October 18, 2007

Anthropologists at War ... with Themselves

Abu Muqawama enjoyed a long conversation with an academic colleague yesterday regarding the ethics of conducting research in the social sciences in the service of national ends. In political science, this isn't such a big deal, and political scientists go on to serve in government and then return to the academy to teach.* Right this very moment, for example, Condoleezza Rice (a political scientist by training) employs a political scientist (this guy) as her counselor who will go back to his teaching post (just like this guy) once the administration changes out in early 2009.

But in anthropology, serving "empire" by working in the Departments of State or Defense can spell an end to one's career. In this blog post by anthropologist Marcus Griffin, the author does a nice job explaining the history behind this animosity toward government service and makes an eloquent defense of anthropologists who risk their academic careers to serve in the Department of Defense as part of Human Terrain Teams or helping Marines and soldiers understand foreign cultures.**

The debate in a nutshell is as follows. The general objection to anthropologists working with the military is that research will be used to facilitate the capture, torture, and killing of Iraqis. The professional code of ethics we abide by states that we must not conduct research that will cause harm to research subjects or the subject population. This code came out of the Vietnam War experience whereby some anthropologists used social network analysis to identify tribal leaders that the CIA apparently then assassinated. The second objection is that by using the anthropological perspective, US Forces will be in a position to more effectively prolong their “illegal occupation of Iraq.” I am embarrassed to say that academia is taking this issue very seriously, with some anthropologists writing in the blogosphere to get the national association to consider certain sanctions that include denying the publication of any research conducted in association with the military. That is serious because it leads to ignorance generally and specifically denies faculty like me avenues to measure scholarship and service for purposes promotion and merit pay. Read on...

* Reading Elizabeth Kier's book Imagining War, her study of French Army doctrine between the world wars, Abu Muqawama was shocked and pleased to read a short selection of policy recommendations at the end. You would never see that in an anthropological study written in the post-Vietnam era.
** Abu Muqawama owes the website Small Wars Journal for the discovery of many references and articles, this blog being one of them.