Interview completed: 09/15/2014
How did you first hear about anarchism? What was that encounter like?
I think the first conscious interaction happened in the alter-globalization movement. It was a method of organizing, through participatory democracy, affinity groups, and free association to work on the piece you wanted to. This made perfect sense as a way for a very diverse mobilization to express themselves. I didn’t experience it as an ideology.
Later I recognized that the values of anarchism were the same as the values of what we called “indigenous planning”. At MIT, when I did my Masters in City Planning, I was part of a group of students who were challenging the models of urban planning which seemed to re-subordinate communities, always in the guise of benevolence. We studied cases of community self-determination. We read Paulo Freire and other advocates of the idea that people have the wisdom, collectively and through the tools of culture to understand their situation and improve their lives. Anarchism was another tradition for making this same point, so it was very consistent with what I already believed.
As I became interested in sustainable development and permaculture I found the same ideas again, together with the technology for implementing them.
What within sociology and anarchism are the most compatible?
Well the academy as a whole is generally anarchist in organization and most faculty would vigorously defend these aspects. We freely associate ourselves to research agendas and teams (affinity groups) according to our own assessments of what needs to be done and how we can best contribute. And there are community values of respecting this non-hierarchical way of producing knowledge. People generally believe that a diversity of projects and approaches can co-exist and should be respected. There is also a tendency to collaborate, providing mutual aid whenever it’s feasible. Department governance limits itself to matters of collective concern and is generally democratic and egalitarian. Where people disagree they usually leave each other alone.
Aside from the meddling of the administrators and corporations, university faculties are anarchist communities.
I think that at their best both sociology and anarchism don’t depend on ideology. They try to build a practice based on empirical reality. And they both recognize community, which their competitors, philosophy and economics on one hand, and socialism and capitalism on the other, under-conceptualize.
Has anarchism contributed anything to sociology?
Probably, but it’s a bit like rock ‘n’ roll. Black people don’t get the credit…
What could anarchism contribute to sociology?
Anarchism is the voice of other that has always been part of Marxism. It’s way past a lot of the impasses between multiple oppressions and Marxism.
Also anarchism focuses on the relationship between individual and community, structure and agency, which is a theme of sociology. Anarchism has practical and theoretical contributions to make in understanding these relations.
Finally, anarchism has a lot of practical experience with some of the major unexamined questions in socialism, especially Michel’s “iron law of oligarchy” and the problem of deference. (These two problems were emphasized by Leo Panitch in his recent lecture to the 2014 Historical Materialism conference in Sydney.)
Amory Starr‘s dissertation, Naming the Enemy: Anti-Corporate Movements Confront Globalization, was completed in 1998, more than a year before the Seattle WTO protests which brought Global Days of Action and anti-corporate/anti-Free Trade activism to international recognition. Later published by Zed Books, it is the first systematic survey of the political economic visions of the movements which would shortly converge into the anti-/alter-globalization movement. Her second book, Global Revolt: A Guide to Alterglobalization, is an introductory text, reviewing points of consensus, disagreements, and some of the tactics from the global struggle. (Zed Books, 2005) She also wrote and directed This is What Free Trade Looks Like, a 2004 documentary which examines México’s experience with NAFTA as a basis for understanding the WTO. Her most recent books are Out of Order: The Political Violence of Social Control in the Global Era (NYU Press, 2011) and Underground Restaurant: Local Food, Artisan Economics, Creative Political Culture (Pull Don’t Press, 2013). Her articles appear in Cultural Studies, Agriculture and Human Values, Journal of Social Movement Studies, Qualitative Sociology, Journal of World Systems Research, New Political Science, Social Justice, Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, Socialist Register, and Journal of Developing Societies. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, a B.S. and M.C.P. from M.I.T., and a certificate in Permaculture from Bill Mollison (1997). Amory was a street activist in the US alterglobalization movement from Seattle 1999, and in the anti-war and anti-biotech movements through 2005. In 1995, she created a course called “The Political Economy of Food”, which she taught annually until 2009. She was faculty advisor to student groups working for ecological agriculture education and direct procurement. In 2006 she started an underground restaurant as a way to build political community and culture around Slow Food and Food Sovereignty. Amory left the University and the United States in 2009 and currently lives in Berlin. Her latest research interest is artisan-scale production as a model for good and sustainable work and meaningful objects. The work in progress is at www.artisanmodern.com. Her archive of work and blog can be found at www.amorystarr.com.