Cover image for The utopia of rules : on technology, stupidity, and the secret joys of bureaucracy
The utopia of rules : on technology, stupidity, and the secret joys of bureaucracy
Graeber, David, author.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Brooklyn : Melville House, [2015]

Physical Description:
261 pages : illustrations, map ; 23 cm
"Where does the desire for endless rules, regulations, and bureaucracy come from? How did we come to spend so much of our time filling out forms? And is it really a cipher for state violence? To answer these questions, anthropologist David Graeber ... traces the peculiar and unexpected ways we relate to bureaucracy today, and reveals how it shapes our lives in ways we may not even notice"--Jacket.
Introduction : the iron law of liberalism and the era of total bureaucratization -- Dead zones of the imagination : an essay on structural stupidity -- Of flying cars and the declining rate of profit -- The utopia of rules, or why we really love bureaucracy after all -- Appendix. On Batman and the problem of constituent power.
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HM806 .G73 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Where does the desire for endless rules, regulations, and bureaucracy come from? How did we come to spend so much of our time filling out forms?

To answer these questions, anthropologist David Graeber-one of the most prominent and provocative thinkers working today-takes a journey through ancient and modern history to trace the peculiar and fascinating evolution of bureaucracy over the ages.

He starts in the ancient world, looking at how early civilizations were organized and what traces early bureaucratic systems have left in the ethnographic literature. He then jets forward to the nineteenth century, where systems we can easily recognize as modern bureaucracies come into being. In some areas of life-like with the modern postal systems of Germany and France-these bureaucracies have brought tremendous efficiencies to modern life. But Graeber argues that there is a much darker side to modern bureaucracy that is rarely ever discussed. Indeed, in our own outopia of rules,o freedom and technological innovation are often the casualties of systems that we only faintly understand.

Provocative and timely, the book is a powerful look and history of bureaucracy over the ages and its power in shaping the world of ideas.

Author Notes

DAVID GRAEBER teaches anthropology at the London School of Economics. He is the author of Debt- The First 5,000 Years , Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value , Lost People- Magic and the Legacy of Slavery in Madagascar , Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology , Possibilities- Essays on Hierarchy , Rebellion, and Desire , and Direct Action- An Ethnography . He has written for Harper's , The Nation , The Baffler , The Wall Street Journal , The Washington Post , and The New Left Review .

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

This essay collection from anthropologist Graeber is an utterly fascinating study of bureaucracy's role in modern life. He grounds readers first in the institution's history and then in the corporatization of contemporary discourse, showing that bureaucracy is merely a substitute for state-sponsored violence. He highlights how, as countries are modernized, bureaucracies ostensibly displace the old elite, but in reality merely reemploy and rebrand them while seeking to justify their own existence. Finally, Graeber demonstrates how corporatization is killing innovation. His book argues that, despite all these failings, bureaucracy is intensely appealing to the human brain because it places structures, rituals, and rules over systems that can otherwise seem meaningless. As an example of its insidious appeal, Graeber points to how pop culture constantly positions characters functioning within bureaucracies as rebels, even as those characters continue to tacitly justify the institutions they seemingly rebel against (see: every cop show ever). Readers familiar with Graeber's work will know the caliber of discourse he brings to the table: not all of his thoughts are unique, but they are wonderfully presented and wholly accessible. This is a rare treat that will amuse as easily as it unsettles, as readers struggle to reframe their own perceptions and open their eyes to Graeber's insights. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Iron Law of Liberalism and the Era of Total Bureaucratizationp. 3
1 Dead Zones of the Imagination: An Essay on Structural Stupidityp. 45
2 Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profitp. 105
3 The Utopia of Rules, or Why We Really Love Bureaucracy After Allp. 149
Appendix: On Batman and the Problem of Constituent Powerp. 207
Notesp. 229