Scholars, Security and Citizenship, Part II (SAR Plenary)


This is Part II or a 2 part session, part I is available here.

Due to a few glitches in the audio, the first speaker’s paper was unfortunately lost.  There is also a 20 second spot of silence in the second paper.

CHAIR: MCNAMARA, Laura (Sandia Nat’l Labs)

Culture, Torture, Interrogation, and the Global War on Terrorism.

Journalist Seymour Hersh ignited a firestorm among anthropologists by alleging that Raphael Patai’s 1973 ethnography The Arab Mind was a “bible” for neoconservative decision makers involved in setting torture practice and policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo. In this paper, I review the many ways in which anthropologists and others interpreted Hersh’s claims, and then discuss what I have found in the publicly available FOIA archives maintained by the American Civil Liberties Union regarding the relationship between culture and torture. Anthropologists’ public outrage over the “use” of ethnography in torture constituted a peculiarly narrow reaction to the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. I argue that anthropologists should instead be actively engaged in the problem of interrogation: for example, documenting how interrogation constitutes a cultural encounter; identifying how the evolution of interrogation practice reflects changes in institutional worldview among the federal agencies charged with prosecuting the Global War on Terror; and assessing how the evolution of interrogation may reveal a significant shift in the relationship between criminal justice and military institutions in the context of the Global War on Terror. (TH-183)

FERGUSON, R. Brian (U Rutgers-Newark)

The Challenge of Security Anthropology.

Suddenly burgeoning demand by US and other security agencies for “cultural knowledge” and “ethnographic intelligence” has the potential to transform the discipline of anthropology. The first part of this presentation outlines the many types and situations of potential anthropological engagement. Some are unproblematic in terms of professional ethics, but most are situated in a broad gray zone, where ethical questions arise. The second part focuses on the Human Terrain System, and published plans for global ethnographic surveillance. My position is that these engagements do contradict anthropological ethics, and represent a significant danger for the discipline as a whole. (TH-183)

RUBINSTEIN, Robert A. (Syracuse U)

Ethics, Engagement and Experience: Anthropological Excursions in Culture and the Military.

I have been engaged in the ethnographic study of United Nations peacekeeping since the 1980s. As in any ethnographic research, I developed deep social ties to the people with whom I worked. These people include military officers and troops from many countries. Following my return from “the field” some of these informants asked me to aid them in improving their cultural understanding of the people and places with whom they worked. Thus began a variety of excursions of working with the military. This paper describes some of those activities and the ethical and
practical issues raised by this engagement. (TH-183)

IRWIN, Anne (U Calgary)

Military Ethnography and Embedded Journalism: Parallels, Intersections and Disjuncture.

During the summer of 2006 I spent three months conducting ethnographic field research with an infantry unit of the Canadian Forces that was engaged in combat operations in southern Afghanistan. During that period, a number of print and photojournalists were “embedded” in the same and similar units, reporting on the activities of the combat troops. On the surface the methods and goals of embedded journalism appear similar to those of ethnographers: immersion in a culture or sub-cultural aiming to record and represent in context the experiences of members of the culture. Encounters with journalists during my field work and with the products of their work subsequent to the fieldwork have inspired me to question the parallels, intersections and disjuncture between embedded journalism and military anthropology. This paper examines how the particular context of war informs the methods and goals of both ethnographic fieldwork and embedded journalism. (TH-183)

HOFFMAN, Danny (UW-Seattle)

The Sub-Contractor: Counterinsurgency, Militias and the New Common Ground in Social and Military Science.

The focus on US military programs like the Human Terrain System may obscure a more pressing intersection between anthropology and military strategy: the outsourcing of war to local, surrogate militia forces. The real “culturalist” turn in the military is toward mobilizing indigenous groups for counterinsurgency. Thus the number of anthropologists who find themselves working in communities “sub-contracted” to provide their own security is growing, raising new ethical concerns and presenting new opportunities for engagement. Based on fieldwork in West Africa, I argue that anthropologists might make their most valuable contribution by exploring through theory the consequences of sub-contracted war. (TH-183)

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Session took place in Santa Fe, NM at the 69th Annual Meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology in March 2009.

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