Monday, 22 March 2010

Graeber's Direct Action

Graeber, David (1999) Direct Action: An Ethnography, Oakland: AK Press.

Who can fail to enjoy this fantastic work, especially the first half with the detailed and vivid ethnographic report of the protests in Québec 2003 and the preparations that led up to them? This is ethnography as its best: you actually get the feeling that you know the people who appear in the book. I even caught myself longing for the next appearance of one of the more amusing characters, just as I would if I had been reading a really good novel. The discussions and dialogues are perhaps the best, followed by the wonderful rendition of the atmosphere in Québec during the street protests: the mood of war and repression, streets smoking from tear gas, the comradeship, the police, a few festive vignettes.

And yes, I recommend it to more academically inclined students of the alter-glob movement as well. Even the more theoretical discussions in the second half of the book – which cover direct action, direct democracy, mass media, police brutality, how activists view things like violence or the ”public” and so on – are instructive, even though they don’t shine like the ethnography in the first half. There are some small gems here too, like the description of the police as ”bureaucrats with guns”.

Let me end with a good quote from the walls of Québec: ”The gates of Heaven will be taken by storm”.

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