Embedded Anthropologists

Embedded Anthropologists 

I had some fun describing the American Anthropological Association (AAA) meetings here, but the meetings include some serious and controversial policy matters of interest to DC wonks, chief among them the issue of anthropologists working with the military in the field and in interrogation and other intelligence functions.

An AAA committee examining the ethics of these practices for over a year and the report has just been issued. It takes a balanced view, outlining and condemning some of the “Psy-Op” practices of the past while urging use of anthropology’s capacity to enhance cultural understanding.  

The New York Times carried a brief report on the first “Human Terrain System (HTS) Team” in eastern Afghanistan last month, emphasizing the role of anthropologists in helping U.S. troops mediate local feuds and vendettas so civil reconstruction can begin. The AAA panel specifically expressed disapproval of this project, finding that it violates their professional code of ethics and endangers anthropologists and those whom they study. Points include the fact that resident populations cannot usually differentiate between government contractors — in this case, anthropologists — and members of the military. This specific statement seems to be a direct reaction to the Times article.  There is also an active and independent  protest movement of anti-war activists within the profession.

The controversy has continued to develop in meeting rooms and corridors of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel this week, and fresh expressions of it should come to public attention in weeks to come.


Image by Mike Licht.

One Response to “Embedded Anthropologists”

  1. Military Musings on “Minerva” « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] Military decided use of “embedded anthropologists” in combat zones was effective, but the discipline ruled it unethical. Now the Department of […]

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