La Jornada reviews 'Weaponizing Anthropology'

Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State

I'm waiting for my copy of 'Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State' which looks to be a brilliant discussion of the ethics and purpose of anthropology, specifically referring to the growing use of 'embedded anthropologists' by the US military. This review from La Jornada, a widely circulated Mexican newspaper, was translated by Chuck Morse for AK Press

American anthropologist David H. Price has distinguished himself among his colleagues by opposing the American government’s use of anthropology in counterinsurgency warfare and neocolonial occupation, for advocating an ethical code that clearly sets out anthropologists’ responsibilities to the populations that they study, and for denouncing the mercenary use of the discipline generally.

Price recently authored Weaponizing anthropology Social Science in Service of the Militarized State (Counter Punch / AK Press, 2011). In his vital book, he confronts counterinsurgency projects advanced by teams of social scientists (such as Human Terrain Systems) that are part of American combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also challenges university programs (Minerva Consortium, Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program, and Intelligence Community Centers of Academic Excellence) designed to facilitate CIA, FBI, and Pentagon incursions into American institutions of higher learning and make the social science an instrument of the American national security state, the hegemonic power in the world imperialist system that has transformed universities into obsequious extensions of its military structure.
In the introduction, titled “Anthropology’s Military Shadow,” Price argues that George Bush’s “war on terror” renewed older military uses of anthropological knowledge and adapted them to the needs of asymmetric warfare, counterinsurgency, and the occupation of regions with large ethnic or tribal groups.

The first section, “Politics, Ethics and the Military Intelligence Complex’s Quiet Triumphal Return to Campus,” provides a historical overview of anthropology’s involvement with colonization, conquest, and genocide, illustrating that the discipline is far from neutral. He points out the links between American, British, French, Dutch, and German anthropological traditions and colonial expansion in Africa, Asia, Indonesia, and indigenous territories of the Americas, showing that they have been present since anthropology’s origins. Price describes the ethical and political problems faced by anthropologists and other social scientists associated with military and intelligence agencies, and documents anthropology’s integration into university programs established to benefit the military-industrial complex.
In the second part, “Manuals: Deconstructing the Texts of Cultural Warfare,” he uses leaked and published military documents to explore new military and intelligence initiatives that seek to harness social science and apply it to current and future wars. The military manuals that he treats frame culture as an identifiable, controllable commodity that military planners and intelligence agencies can utilize to manipulate occupied and resistant populations. Price notes the absence of any appreciation of the complexities of culture in these texts, something that is present in most anthropological writings but sorely lacking here; instead, they present narratives that reinforce simplistic stereotypes about large areas of diversity—indeed, he makes it clear that military conceptions of culture rely upon the most reductionist anthropological premises. He also exposes the lack of intellectual and professional scruples among the anthropologists who compiled the latest counterinsurgency manual (Counterinsurgency Field Manual, No. 3–24), published by the University of Chicago. He reveals how they plagiarized renowned authors and discussed their work out of context. Price characterizes this as a form of academic looting.

Finally, in the last section, “Counterinsurgency Theories, Fantasies, and Harsh Realities,” he looks at contemporary uses of the social sciences to support counterinsurgency operations in the so-called “war on terror,” including in training and developing the policy of anthropological and social science teams currently working in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Price’s view, this culturally informed counter-insurgency raises ethical, political and theoretical problems for anthropology. The ethical dilemma has to do with the manipulation of and the damage done to research populations, who should be able to voluntarily agree to be studied; the political difficulty occurs in the use of anthropological science to support conquest, occupation, and domination; the theoretical problem revolves around the application of simplistic reductionisms about culture that are designed to exploit local particularities and not only reduce conflict but also defeat insurgents.

Two questions arise from Latin America: What is the extent of such practices in our countries? What can we anthropologists and our professional associations do to reverse or at least challenge the American governments’ anthropologically informed counterinsurgency strategies?

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Sep 15 2011 14:21


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Sep 22 2011 16:08

Dunno if you seen this, but similar stuff has come up with psychologists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists and archaeologists.
None of the moves particularly radical but in 2008 400 psychologists withheld their professional subs over the APA's failure to explicitly condemn torture.

Sep 24 2011 18:54

Oh no I hadn't seen that, that's pretty interesting thank you!