Book Review – The Autonomous Life? Paradoxes of hierarchy and authority in the squatters movement in Amsterdam

Book Review – The Autonomous Life? Paradoxes of  hierarchy and authority in the squatters movement in Amsterdam


ISBN: 978-1-7849-9411-2;

Chapter 2: The habitus of emotional sovereignty

The following conversation occurred among a small group sitting in a private bedroom at approximately 3 a.m. at a squatters’ party.

I’ve been squatting in Amsterdam for the past decade and I want to comment on this book, which I think is trash.

1 I read the book when it came and I am amazed at David Graeber’s glowing review because it’s not much more than gossip and finishing scores, with some clunky academic analysis of late night conversations. It is difficult to judge a book that is full of ad hominem attacks without responding in kind; This made me wonder if it was really worth assessing the book. On reflection, I feel that someone has to answer because otherwise written lies become accepted truths.

2 It is terrible that Kadir criticizes a female friend in the book for being fat (despite the pseudonyms it is easy to find out who the people were): “To be clear, there is a difference between being considered
overweight, for which there is more acceptance in the subculture, and being obese.” Perhaps Kadir did not like this person? I can not understand this kind of thing in an academic work.

3 Another male activist is criticized that he is old, pittiful, unmarried and still in the movement, as if people use squatting to sort out their living needs as they go on young adventures and then they go
further to standardized middle class behaviors such as education at a university or a family. If it is still possible people would actually have coherent revolutionary politics, then this argument is nonsense.
This person is controversial, sure, but he is part of the scene and I respect him for still doing things [actually he just died – RiP].

A number of movement researchers feel their academic production serves as an extension of their activism. I do not share this approach.

4 Kadir is an American, Yale-trained anthropologist who judges European squatters because they do not comply with their rhetoric of nonhierarchy. That does not look good, it seems colonial. Of course, the movement is not perfect, no one would argue … but what about her own positions? She criticizes hierarchical behavior in others, but tells how she moved into a house and forced the inhabitants to clean it up. She criticizes kraakbonzen (male squat boss figures) but is/was dating a “charismatic leader” – sorry to become personal, but how else to challenge the hypocrisy?

And if you look for it, you’ll see the hypocrisy everywhere. Another example: Kadir criticizes the hegemonic history of squatting in Amsterdam (1980s glory days), but just repeats it herself. She scorns the nostalgic views of the movement, but then says “squatting was widespread in the 1980s when it was idealistic. Now its done mainly by foreigners who do it for free housing rather than out of ideals.” And another example : She talks about how history is told by those who have the privilege of writing it without examining her own privilege. Another: Kadir writes that people should study the history of Surinaamers squatting in Amsterdam in the 1970s and 1980s, but acknowledges that she did not do it herself. Another: she emphasizes the importance of interviewing women (of course valid to say), but at one point uses the opinions of three men “as a result of methodological coincidence / convenience.” I really would recommend to anyone who reads the book to see if she is really passing the criticisms she rolls out.

5 Here are some comments of Amsterdam squatters when the book has been published so that you can judge how people in the scene have found the book: A comrade of Joe’s Garage (a social center in Amsterdam) was angry that she was cooking with them, and so on, without informing that they were research subjects and that she would repeat midnight conversations in a PhD. Very unethical.

I realized after a few months that the cost of squatting had outweighed the benefits and moved to rental accommodation to finish my dissertation.