Wednesday, November 28, 2007


CEAUSSIC Report to AAA Executive Board

The AAA Executive Board received the report of the Ad Hoc Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with Security and Intelligence Communities on November 28th at the American Anthropological Association's 106th Annual Meeting in Washington DC.

Two years ago, a Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities (“Commission”) was formed to advise the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Executive Board by providing information and/or recommendations on the following: (1)The varied roles that practitioners and scholars of anthropology currently assume within intelligence and national security entities (2)The state of AAA’s existing guidelines and guidance on the involvement of anthropologists in intelligence/national security-related activities (3)The key ethical, methodological, and practical/political challenges faced by the discipline and the AAA in its current and future engagement in intelligence/national security.

Recent military action in the Middle East has proven to be highly controversial; anthropologists have strong opinions about the conflict because of the military’s “human terrain systems (HTS)” program, which includes anthropologists assisting the military in a number of functions, which is currently in use in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To facilitate discussion on this subject, the Executive Board of the AAA has created this blog as a forum to post comments regarding the Commission’s report and related issues.

Personally, I do not believe academics should serve or work closely with the military in any way. Academics might have an input in policy, but working with any type of power structures involves joining those structures in many ways.

While I understand the need for 'cooperation', I think that cooperation is dangerously corrupting the academic integrity and freedom of thought.

Gramsci's concept of hegemony is a useful model for countering the 'triple-helix' model (see Leydesdorff promoted by various academics.
As a cultural geographer I offer my thoughts...
I read the report on the plane home from the meetings yesterday. I found the sections discussing ethics and secrecy to argue very forefully against all forms of anthropology that directly contribute to military actions. But the final section of the report listed a bunch of strange anthropological interactions with military and intelligence agencies--some of which would seem to violate the sort of ethical non-secrecy principles described in the report's opening sections.

I do understand and agree with the report's overall finding that identifying problems is not as simple identifying problematic employers (after all, if it had said don't work for the Pentagon, the Human Terrain Teams would still be OK because they are hired as Blackwater like contract employees).

Some of the weaknesses of the report seem to be the result of so many conflicting views on the commission. For example, in the case of the final recommendation that ads for intelligence and military positions be reviewed by a board subcommittee and that unethical ads not be run, this recommendation still opens the possibility that the AAA would provide links to these ads. This makes no sense and I hope the AAA board fixes this by using this subcommittee to identify and not run ads, there is no reason to link members to agencies with unethical ads.

The members attending the business meeting were wise to select the report's recommendation that the ethics code reinstate 1971 ethics language on secrecy. The AAA board needs to follow the members and work to reinstate this language back into the ethics code.
Leave it to tenured academics to imagine they can sit back and be "high minded" about the military that protects them and their contorted view of ethics.
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