VENICE— David Rolfe Graeber, an American anthropologist, anarchist activist and author has died aged 59.
On Thursday, September 3, Graeber’s wife, Nika Dubrovsky, announced on Twitter that he had died in a hospital in Venice the previous day. The cause of his death is not yet known.
Graeber was born in New York in 1961 to two politically active parents. His father, Kenneth, participated in the Spanish Revolution in Barcelona and fought in the Spanish Civil War. His mother, Ruth Rubinstein, was a member of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.
After studying anthropology at the State University of New York and the University of Chicago, he won a Fulbright fellowship to conduct twenty months of ethnographic field research in Madagascar, beginning in 1989.
In 1998, Graeber became an assistant professor at Yale University, then became an associate professor. In May 2005, the Yale Anthropology department decided not to renew Graeber’s contract. His supporters claimed the decision was politically motivated, over 4,500 people signed petitions supporting him. Moreover, anthropologists Marshall Sahlins, Laura Nader, Michael Taussig and Maurice Bloch called for Yale to rescind its decision.
“I guess I had two strikes against me. One, I seemed to be enjoying my work too much. Plus I’m from the wrong class: I come from a working-class background,” Graeber told The Guardian in 2015.
From 2008 until 2013, Graeber was a lecturer and a reader at Goldsmith’s College of the University of London. He then accepted a professorship at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
He has written various books, a few of which are Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (2004), Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011), The Democracy Project (2013), The Rules of Utopia (2015) and Bullshit Jobs (2018).
In addition to his academic work, Graeber was involved in political activism, which included a membership in the labor union Industrial Workers of the World, a role in protests against the World Economic Forum in 2002, support for the 2010 UK student protests, and an early role in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Rolling Stone credited Graeber with giving the Occupy Wall Street movement its theme: “We are the 99 percent.” However, Graeber wrote in The Democracy Project that the slogan “was a collective creation.”
Graeber was also a supporter of the Kurdish freedom movement in Rojava, an autonomous region in Syria which he visited.