Call for papers

Building bridges
Around David Graeber’s legacy

Conference organized by Triangle UMR 5206
Lyon – July 7th-8th-9th 2022

David Graeber, Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, passed away suddenly on September 2, 2020. In the course of his short life, he became known for his scientific creativity and his original contributions to major public debates. He established himself as a major intellectual figure of the libertarian left Having contributed to an anthropology that can be described as political and anarchist, he showed that the diversity of social organizations, as revealed by ethnographic surveys, opens the door to a vast array of “possible” and therefore to the prospect of a more egalitarian and democratic society.

His work, combined with his involvement in international political protest movements, is at the origin of his great public popularity. But his more academic work also constitutes an important contribution to social science: the ethnography of Madagascar, the anthropology of magic, the nature of kingship, the knowledge of prehistoric societies, among others. It is also often crossed with philosophical and epistemological thoughts, which come from the history of ideas in social sciences, as illustrated by his texts on the conceptions of value.

His public notoriety is also connected to the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis as his book Debt, The first 5000 Years had a worldwide impact.  Published in 2011, it drastically questions the dogma of monetary and economic institutions in the light of the historical and anthropological knowledge of monetary practices. The ambition of this book is important insofar as its transversal thesis is that debt and the monetary practices and institutions attached to it constitute the most fundamental social relationship. This thesis differs firstly from approaches - those of some economic anthropology and economics traditions - that focus on the exchange and the market. Similarly, by considering debt and monetary institutions as a major structure of domination, it also differs from approaches, perpetuated by the Marxist tradition, that emphasize the relationship of production and labor between social classes.

One of his most original articles has proved very influential in a manner befitting to our times, when the dissemination of ideas is largely mediated by social networks: "On Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs, A Work Rant" published in 2013, defends a thesis that will also be reflected in his subsequent books "Bureaucracy, The Utopy of Rules" in 2015 and "Bullshit Jobs" in 2018.  Graeber's talent lies in his way of turning around some well established representations of the contemporary economic system, by showing that the alleged market economy efficiency is in reality less grounded in truly liberal mechanisms than in a process of growing bureaucratization based on the alliance between the State and the economic powers for the benefit of a few most fortunate individuals (the "1%" ). The structure of the financialized economy, marked by the growth of income and wealth inequalities, is characterized by the multiplication of a type of jobs (often the best paid) that respond to the strengthening of managerial mechanisms. The thesis of "bullshit jobs", those jobs deemed useless by the employees who do them, which keep multiplying as part of the process of bureaucratization in all spheres of society, from companies to public organizations, including creative fields, re-emerged during the Covid crisis in 2020 as part of the controversy over essential vs inessential jobs. The debate also echoed Graeber's anthropological work on the opposition between the principles of "commercial societies" and "human societies" whose activities are turned towards human life and social relations, care, the arts, playing in human history.

According to a formula that Jean-Michel Servet used in his tribute to Graeber, "David Graeber was a bridge". First, he was a bridge between academic disciplines. Secondly, he increased the visibility of anthropology amongst social sciences and showed how it could fuel knowledge on social organization, forms of action, imagining alternatives, etc., as well as influence other disciplines, such as economics, sociology or political science, particularly with regard to monetary issues, labor problems and the crisis of democracy. He has also built a bridge between thought and action (and has written on this subject) and this with a twofold purpose. Indeed, his approach favours an epistemic democracy, which means that any social science must be based on the experience of those involved and on their narratives (this can be linked of course to the ethnographic method and hence to an interest in social networks) or on the epistemic value of popular culture (science fiction, series, pop music). He posits that the knowledge produced by the social sciences has an instrumental function [role/value], that it must constitute an imaginative and transformative force in favor of a truly democratic society.

The objective of this conference is to bring together contributions from the different disciplines involved in David Graeber's works, including anthropology, sociology, economics, political science, and social philosophy. The contributions can be related to a particular discipline or to a particular subject, treated from a transdisciplinary perspective.


Keynote speakers : Michaël Hudson (Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends – ISLET), Gaël Giraud (Georgetown university, CNRS) 

Table ronde 1 Around David Graeber: bridge between disciplines Alain Caillé (Université Paris Nanterre), Keith Hart (Goldsmiths, University of London, Emeritus) et Steve Keen (University of Western Sydney).

Table ronde 2 Graeber french monetary institutionalism Bruno Théret (IRISSO, Université Paris Dauphine), André Orléan (EHESS, Paris), Jean-Michel Servet (IHEID, Genève)

Proposals dealing with the following topics will be particularly welcomed:

Theme 1 - Proposals may be devoted to David Graeber's works itself. They could notably concern his conceptual contributions to social sciences, his sources of inspiration (in philosophy, anthropology, economics, etc.). They could also consider him as an intellectual activist and could have as a subject the media as new models of dissemination for the social sciences or, possibly, Graeber’s style of writing and reasoning.


Theme 2 - Proposals could be devoted to Graeber's influence on economic debates; about money and debt, about the role of history and anthropology in enlightening economic conceptions and institutions; on money and debt as fundamental social relations; on financialization; on the myths of economic discourse, on a conception of the "human economy" (understood not as an economy without coercion, but as one turned toward human life). 


Theme 3 - A third theme will be that of work, the crisis of the meaning of labor in the context of growing managerial bureaucracy, the ideology of work, the question of care, the link between gender and value of work.


Theme 4 - A fourth theme will focus on David Greaber's political thought, his conception of democracy, his conception of anarchist thoughts, his analysis of the mechanisms of feudal capitalism, on social movements of protest and their creative power, and on democratic experiences. 


Theme 5 - A fifth theme could be dedicated to the philosophical and epistemological conceptions that run through David Graeber's work, his attachment to Critical Realism for example. The fact that his thought avoids the pitfalls of relativism and determinism. The inspiration of his work for interdisciplinarity or transdisciplinarity point of view, the question of the relationship between science and action. 

Important dates:

Abstract submission: An anonymous abstract (about 500 words) with indication of the number of the targeted theme (s) must be submitted directly on the website extended to February 15th, 2022.

Notification of acceptance: March 15th 2022.

Submission of the full text: The final version of the article should be sent before June 15th, 2022.

 Registration (not yet open)

Organizing committee :  Sophie Béroud (Triangle, Lyon 2), Jérôme Blanc (Triangle, Sciences Po Lyon), Clément Coste (Triangle, Sciences Po Lyon), Tiphaine Duriez (LADEC, Lyon 2), Véronique Dutraive (Triangle, Lyon 2), Christophe Petit (Triangle).

Scientific Committee  (in progress) :

Accolas, Sophie (AFA) ; Arnsperger, Christian (Université de Lausanne) ; Boissière, Thierry  (EVS, Lyon 2) ; Caillé, Alain (Université Paris Nanterre) ; Chambost, Anne-Sophie (Sciences-po Lyon) ; Giraud Gaël (Georgetown University, CNRS) ; Hart, Keith (Goldsmiths, University of London, Emeritus) ; Hudson, Michaël (Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends - ISLET) ; Keen, Steve (University of Western Sydney) ; Lagalisse, Erica (LSE) ; Lallement, Michel (CNAM, Paris) ; Lou, Loretta (University of Macau, LSE) ; Méda, Dominique (Université Paris Dauphine, IRISSO) ; Orléan, André (EHESS, Paris) ; Pettifor, Ann (PRIME) ; Piketty, Thomas (Paris School of Economics) ; Servet, Jean-Michel (IHEID, Genève) ; Shah, Alpa (LSE) ; Silvestri, Paolo (Université de Turin) ; Théret, Bruno (IRISSO- Dauphine) ; Tiran, André (Université Lumière Lyon 2).

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