I’ve written extremely briefly on Accumulation By Dispossession in contemporary Cambodia previously.

A definition of Accumulation By Dispossession from Wikipedia:

Accumulation by dispossession is a concept presented by the Marxist geographer David Harvey, which defines the neoliberal capitalist policies in many western nations, from the 1970s and to the present day, as resulting in a centralization of wealth and power in the hands of a few by dispossessing the public of their wealth or land.[1] These neoliberal policies are guided mainly by four practices: privatization, financialization, management and manipulation of crises, and state redistributions.

David Harvey, who invented the term, can probably do the best job explaining it:

There appears to be an irony here: the term Accumulation By Dispossession is in many ways an an attempt to update Marx’s Primitive Accumulation for the neo-Liberal era. By “Primitive,” Marx mean “originary,” as an answer to the question, “where did the employing class get the wealth necessary to invest in the creation of means of production such as factories?” The term was not intended as pejorative but is certainly received as such by many; given the history of supposedly ‘civilized’ groups’ actions towards supposed ‘primitives,’ the dislike of the term is easily understandable.

Regardless, Harvey’s reworking of “Primitive Accumulation” into Accumulation By Dispossession describes some modern neo-liberal practices very well, but it seems to lose the ability to capture precisely the dynamics that Marx was describing in the Enclosure Movement in England: how did individuals get enough wealth in order to found companies and build factories? Once one has a corporation, Accumulation By Dispossession describes things nicely. But what about cases where it’s not primarily large corporations doing the dispossessing?

One of the hardest questions to answer when considering the question of accumulation by dispossession is how the individuals doing the dispossessing justify it to themselves. How does one justify actions typically considered theft by one’s neighbors, whom one is often dispossessing? It’s easier to comprehend, I suppose, if it’s a large corporate exploitation or colonial exploitation. Is the model of accumulation by dispossession flexible enough to describe a process like the one that Pamela McElwee writes about in her book, Forests are Gold: Trees, People and Environmental Rule in Vietnam (2016, University of Washington Press).


I haven’t read the book yet, but am always interested in questions where labor and environment come together, especially in Southeast Asia. This podcast episode, from the New Books in Anthropology podcast, part of the New Books Network, features Nick Cheesman interviewing McElwee. Shortly after the 50 min point, the conversation takes a fascinating turn, when McElwee starts discussing precisely the problem above: when semi-local individuals are the prime movers in Accumulation By Dispossession.

Highly recommended.

Accumulation By Dispossession in Vietnam – Book Note


The situation in Syria today is breaking many hearts. It’s also deeply distressing to those of us whose faith in the future relies on humanity’s ability to learn from its past mistakes.

There are people on the Left who are openly supporting Assad, Putin, and even Trump – and frankly, cackling over what appears to be the death throes – often quite literal ones – of all organized resistance to the murderous regime of Assad, ranging from resistance groups most of us would be horrified at, to those we might consider critically supporting.

I am confused as to why some on the left, who are very well-educated and often have decades of experiences on which to reflect, continue to pretend that the horrors of authoritarian left regimes are illusory, exaggerated, or acceptable in the face of US Imperialism.

I’ve met folks holding positions like these before. It’s not company you want to keep, or be classified among:

DSC00818 Erik and Nuon Chea

This is where history seems important. You’d think people who talk about historical materialism would agree. That’s a picture of a sullen-looking, much younger looking me, and Nuon Chea. Nuon Chea was “Brother Number Two” after Pol Pot, and the man considered most responsible for the estimated 1.7 million deaths of the period of Democratic Kampuchea (“Khmer Rouge”). People supported the Khmer Rouge for the same reason that many authoritarian leftists today are supporting Assad.

I think that the reason the ‘marxist-leninsts’ (Stalinists, mostly), maoists, and some trostkyist groups, find themselves supporting genocidal and mass-murderous regimes, is that  give is that they see these people acting against the imperialist actions of the United States. So, by the traditional binary logic that identifies one’s friends among the enemies of one’s enemies, authoritarian anti-imperial leftists around the world have thrown their support to this bizarre and bloodthirsty set of leaders, who now stand in for the Syrian people themselves.

When this strategy of substituting political leaders for actual human beings at the level of political discussion succeeds, perhaps it becomes hard to see that one is justifying horror.

I won’t tell you what should happen in Syria. I’m not so arrogant as to expect that my opinions are worth basing an entire country’s population’s lives on them. I also won’t keep my mouth shut about the horrors that are happening.

I am on the anti-authoritarian left, so perhaps my appeal will still come off as predictable and unserious to those on the left who are applauding the destruction of Eastern Aleppo and hailing the new alliance between Assad, Putin, and Trump, as a victory for Anti-Imperialism.

I do not mean to be predictable. I do mean to be consistent. So I respectfully ask that if you are one of those people who honestly embraces the idea that a victory for Assad is a defeat for United States imperialism, that you consider these thoughts on your own time.
One can oppose US Imperialism without supporting mass murder.

cambodia, comment

A Cambodianist’s Note on Syria

A brief note from a student of Cambodia on the authoritarian left, and why people might want to be more careful about the company they keep, and support.

comment, highered

We Can Haz Moar Watchlist, Plz?

The early social-media era leet-speak in the title telegraphs the more important move I’d like to make here.

Like a lot of folks, I’m alarmed by the way that the Trump campaign emboldened (word of the year 2016) white nationalists, men’s rights activists, and a whole other set of toxins masquerading as political positions. I’m angry at the cocky way that the conservative and right wings of American politics have started leveraging their new positions to threaten their old enemies, all the while claiming that they didn’t mean any of it, really.

So like many others, I was annoyed when the new academic watchlist was announced. Any such list is an attempt at intimidation at the very least, and it must also minimally be considered a concerted attempt to undermine the autonomy of institutions of Higher Ed by creating an ‘enemies list.’

So I added my own name to the funny AAUP-sponsored petition to “Add My Name To the Professor Watchlist.” I even included a straight-faced satirical ‘confession’:

I teach the anthropology, history, and sociology of Religious Studies. As a consequence, I frequently refer to Marx, Durkheim, and Weber: a commie, a socialist, and a liberal. The first two were also Jews, which I gather is something you want to know, for reasons I’m sure are very complex and shouldn’t concern me as much they do.

These biases clearly disqualify me from a teaching position in the The Greatest Country In The World, and my curriculum should be replaced with true classics, like Evola, Eliade, Heidegger, and Schmitt, good fascists all.

I look forward with Fear and Trembling at the judgment that will decide whether I am admitted to this enemies list or not.

But I need to confess I’m also a bit exhausted at the level of outrage that has suddenly manifested itself in a largely otherwise apolitical academy. Oh, I know you hear all about how weird-liberal-radical the academy is, and there are in fact a lot of professors who adopt very leftist academic viewpoints. But there are also good reasons for jokes like these:

Q: How can you tell the marxist professors?
A: They’re the first ones to cross the picket line.

A group’s discourse is not necessarily closely related to that same group’s practices. Like any other group of humans, there are a number of Continue reading


Was Castoriadis tutored in French as a child by a Nazi mystic?


I was talking to a colleague about Castoriadis; he hadn’t heard of him previously, and was intrigued. On getting home, he searched on the internet and found multiple sites claiming that Savitri Devi, fascist mystic, tutored Castoriadis (presumably in French) from 1932-1935. Born in 1922, Castoriadis would have been 10-13 years old in these years.

Savitri Devi was the adopted name of Maximine Julia Portas, born in 1905 to a Greco-French father and English mother. She became a fascist very early in life, and would certainly have been one from 1932-1935. She was an active spy for Axis Powers during Workd War II, and continued public pro-Nazi pilgrimages and wrote books of fascist ideology and adulation until her death in 1982. She supported the British National Party,  and her ashes are supposedly housed alongside those of George Lincoln Rockwell of the American Nazi Party of America. 

She similarly renounced Christianity early on and became an advocate of the notion of aryan paganism, which she pursued to India, where she believed Hinduism was a living aryan paganism.

Devi/Portas always claimed to be in India 1932-1935, and the only proof to the contrary seems to be this claim by Castoriadis. He would have been 10-13 years old at the time.

I’d never heard of this before and was a bit stunned: Castoriadis joined the Communist Party as a teenager, and fled Greece pursued and attacked by fascists and stalinists alike. The idea that he was educated at such a crucial point in his life by one of the a famous-and famously weird-fascist ideologue was definitely a surprise.

My searches reveal the exact same wording and reference in all the online sources, all of which reference a radio show and a date. The wording in these web sites, in all cases, seem to trace to a 2015 book called The esoteric codex: naziism and the occult, by Hans Tilde.

The radio show itself is three hours and in French. It was recorded in 1996.  It’s in French and three hours long, so it’ll take me some time to find the right spot.


Ontologies Project

My work has recently taken me into conversation with various disciplines about the nature of ‘ontology,’ by which different people, even within single disciplines, often mean quite different things (often without realizing it, apparently, and thus much of the discourse speaks past its interlocutors). Some of the work is fascinating, some infuriating, most of it knotty and complicated in ways I either love or loathe, depending on my energy and mood. Much of it is also unnecessarily ornately written, which I never appreciate, and will attempt to avoid, despite recognizing the value of technical jargon.

So, for myself, and intended as a fragment beginning of a project, here is a bibliography of things I have or intend to read, and about which I will eventually probably post a fair number of notes (or at least which will result in some writing of some sort). I’ll edit this as I go, not note the updates within this post [heads up!], and welcome suggestions and critiques in the comments. Continue reading


Review: Andrew Johnson’s “Ghosts of the New City”

Johnson, Andrew Alan. 2014. Ghosts of the new city: spirits, urbanity, and the ruins of progress in Chiang Mai. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

University of Hawai’i Link

Amazon Link

Review by Erik W. Davis

This book is about the idea of the city as a space similarly ‘haunted’ by magico-religious notions of charismatic power—power that retains its significance even in the face of Thailand’s transformation into a nation-state and current entrance into the neoliberal economic moment. (1)

This book is also an anthropologist’s response to Tony Day’s (2002) call for historical studies that take culture into account and draw connections between premodern ways of interpreting new forms of power and modern ones (see also Kapferer 1988). (2)

The quotes above indicate the thematic relations between such topics as the city, ghosts, urban development, and economic fluctuations. Another related question is asked a bit later: “What makes urbanity in Southeast Asia distinct from how it has been conceived in the West? How might the legacy of the city as a vehicle for articulating religious notions of power come to articulate ‘secular’ notions of power and progress?” (4) As such, Johnson sets his work in conversation with multiple disciplines, intersecting at his site: urban studies, postcolonial studies, development, religious studies, and of course anthropology.

Continue reading