DEBT: A Lecture by David Graeber

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© Courtesy of San Francisco Art Institute
DEBT: A Lecture by David Graeber

800 Chestnut Street
San Francisco , CA 94133
January 27th, 2012 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Financial District/Wharf
415 749 4500
Tue 11-7; Wed-Sat 11-6; Open until 7:30 pm on lecture nights
San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI)


"The anthropologist David Graeber has a strong claim to being the house theorist of Occupy Wall Street. A veteran of the antiglobalization uprisings in Seattle and Genoa, he helped orchestrate the first 'General Assembly' in New York this summer, and has since become one of the movement's most outspoken defenders.

(But) Graeber's most important contribution to the movement may owe less to his activism as an anarchist than to his background as an anthropologist. His recent book DEBT: The First 5,000 Years reads like a lengthy field report on the state of our economic and moral disrepair... the book is also a philosophical inquiry into the nature of debt - where it came from and how it evolved. Graeber's claim is that the past 400 years of Western history represent a grievous departure from how human societies have traditionally thought about our obligations to one another. What makes the work more than a screed is its intricate examination of societies from ancient Mesopotamia to 1990s Madagascar, and thinkers ranging from Rabelais to Nietzsche - and to George W. Bush's brother Neil."
                                                        -Thomas Meaney, New York Times Book Review

Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter system-to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There's not a shred of evidence to support it.

Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that 5,000 years ago, during the beginning of the agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems. It is in this era, Graeber shows, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors.

With the passage of time, however, virtual credit money was replaced by gold and silver coins-and the system as a whole began to decline. Interest rates spiked and the indebted became slaves. And the system perpetuated itself with tremendously violent consequences, with only the rare intervention of kings and churches keeping the system from spiraling out of control. Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history-as well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy.

DAVID GRAEBER teaches anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He is the author of Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value, Lost People, and Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire. He has written for Harper's, The Nation, Mute, and The New Left Review.


Lecture Details
Friday, January 27
12 - 1:30 pm

Lecture Hall
800 Chestnut St, San Francisco

Sponsored by the Urban Studies Program, School of Interdisciplinary Studies, and Graduate Program at the San Francisco Art Institute