Anthony Marcus

Anthony is a prolific writer who backs up his words with action. We first met as students at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York.  Almost immediately we realized we had met a comrade in arms. Throughout our tenure as students in the program we worked together on local political struggles at the Grad Center and in the wider community.  Our shared background in libertarian revolutionary socialism gave us a shared platform and a common language which we used to effect.  We organized in our classrooms, at the school, and when the conditions of fiscal restraint led to student occupations across the CUNY system we were part of the core organizing group that took over the Grad Center and shut our school down in an act of solidarity with the undergraduate student occupations and strikes.

We’ve built a strong friendship out of this experience.

Anthony’s work is thorough, focussed on issues of transformative social justice, and flawlessly marxist in a manner both pragmatic and sophisticated. He does not push data into his theories, but pulls from the data (the lives, stories, and details of real workers, drug users, displaced workers) nuanced accounts that are illuminated by theory and provide meaningful practical and policy implications and directions. In the world of applied social science this is, in my opinion, a remarkable and rare attribute.

Anthony’s book on the construction of a homeless problem in New York City, Where Have All the Homeless Gone, deftly outlines the ways in which the neo-liberal state created and then erased the issue of homelessness in New York City. I’ve used this in introductory anthropology classes to talk about all manner of issues.  One of my favourite lectures focusses on the construction of the “Black Family.”

Anthony tackles the often racialized and prejudicial popular commentary through a careful explication of the contemporary American family. Anthony shows us that in reality the American family, in both its ‘white’ and ‘black’ varieties are really very much the same: nucleated consumption units. He goes further to pull apart the way that systematic structural racism, as deployed in successive state and federal policies, has differentially disadvantaged the black consumption family relative to the white consumption family.

The consumption family is counterpoised to the accumulation family. Anthony does this, in part, to counter act the endless studies that use culturalist logics in comparisons of the impoverished black family to immigrant families that ‘make it.’  These kinds of culturalist projects argue that it is something culturally unique to American Black people that keeps them poor.  Anthony’s analysis undermines that kind of simplistic logic.  Accumulation families, which are common among certain immigrant populations, focus kin networks toward accumulation of capital and the deployment of family labour power in a way that creates gendered and social inequality within the family but allows the corporate kin group to accumulate wealth in a way that consumption families, that do not pool wealth, cannot do.

Anthony does not shy away from controversial subject matter.  A case in point is his direct critique of the human sex trafficking industry.  In a series of recent papers Anthony (and co-authors) document how the victimization narratives of the liberal attack against sex trafficking is both misguided and empirically incorrect. Anthony goes further to question the use of child sexual assault laws to suppress/police youth prostitution.  By using a marxist conception of labour and parsing out the process of production within sex work Anthony and his colleagues provide a very different analysis of the ‘problem’ of prostitution. They offer a view point that places a greater emphasis on participants actual roles and experiences than the dominant Neo-Puritan conception of sex work.

If you want to read good, theoretical, practically oriented anthropology then Anthony Marcus is an anthropologist to read!