Kelly Fosher’s “Under Construction: Making Homeland Security at the Local Level”
Merriden Varrall, our PhD student who is doing her research on Chinese foreign policy, forwarded a review of Under Construction: Making Homeland Security at the Local Level, a dissertation-turned-book by Kelly Fosher published by the University of Chicago Press. Writing in The Times Higher, Jeremy Keenan rubbishes the book as “the epitome of all that anthropology should not be,” and Merriden’s email seemed to have a worried undertone as to whether all research on government apparatuses may meet with censure for possible complicity. For Keenan does not say much about the book itself; for him, “Fosher’s relationship with the US military-intelligence-security establishment”, i.e. the fact that she is employed as “the US Marine Corps’ command social scientist at the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Virginia” (having decapitalised “command”, Keenan makes some cheap fun of what a “command social scientist” might be) makes it impossible to take any of her claims of a detached observation seriously.
This may be so, but I would still be interested in what the book says. Those who have opposed any engagement with the military by anthropologists have tended to say that they would not produce any critical studies of the establishment anyway. Yet here is someone who, apparently, claims to have tried to do just that with the apparatus of “homeland security.” Clearly this is a very important thing to do, and it is probably impossible from the outside. On the other hand studying it from the inside, without being kicked out, is likely to entail compromises and ethical dilemmas (whose description, according to Keenan, make the book “an unrewarding read”). I haven’t read the book myself, but I am looking forward to reading at least a serious review.
Any research of government apparatuses, assuming that to some extent it has to be done from the inside, can attract accusations of complicity. Sure, this is especially so if the apparatus is a military one and if the researcher is actually employed by it. Still, I can hardly think of more important tasks for anthropology than studying precisely these mechanisms of power from the inside.