One doesn’t normally think of sociology graduate students as a particularly physical bunch, but the student book giveaway at the tail end of the ASA meetings this week would put the lie to that notion. The graduate school process having stripped us of our shame, we lined up for an hour with our ticket to the giveaway, hoping to make a good find. Although it didn’t rise to the level of violence as last week’s $50 iBook sale, when they opened the doors to that ballroom all hell broke loose.

There was pushing and shoving, flying elbows, people forcing their way into the mob and scooping up armloads of books the titles of which they didn’t even see. If knowledge is fetishised, free knowledge must be even better, no matter what the subject. Someone who called me sir and apologized quite sincerely used my shoulder as leverage to get himself close enough to scoop up a copy of Normal Accidents.

After the chaos, when all that’s left on the long banquet tables are duplicate copies of journals nobody has heard of, the secondary market starts up. Students sit cross-legged on the floor sifting through the piles that they and their friends acculumated. Like vultures, the rest of us hover nearby: Is she going to keep that one? Damn. That one? Score!

I came away with just one title (which is all the better, really; less to lug home), Paul Seabright’s The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life. It’s all about how cooperation naturally evolves as a product of market forces. I wonder if the book giveaway melee would give Seabright pause.