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This is all wrong

I'm currently listening to a programme on BBC Radio 4 about the embedding of Social Anthropologists with the US military in Iraq to do 'human terrain work' -- research hand-in-hand with counter-insurgency activities.
Well, I may be just an old-fashioned Welsh mining valley socialist (that's 'pinko commie' in Dubya-speak) but I wish to state that, in my view as an academic who has a background partly in Soc. anth., I consider this utterly unacceptable and abusive and I strongly censure any academic who involves themselves in this work.

The link is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00jvdh8

edited for typo.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 24th, 2009 10:37 am (UTC)
I seem to remember that the American anthropologist community split at one of their conferences over this., ie it has been a Big Issue.
Apr. 24th, 2009 11:33 am (UTC)
Yes, the programme talked about that aspect.
Apr. 24th, 2009 02:23 pm (UTC)
Without listening to the program (not an option this instant), I'm in two minds about the concept. (The implementation may easily, of course, make it unacceptable even if the concept is on balance good).

I find it an interesting moral issue, and would be interested to hear why anthropologists should not be there, while doctors should be.

(And censor? Or censure? I'm a bit twitchy about the first.)
Apr. 24th, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
Whoops: typo!
The nature of antropological work is sensitive to begin with -- it often involves an outsider analysing and observing from a privileged position. The association of this particular project with military force raises some ethical problems. As far as I can tell, it's not a study of the effects of war and invasion, which might just be viable (but likely to be skewed by the association of researcher with occupier). A study of the occupying forces could be very valuable. But it's not that, either.
Apr. 24th, 2009 06:15 pm (UTC)
I'd think it depended entirely what the anthropologists are there for. If they're there to essentially gather military intelligence under the guise of academia then that would indeed be bad. (I seem to recall there was a similar spat amongst the psychologists a year or two ago over some of them assisting with 'interrogations' at Guantanamo, and that's beyond 'bad').

However, if they're actually trying to understand the people of the country they're working in; trying not to keep putting their feet in it by not understanding the relationships between tribes, sects or ethnicities; or maybe even trying to work with them instead of - as, my British Army colleagues have told me, is more usually the case - act as if the actual resident population is beneath their notice, then I'd have thought that'd be something of a major step forward for them?
Apr. 24th, 2009 06:46 pm (UTC)
I think that's the ideal. The problem is the implementation and the issues surrounding a close association of researcher with occupier.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )