Lost People

Lost People

Magic and the Legacy of Slavery in Madagascar
David Graeber
Distribution: World
Publication date: 9/4/2007
Format: paper 488 pages, 9 figures, 7 maps
6.125 x 9.25
ISBN: 978-0-253-21915-2
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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.

Author Bio

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.


"[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

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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

"[T]his book will be useful for those readers seeking a detailed analysis of the workings of everyday politics in a small community, a politics that involves creating stories that combine the everyday with the eternal, giving mortal characters the possibility for eternal influence over their descendants." —
American Ethnologist

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Table of 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