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