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David Graeber's Wunderkammer, Debt: The First 5000 Years

Abstract

Graeber's Debt: The First 5 000 Years has generated extensive commentary in the popular press and has captured the imagination of both activists at the barricades and investment fund managers in the City of London. Everyone is captivated by his critique of the myth of primitive barter. Yet it is a puzzle that a core element of his argument-the myth of primordial debt-has been largely overlooked. This review seeks to redress this oversight and in the process to suggest that Graeber's emphasis on violence and enslavement, while compelling, is limited by his quest for origins. Feminist anthropology taught us to set aside the question, 'when did "it" begin' and instead open up to other questions, beyond the limits and biases the quest for origins presupposes. One wishes Graeber had entered the wonder cabinet he constructed in this book, rather than use it to ground a teleology.

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