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More on Mercenary Anthropology

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  • George Thomas
    Mark, Brian, Lloyd, etc: I ve been following this odd little corner of anthropology for some time, and notice how it features good days and bad days, as with
    Message 1 of 2 , Nov 15, 2007
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      Mark, Brian, Lloyd, etc: I've been following this odd little corner of anthropology for some time, and notice how it features "good days and bad days," as with an individual with some terminal disease. Excuse the biological analogy, but I though better of it too late. The website "SavageMinds" has running commentary on this also. In 2005 a commentator wrote (and I paraphrase from memory here) "there cannot be any such thing as an anthropology associated with 'US Forces.' This is not moralizing, but a practical matter. It simply cannot be done."
      The issue goes back at least to Boas' 1919 letter to The Nation. One Anna Simons writes somewhere (and again I apologize for foisting yet another faulty memory paraphrase on you), "if anthropologists don't inform the military, the military will turn to the kinds of advisors who make us want to tear our hair out." This quote has been cited in more than one place, but I have yet to find it. If any of you can provide me with an I.D. of this citation, feel free.
      And finally, I first found ref to Montgomery McFate amid those 2005 SavageMinds blog entries, and it seems her work is even more "embedded" within the military than is Anna Simons'. As one session in particular at the 2002 meetings of the AAA in New Orleans made clear, whether one "embeds" with "evil" (wink-wink) or stays clear on "moral high ground," there will always be differing perspectives and motivations, and there will always be acrimony on this subject. As some discussions of values, ethnocentrism, the lack of fit between the "anthro perspective" and that of, say, an FBI operative make clear to us anthros, this difference of opinion and approach will always be with us, and will always be acrimonious.
      Trouble is, from today's perspective we have this illusion that the politics du jour really MATTER this time.
      Perhaps they do.
      I tend to agree with Mark L., re. the ongoing process of anthropology, anthropologists, and our changing community. From the Anna Simons perspective, someone's got to provide some input of an anthropological nature and try to convince the powers-that-be to consider the input as a whole, and not simply as a source of info on ethnic groups, the better to "neutralize" them. From the purist perspective, yes, it's true. Much valuable pure research opportunities have been lost. So what on earth do we DO about it?
      George


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    • Lynch, Brian M
      George, I need to go back to Boas and read more about his statement on this. It seems very much in the order of what I have been trying to get at on the AAA
      Message 2 of 2 , Nov 15, 2007
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        George,



        I need to go back to Boas and read more about his statement on this. It
        seems very much in the order of what I have been trying to get at on the
        AAA blog and in discussions here. It strikes me that our challenge is
        much like that of journalists and/or the Red Cross: how do we continue
        to do what we do professionally in a way that "protects our sources,"
        establishes our clear intention of attempting to be objective in our
        practical standing (that is, when we stand in someone's midst it is
        clear we are there to observe and understand, not to spy and
        counter-insurge-pardon my grammar)?



        McFate et al, on the other hand, are very clear that they are not simply
        doing what they are doing as some kind of internal anthropological
        subversion-attempting to change the military into a nonviolent peace
        force (as some kind of anthropological double-agents, really meaning to
        change the military from within into something other than a military
        force). They are working as agents of a military, for that military's
        success. This blatantly perverts anthropological principles and
        practices of developing trust among those we study with, and calls into
        question the trust-worthiness of any anthropologist, if our professional
        discipline doesn't make it clear that this is unacceptable.



        It is not simply a matter of "keeping our hands clean" like privileged
        elites, while everyone else has to do the dirty work. This is gross
        fallacy that has been tossed around as a rhetorical device to discredit
        those who challenge the rationalization of anthropologists becoming
        "intelligence operatives" for a side in a war. It is not a matter of
        keeping our consciences clean while we live the part of the "guilty
        bystander" (to use Thos. Merton's phrase). Journalists "get their hands
        dirty" all the time-and even die for it, and constantly risk their
        security, as do, again, the people who work for/with NGO's like the Red
        Cross. But because they defend journalistic integrity, or neutrality in
        war, doesn't mean they are radical pacifists or purist elites. Their
        operating principles (reminding me of that Boas quote:"this is not
        moralizing. It is a practical matter.") help to keep their commitments
        and professions, basically transparent to those they are attempting to
        learn from and to assist. They can be trusted in what they do. We
        will not be... it might be that practically yet profoundly simple.



        Brian

        ________________________________

        From: SACC-L@yahoogroups.com [mailto:SACC-L@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf
        Of George Thomas
        Sent: Thursday, November 15, 2007 6:41 PM
        To: SACC-L@yahoogroups.com
        Subject: [SACC-L] More on Mercenary Anthropology



        Mark, Brian, Lloyd, etc: I've been following this odd little corner of
        anthropology for some time, and notice how it features "good days and
        bad days," as with an individual with some terminal disease. Excuse the
        biological analogy, but I though better of it too late. The website
        "SavageMinds" has running commentary on this also. In 2005 a commentator
        wrote (and I paraphrase from memory here) "there cannot be any such
        thing as an anthropology associated with 'US Forces.' This is not
        moralizing, but a practical matter. It simply cannot be done."
        The issue goes back at least to Boas' 1919 letter to The Nation. One
        Anna Simons writes somewhere (and again I apologize for foisting yet
        another faulty memory paraphrase on you), "if anthropologists don't
        inform the military, the military will turn to the kinds of advisors who
        make us want to tear our hair out." This quote has been cited in more
        than one place, but I have yet to find it. If any of you can provide me
        with an I.D. of this citation, feel free.
        And finally, I first found ref to Montgomery McFate amid those 2005
        SavageMinds blog entries, and it seems her work is even more "embedded"
        within the military than is Anna Simons'. As one session in particular
        at the 2002 meetings of the AAA in New Orleans made clear, whether one
        "embeds" with "evil" (wink-wink) or stays clear on "moral high ground,"
        there will always be differing perspectives and motivations, and there
        will always be acrimony on this subject. As some discussions of values,
        ethnocentrism, the lack of fit between the "anthro perspective" and that
        of, say, an FBI operative make clear to us anthros, this difference of
        opinion and approach will always be with us, and will always be
        acrimonious.
        Trouble is, from today's perspective we have this illusion that the
        politics du jour really MATTER this time.
        Perhaps they do.
        I tend to agree with Mark L., re. the ongoing process of anthropology,
        anthropologists, and our changing community. From the Anna Simons
        perspective, someone's got to provide some input of an anthropological
        nature and try to convince the powers-that-be to consider the input as a
        whole, and not simply as a source of info on ethnic groups, the better
        to "neutralize" them. From the purist perspective, yes, it's true. Much
        valuable pure research opportunities have been lost. So what on earth do
        we DO about it?
        George

        ---------------------------------
        Get easy, one-click access to your favorites. Make Yahoo! your homepage.

        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]




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