Can We Still Write Big Question Sorts of Books? | David Graeber

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Can We Still Write Big Question Sorts of Books? | David Graeber

David Graeber and the model of his ‘popular’ yet scholarly book Debt: The First 5000 Years

So: what was to be the model for a big questions sort of book, and how to write a book that would still be scholarly, but not academic?

This is what I came up with:

Of all the models I considered, the most amenable turned out to be the approach adopted by Marcel Mauss. This might seem odd. especially because Mauss never actually wrote a book; he’s mainly famous for a series of essays. Yet many of these essays-not just the Gift, but his essay on the person, techniques of the body (where he coins the term “habitus”), sacrifice and magic-really have had a profound effect both on all subsequent scholarship, and, to differing degrees, political and social debates ever since. Mauss had an uncanny ability to ask the right questions-often, questions he was the first to pose, and which have become mainstays of theoretical debate ever since. His was also an appealing model because Mauss was both a serious, committed activist (he was especially active in the French cooperative movement), and a scholar of remarkable erudition. His problem-and this, I suspect, is why he never did write a proper book, despite numerous attempts-was that he was also almost unimaginably disorganized, and therefore, terrible at exposition. I suspect if alive today he would have been quickly diagnosed with severe ADD.

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