The ontological gambit: Ethnography, ontology, and politics in David Graeber and OTers’ proposals


  • Vicente Ordóñez Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid, Spain


David Graeber, ethnography, ontology, politics, anthropology


This brief essay will tackle recent anthropological debates between OTers (proponents of the ontological turn in anthropology) and David Graeber’s arguments regarding ontology, politics and ethnographic theory. To be specific, it will attempt to critically reveal the tendency to fetishise a kind of stable and hierarchical reality to understand better the so-called radical alterity of the others. This ontological framework is a kind of ideal realm developed in the context of competing claims of what is real. However, this raises a straightforward question: how could a group of anthropologists apparently concerned exclusively with ethnographic aspects of a tribe, clan, or society offer the basis for an ontological program? Instead, I suggest that Graeber’s works raise awareness of the experience and effects of this ideological framework. I then turn to the theoretical contributions of my study as a way of showing that Graeber attempts to untie the slipknot of cultural and ideological prejudices. At any rate, Graeber offers an anti-ontological agenda, exposing, among others, either consciously or unconsciously assumed political cosmologies that contribute to submission and dispossession.