New York Times publishes Shweder opinion piece on anthropology and war
The New York Times yesterday (well, today in New York) published an opinion piece by Richard A. Shweder on anthropologists working with the U.S. military. Shweder points out that what they are doing is not so much anthropology as playing cultural tour guide/ Miss Manners:
It turns out that the anthropologists are not really doing anthropology at all, but are basically hired as military tour guides to help counterinsurgency forces accomplish various nonlethal missions.These anthropological “angels on the shoulder,” as Ms. McFate put it, offer global positioning advice as soldiers move through poorly understood human terrain — telling them when not to cross their legs at meetings, how to show respect to leaders, how to arrange a party. They use their degrees in cultural anthropology to play the part of Emily Post.
He also opines that for the American Anthropology Association to condemn the use of anthropology in this war would be to “[shoot] oneself in the foot”:
How have members of the anthropological profession reacted to the Pentagon’s new inclusion agenda? A group calling itself the Network of Concerned Anthropologists has called for a boycott and asked faculty members and students around the country to pledge not to contribute to counterinsurgency efforts. Their logic is clear: America is engaged in a brutal war of occupation; if you don’t support the mission then you shouldn’t support the troops. Understandably these concerned scholars don’t want to make it easier for the American military to conquer or pacify people who once trusted anthropologists. Nevertheless, I believe the pledge campaign is a way of shooting oneself in the foot.
… I think it is a mistake to support a profession-wide military boycott or a public counter-counterinsurgency loyalty oath. And I think it would be unwise for the American Anthropological Association to do so at this time.
Unfortunately, he does provide much explanation for this opinion; instead the article meanders through some peculiar terrain (no pun intended!) with a claim about the Ottoman Empire’s longevity relative to the British Empire being due to its cultural relativism and an anecdote about Montgomery McFate encouraging U.S. soldiers to be more tolerant of Afghani homosexuality.
I was disappointed. I’m an admirer of Shweder’s work and I can only suppose that a more coherent article was cut by the New York Times for the sake of space. The article in its entirety can be read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/27/opinion/27shweder.html.