Upcoming lectures in London

There’s two fascinating-looking talks over the next few months that between them span the very broad thematic range of North.

David Graeber & David Wengrow: Palaeolithic Politics – And Why It Still Matters

Two Hadzabe men in Tanzania
Two Hadzabe men in Tanzania (Andreas Lederer, CC)

London’s Radical Anthropology Group are hosting a lecture jointly given by David Graeber and David Wengrow. Graeber is an anthropologist and second-generation anarchist. Heavily involved in the Occupy movement, his influential and brilliant book Debt: The First 5000 Years is essential reading. Wengrow is an archaeologist whose What Makes Civilization? is a brief tour through the ancient Near East, the accessible brevity of which belies the depth of its insights.

Last time Graeber was at the RAG, I asked him what he was working on and he mentioned he was working with Wengrow on the evidence for democracy and egalitarianism in early Mesopotamian city states – typically known for their monarchic hierarchies. This lecture promises to take us back across the agricultural divide to look at a ‘mirror’ phenomenon: evidence for hierarchies among hunter-gatherers, typically understood to favour egalitarianism.

This is an incredibly important topic. Even though North drew much inspiration from the egalitarianism among hunter-gatherers, the narrative based around this ultimately had to concede that there is no firm Palaeolithic ‘state of nature’. What’s more, the way this narrative generally typified civilisation as hierarchical is also in need of complexification – not least because it looks like we will stand or fall at the civilisation scale, and we need all the inspiration for mass egalitarianism we can get.

Shane McCorristine: Polar Otherworlds

Aurora borealis

In western cultures, people who visit the polar regions enter places that have been imagined as somehow magical, and polar exploration has a history filled with strange experiences and ghostly voyages. But far from being some poetic fluff, clairvoyants and spiritualists actually played significant roles in how Arctic exploration was imagined and carried out, and the talk will look in particular at Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition. Shane McCorristine is an interdisciplinary geographer and historian who is a Research Associate at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. Brave the eerie icy realms with us.