Reading Group on Andrew Johnson’s ‘Bureaucrats with guns…’

25 May, 2023 20:00 (London time)

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Image: Ross Parry

On May 25, we discussed Andrew Johnson’s Bureaucrats with guns: Or, how we can abolish the police if we just stop believing in them. The reading group will be led and moderated by Steve Bachelor.


David Graeber’s essay On the phenomenology of giant puppets: Broken windows, imaginary jars of urineand the cosmological role of police in American culture (2007) is a ground-breaking yet unappreciated essay that re-evaluates theories of police. The central question animating Graeber’s “interpretative” essay is: why do cops hate activist puppeteers? Graeber’s “tenuous” answer is that police are a form of structural violence and that their power is derived from their cosmological or imagined status. The police are one of the central themes animating Graeber’s work from the beginning of his career to the end. As an anthropologist, he repeatedly turns his attention to places that lack formal police institutions or maintain police forces utterly alien to modern sensibilities. These unusual places are the animus for his recasting of the traditional concepts of political theory: sovereignty, hierarchy, and the state. Graeber’s later work, attacking bureaucracy and meaningless labour, continues his critical interpretation of police. It is impossible to understand the significance and importance of Graeber’s scholarship, in toto, without understanding what he has to say about the police. Most importantly, what Graeber has to say about the police is an altogether original interpretation that should be of importance to those studying the police and to social movements seeking to diminish their political power. Some of Graeber’s observations represent considerable challenges to the cause of police abolition, whereas others provide supporting theses that could aid our struggle against police authoritarianism. I conclude, contra Graeber, that the unreasonableness of the police is not sufficient for them to melt away.


Mark Fuller:	Doesn't DG point to 'defining the situation' as the crux of sovereignty (on the street)?
Jovian Radheshwar:	Andy provides a sweeping epic history indeed!
Mark Fuller:	Rojava also uses the rotation of police service work.
Pablo Arias-Benavides:	Yes, Jovian, a critical point!
Tuna G:	Could anyone drop some suggested articles to read on this topic by graeber and others?
Steven Bachelor:	which topic, tuna?
Jovian Radheshwar:
Tuna G:	Abolition, the police etc. What we've been discussing
Tuna G:	Thanks jovian I haven't read that one
Jovian Radheshwar:	Replying to "Thanks jovian I have..."
most welcome, its a great anthology with many voices
Steven Bachelor:	works by Ruth Wilson Gilmore
Mark Fuller:	Ocalan: kill the inner dominant male
Mark Fuller:	Andrew, do you have a reference for the mimes as traffic cops?
Tessa Roscoe: Editorial written by the former mayor that instituted the mime/traffic cop experiment in Bogota
monika hardy:	fred moten and stefano harney‘s the undercommons ..interesting book on abolition ness
Mark Fuller:	thanks, Tessa
Jovian Radheshwar:	our current police minister in BC was involved in "civil police transition" under the aegis of US occupation of Iraq 
Tuna G:	I love writings about bullshit jobs
Tuna G:	I hundred percent agree I think they are bullshit and police think they are heros
nika dubrovsky:	Kings are also would not agree that they have Bullshit jobs
nika dubrovsky:	If you can call being king a job
Jovian Radheshwar:	andy your argument in the paper around the significance of care work was amazing - especially when you also compared police to the bureaucrats who make disengaged decisions that create immense structural violence - like central bankers
Mark Fuller:	Thank you, Andrew and everyone
Tuna G:	Ok here's my email
Tuna G:	Would love to attend the one

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