He took the time to talk to Portobello Radio, the chaotic station that serves North Kensington. In fact, he gave us an interview a month or so before he died. We will miss him.
I never knew David personally, just missed his arrival in London by a few years, but his passing came as a wild bolt from the blue, at first I thought it was some weird form of fake news. I vividly recall reading his reply to Viveiros de Castro, where he demonstrated that radical alterity was just another way of saying reality. There are some wonderful one liners in there that illustrate the man’s great sense on humour, alluded to by so many in these comments, but the argument was brilliant. And simple. What a combination. A great loss to the production of knowledge, and my condolences to all who knew him, whether in person or in print.
In a Yale classroom in the late 1990s, a disheveled young professor with a twinkle in his eye projected a video of a funeral in Madagascar – the people danced with bones on the screen, and he paced back and forth in front of them, capturing the attention of his students with frenzied wit, stories, and enthusiasm. It was one of the first lectures to light my undergraduate mind on fire – and, at that moment, I became an anthropologist.
David became a mentor who’s influence on my thinking now spans two decades, two continents, two universities, and too many books and articles to mention. His supervision of my work as an undergraduate was generous and open-minded… and while he was the advisor to my Senior Essay, supporting exploration of a topic no one else would touch at the time, I remember better his response to a paper I wrote on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Nkisi. It received both an A and an in-person critique and serious discussion, fueled by mutual respect and love of the Buffyverse and Central Africa. I heard the same care was given to papers written on topics spanning fraternities, American football, and The Simpsons.
He could get excited about whatever his students were excited about.
Between our paths crossing at Yale and The LSE, he introduced me to like-minded anthropologists around the world – and never turned down a cup of coffee and a chat when we were on the same continent. That twinkle in his eye was there at all times, as if he knew something everyone else did not… which, most likely, in most cases, was the case. And yet, he would not just entertain, but genuinely enjoy, the conversation. And while it was sometimes easy to disagree with him on how things work in practice, it was always difficult to disagree with him on how they should work in theory.
The world will miss the words yet unwritten – David’s perspectives on what is meaningful when we, as a human society, encounter crossroads where the paths before us put how we should live and how we do live at odds.
It is a place where I find myself often these days.
I will miss just knowing that twinkle is out there.
What always struck me about David was the fact that, despite his encyclopaedic knowledge of the deep political and economic history and comparative ethnography of man’s inhumanity to woman and other men, he was always optimistic about the future. In his last email to me on 17 June 2020 he wrote. “I have a strange feeling the world is going to be okay. There’s a generational revolt unlike anything I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen a lot!” David was a student of, and political activist for, the bright side of life. Your legacy is profound David Rolfe Graeber. Thanks for reminding us of the possibilities for a better future of life on earth.
David was the one scholar — the one friend from afar — whose work I kept up with on an almost daily basis after leaving university. Every time I had a vaguely good idea or question, I’d imagine how he’d approach it. Every time I had a bad idea or habit — indulging in empty anthropological theorising, struggling with writer’s block, being too bleak about the future of our world — I’d ask, “What David would do?”
Even though we’ll remember his corpus of work for some of the most incisive critiques of grand pursuits of wealth and power, his work was equally rare in foregrounding some of the more positive grander things in life: love, solidarity, community, compassion. Sherry Ortner reminded us some years ago that we live in a time of “Dark Anthropology and its Others”, and David was perhaps the most vibrant exception to this rule.
I will remember David for the sheer reach of his writing, for pioneering an anthropological theory with a deep intimacy at its heart, for his magisterial expositions of Malagasy magic, slavery, class relations, kingship (and queenship), and for taking risks precisely because he never saw them as risks.
We stand on the shoulders of giants, and I for one will be eternally grateful to David.
We were so shocked to learn about David’s death and my thoughts are with his family. As a recent PhD graduate at LSE, I miss his smiles, his generosity, and his phenomenal wits. David left us too early. Many of us, among the “99 percent”, will be missing him more in the years to come.
Rest in Power, professor.
This is such an astonishingly sad and untimely loss. I will miss our SDR conversations about all sorts of topics ranging from Malay and Madagascan kingship to the way neuro-linguistic programming was used in the Trump campaign, and whether this represented the ‘dark legacy’ of Gregory Bateson. I’ll also miss David’s even-handed manner in meetings – the way he would arch his eyebrows and nod whilst rocking his head from side to side when I was saying something reasonable, and screw up his face if the suggestion was just a little bit too wild or ill thought-through. As a junior scholar it was very encouraging to be so fully, and transparently heard. David also brought that sensibility – of truly hearing people out – to his teaching, encouraging his students to nurture or develop their ideas, however daring or unorthodox. I saw first-hand how this led students to truly find their own voice and write some astonishing pieces of work. His course on value offered students a new vocabulary and framework with which to see the world and write about matters that ostensibly had little to do with value. And through my work as an admissions tutor, leafing through personal statement after personal statement, it soon became clear just how many people have been drawn to anthropology as a discipline by the formative influence of David’s writing – as I’m sure they will continue to be for many years and decades to come.
David came to Halle for the first time in June 2006 when Keith Hart and I co-organized a conference devoted to the work of Karl Polanyi. Both the content and the style of his contribution left some participants puzzled. My own uncertainties vanished when it came to the follow-up: for the edited volume “Market and Society” (published by CUP in 2009) David was prompt and supremely professional in submitting a brilliant preview of the central arguments of his treatise on “Debt”, published a few years later. He visited us again in 2015 to participate in lively debates about inequality in human history, along with his friend David Wengrow and other archaeologists. Others can say much more about David Graeber’s impact on contemporary worlds, about his politics and personality; but what impressed me the most was his engagement with long-term history, in Eurasia and elsewhere. I shall miss him as a brilliant radical successor to both Karl Polanyi and Jack Goody.
Sincere condolences to family, intimates and colleagues.
I’m so sorry to hear this news. We have lost a great voice not just in the department but in Anthropology, that led for change and asked what a different world could look like.
Professor Graeber’s passing has affected me personally. Many times when people ask me what I study, and then ask again when they are not sure, Graeber’s Debt is always the book I reference because it was my first encounter with Anthropology and has stayed with me ever since.
His work is an example of what Anthropology can do, his influence where others can follow. He may have passed but his influence lives on. But what a deep, deep loss.
I am still struggling to believe that David Graeber has actually passed. I worked in the admin office through most of 2019 and saw him almost daily. Whenever I heard his cheery and unique ‘hello’ announcing his arrival, I knew we were in for a good time of hearing stories what he’s been up to, maybe some telling off by one of us about admin tasks he’d neglected and often some sharing of food that he’d received in the post by a former student. David would often tell his stories and some of them would make me laugh so much and we would both be giggling together, sometimes inappropriately. He made my days so much brighter and I loved working with him.
I am not an anthropologist by background but came across David’s book Bullshit Jobs in 2018 and read it on the commute to my bullshit job. David made me feel less lonely and isolated whilst explaining so clearly why the job was so harmful. It felt like the author spoke directly to me through the text and understood all the problems with these kind of jobs better than the people working them. David set me free from a traditional mindset of what successful work looks like and what people need to do to be successful. I feel that David had the ability to put down so clearly what people felt or were thinking and was a true luminary. When complimented on his work, he seemed genuinely grateful and happy that you were reading and appreciating his work. As I got to know David more, I realised how generous he was; with his time, his thoughts, his food. He was an intellectual giant and so brilliant yet he never made you feel like you didn’t know enough to engage in discussion on a topic.
My life is better having known David Graeber. I feel such a devastating loss by his passing and feel that the world has lost someone so uniquely brilliant.
Rest in Power David!
What a tragic loss on so many levels. And what a flood of really beautiful moments and micro moments shared with David over the past couple years. Whether through his words on the page, his energetic & brilliantly peripatetic lectures, random rencontres in the hallway, party banter, or nitty-gritty anthro ananylsis during office hours & other brainstorming sessions, he has touched the lives of so many of us. David, you are dearly missed.
What awful news.
I worked with David for a few years at the LSE and met countless students specifically choosing to study in the Department because of him, young academics being almost star-struck meeting him, and colleagues, both academic and administrative, being in awe of how his mind worked.
Walking the corridors or coming to our office in his conduroy trousers, with one of his waistcoats on, coffee in one hand, bag hanging off the shoulder, he often seemed to have been lost in his own thoughts. He did not seem bogged down by the rules and regulations of the place, and often poked fun of the ‘establishment’. I always read his notes on the meetings of the Academic Board with delight – not because these are generally fun, but because David saw them for what they often were: a gathering of taskmasters, box tickers, and flunkies.
I remember him being able to take pleasure in small things, like finding just the right desk lamp for his office. But also his happiness when he met Nika. We were all happy for him, with him.
I am glad to have known him and proud that he generously acknowledged us, the admin folk in the office, in his book, Bullshit Jobs. And yes, if you are wondering, I would like to think that we inspired him just a little. 🙂
The world is poorer for the loss of David. Rest in peace.
There was a vitality and restlessness to David.
What animated him was big ideas, thinking ambitiously and creatively beyond institutional and disciplinary shackles, and encouraging his students to do the same. What made him restless, I think, was his deep, daily and lived awareness of the inequalities and injustices of our world. These were not just themes that he wrote on, but issues that deeply bothered him, and so he committed his life’s energies in attempting to set them right. For his students and those of us enormously privileged to have learnt from him, he was an exemplar of an academic-activist, perhaps an endangered species now, of someone who can do the deeply philosophical conceptual work of truly thinking freely while simultaneously holding placards at protests for long hours with the latter being as significant as the former.
I miss David a lot, perhaps this is because David took up so much space in this world, his ideas were so so big, he was an intellectual giant, and one who has left so many gifts behind for all of us and many future generations to enjoy, to read, re-read and to think about, but perhaps what will be the biggest gift from David, and what I hope each of us can carry forward in our lifetimes, is his ethos of deep generosity. He was generous and cultivated generosity – in thinking together, in constantly encouraging his students to think big and ambitiously, not just thinking as we are ought to think, in supporting each other, in sharing, in acting in solidarity with different movements of the world and empathising with the lives of others…David embodied an ethos within academia that ideas, knowledge and truly radical insights and the processes of dreaming a better world is and can be everybody’s.
I hope, as a tribute to David, we may all continue to feel restless about all that he felt restless about, all that which was and is not right about this world, and may we continue to carry forward in each of our private and political lives the same ethos of unfailing generosity that David embodied.
This was beautifully put. We will follow in David’s restlessness and honor his generosity.
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I consider myself fortunate to have spent a few lunches chatting with David about politics. He was an extremely warm and generous individual, so easy to talk to. I will cherish the few discussions we had. We have lost an extraordinary person and the world is an emptier place without him. We will miss you a lot David. Rest in Peace.
Very sad to learn this news – ‘Direct Action’ was a go to example of ethnographic writing and thick description in my teaching, and it was always engaging material for the students. Seeing David on campus was a real pick-me-up in the midst of a busy term and I will miss knowing he could be somewhere on campus as I refer to his work. Condolences to his family and loved ones.
It`s now a year and a half when I jumped into the office from David Graeber. I was visiting the LSE with our son – by then a student of International Economy and Political Science at the LSE. I was at that day at LSE with my husband, an economist.
In the past I read with raising interest and great pleasure the books of David Graeber and it was basically our intention to assist to one of his lessons at the LSE. We simply took the opportunity to step in David Graeber’s office without further announcement having realized that the door to his office was open. David welcomed us very kindly with open mind.
His open-door-attitude remembered me at my time when I was a student at the anthropological Institute of the University of Zurich 40 years ago. My professors were open minded and as informal as David was.
We very hope that his messages how things really are, will contribute to the understanding of modern societies. My husband hoped to be able one day to further discuss with David the impact of his book about the history of debt to the modern theory of capital markets and the handling of the current dept challenge in world economies.
At least we continousely discuss his social conceptions within our family with great benefit to all of us.
We will remember David Graeber
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