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Lost People: Magic and the Legacy of Slavery in Madagascar

Overview

Betafo, a rural community in central Madagascar, is divided between the descendants of nobles and descendants of slaves. Anthropologist David Graeber arrived for fieldwork at the height of tensions attributed to a disastrous communal ordeal two years earlier. As Graeber uncovers the layers of historical, social, and cultural knowledge required to understand this event, he elaborates a new view of power, inequality, and the political role of narrative. Combining theoretical subtlety, a compelling narrative line, ...

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Overview

Betafo, a rural community in central Madagascar, is divided between the descendants of nobles and descendants of slaves. Anthropologist David Graeber arrived for fieldwork at the height of tensions attributed to a disastrous communal ordeal two years earlier. As Graeber uncovers the layers of historical, social, and cultural knowledge required to understand this event, he elaborates a new view of power, inequality, and the political role of narrative. Combining theoretical subtlety, a compelling narrative line, and vividly drawn characters, Lost People is a singular contribution to the anthropology of politics and the literature on ethnographic writing.

Indiana University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Choice
"This compelling ethnography matches Bakhtinian dialogism with Dostoevskian detail.... Graeber... is a masterful narrator, allowing contradictions in people's accounts to be what they are—different takes on given circumstances—as he brokers more speculative hypotheses and historical understandings about the nature of society. A humanistic sense of flow results, as Graeber talks with and about people while shedding light on the paradoxically 'perverse, extreme scientism' of postmodernist quests for 'real knowledge.'... Recommended." —A. F. Roberts, University of California, Los Angeles, Choice, September 2008

— A. F. Roberts, University of California, Los Angeles

African Studies Review
"This rich book... provides us with an innovative account of the political nature of the apparently unpolitical." —Eva Keller, University of Zürich, AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW, Volume 52, Number 1, April 2009

— Eva Keller, University of Zürich

Current Anthropology
"What makes Lost People an extraordinary book is its freedom of thought. It is important not because of its position in the next round of anthropological debates but because of the graceful eclecticism of the author’s perceptual and creative range. One hopes that ethnography built on such foundations will be treasured by anthropology today and tomorrow." —Yancey Orr, University of Arizona, CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY, Vol. 50.6 Dec. 2009

— Yancey Orr, University of Arizona

African Studies Quarterly

"Graeber leads us in an engaging manner through a succession of rich narratives obtained through taped interviews, superbly analysed ethnographic encounters, and sharp arguments based on a thorough knowledge of the ethnographical record and historical archives, including state records.... In trying to present an ethnography that is both honest and not written and structured exclusively for 'the market', Graeber does well to treat the ordinary (and extraordinary) people of Befato as 'historical characters' and as historians in their own right." —African Studies Quarterly, Fall 2009

Maurice Bloch

"[O]ffers fascinating comparative material with other places where the wound of past injustices continues to fester and destroy.... [A] brilliant weaving together of history and the anthropology of participant observation.... The style is limpid, funny, and a delight." —Maurice Bloch

Michael Lambek

"The political intrigue makes for a compelling narrative. Committed to showing the power of stories, Graeber is very capable of telling a story of his own.... a brilliant study in the classic anthropological tradition...." —Michael Lambek

Choice - A. F. Roberts

This compelling ethnography matches Bakhtinian dialogism with Dostoevskian detail. The book is 'full of characters: both in the sense of eccentrics and oddballs, and... of protagonists of stories... about the edges between politics and history,' where assumptions are negotiated and 'new things can emerge.' Madagascar's blend of African and Pacific cultures and histories is highly unusual, and innovative tactics are needed to capture and convey its singularities. Dark Dostoevskian portrayals prove apposite to understanding people who do 'not see anything particularly shameful about fear' in both religious and political realms. Highly articulated social stratification meant that aristocrats and slaves cohabited precolonial places and periods. With French conquest and subsequent abolition, these categories shifted rather than disappeared as elites managed their newfound sharecroppers. Graeber (Goldsmiths, Univ. of London) is a masterful narrator, allowing contradictions in people's accounts to be what they are—different takes on given circumstances—as he brokers more speculative hypotheses and historical understandings about the nature of society. A humanistic sense of flow results, as Graeber talks with and about people while shedding light on the paradoxically 'perverse, extreme scientism' of postmodernist quests for 'real knowledge.' Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.A. F. Roberts, University of California, Los Angeles, Choice, September 2008

AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW - Eva Keller

"This rich book... provides us with an innovative account of the political nature of the apparently unpolitical." —Eva Keller, University of Zürich, AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW, Volume 52, Number 1, April 2009

CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY - Yancey Orr

"What makes Lost People an extraordinary book is its freedom of thought. It is important not because of its position in the next round of anthropological debates but because of the graceful eclecticism of the author’s perceptual and creative range. One hopes that ethnography built on such foundations will be treasured by anthropology today and tomorrow." —Yancey Orr, University of Arizona, CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY, Vol. 50.6 Dec. 2009

From the Publisher
"[O]ffers fascinating comparative material with other places where the wound of past injustices continues to fester and destroy.... [A] brilliant weaving together of history and the anthropology of participant observation.... The style is limpid, funny, and a delight." —Maurice Bloch
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253219152
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2007
  • Pages: 488
  • Sales rank: 1,382,165
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.31 (h) x 1.21 (d)

Meet the Author

David Graeber is Reader in Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London. His books include Debt: The First 5000 Years; Direct Action: An Ethnography; and Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams.

Indiana University Press

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Table of Contents

Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments
Notes on Malagasy Pronunciation

1. Betafo, 1990
2. Royal Authority
3. Negative Authority
4. Character
5. A Brief History of Betafo
6. Anti-Heroic Politics
7. The Trials of Miadana
8. Lost People
9. The Descendants of Rainitamaina
10. It Must Have Gone Something Like This
11. Catastrophe
12. Epilogue

Glossary of Malagasy Terms
Personal Names in Text
Important Places Named in Text
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Indiana University Press

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