Price, D. H. (2011). Weaponizing Anthropology. CounterPunch and AK Press.

In Weaponizing Anthropology, David Price first explains how the CIA is silently taking over American academic institutions and how it, like the military, recruits on campus or afterwards those who have studied social sciences. Price lists and describes government funded programs and scholarships such as PRISP, ICSP and NSEP (p.33). Such programs engage the beneficiary upon graduation to work for a certain number of years for the government or choose a lifelong bankruptcy.

The second and third parts are concerned with Human Terrain program, “a new form of anthropologically informed counterinsurgency” (p.95). Using specific citations from The New Counterinsurgency Manual, Price shows how cheap and quickly put together the Human Terrain program is. Price clearly demonstrates how the author of the Manual, who had only basic training in anthropology, did not hesitate to plagiarize and mix different theories and theorists so that it would succeed to convey the message intended by the military and/or the government administration. Who would seriously think that the military could change its structure and become “anthropological”? Price raises the issues of the influence of the militarization of anthropology on theory, and this in turn raises the issue of the porous divide between academia and the military.

I am thankful to Price for the hours he spent filling access to information claims and demystifying those documents for his readers, but I was surprised to see Julian Assange’s name come up as a source without any questioning, even more so as Assange explicitly asked Price to write something about the documents he was sending him (p.100). I think some reserve is appropriate when it comes to international public figures like Assange, Snowden and the likes. In a hypothetical COIN operation against the ever renewing groups of conspiracy theorists, what better way to control and assert authority over domestic insurgents than the friendship and apparent genuine honesty of such male characters? Leaked information exists, but it is rarely clear where it leaked from.

Price did a good job in shedding light on the contemporary version of the shady, tortuous relationship between academia, in this case specifically anthropology, and the military. Indeed, as Price demonstrates, the COIN operations in which the HTT personnel is involved could only function if the personnel was always in place that is, occupying permanently. History has shown what the results of such occupation were.

The relationship between anthropology and imperialist expansion is the most well-known thing about anthropology. The discipline itself has tried to move on (the Reflexive Turn, that advent), but some scholars still find glimpse of romantic hope in thinking they can make war less violent by domesticating the savage through culture engineering. Price thoroughly exposes the craftiness of academic collaborators to the military. Yet, one Amazon reviewer describes Price’s book as “Truly a brutal book which at once has nothing to do with Anthropology and at the same time has everything to do with it.” This is a comment that was phrased differently many times in class and I agree too.

Weaponizing Anthropology is a daring book with its bright red cover crossed by the black silhouette of a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). This image on the cover made me think of one quote by Price in response to his informant John Allison. Allison suggested that the Human Terrain Team social scientists should be put as residents with the local people instead of being “embedded in the military and ‘inside the wire’” (p.163). The Human Terrain System program would engage with the population without force. Price replied that this proposal sounded “like the dream of panoptical control of the enemy: becoming the all seeing eye; surveillance ethnography brought to a new level” (p.163). Indeed, in Weaponizing Anthropology, David Price demonstrates to the readers the dangerous potential of HTS. If the project worked as it is intended to, social scientists participating in it would become somewhat like drones, sent out to remote locations with the function of mapping the human terrain. They become the moving eyes of the panopticon. Perhaps that is only until the singularity happens, then the military won’t need anthropologists to play drones.

We students are told every semester that a life of stress, poverty and shattered hopes is most likely what awaits us if we choose to pursue higher studies in anthropology. Yet, the military seems keen on welcoming us and at fantastic wages. It does not mean we should join the military but that the skills we acquire must indeed be truly worth something, enough so that the CIA and the army actively seek them. Price makes clear throughout his book that who we should serve should not even be a question since by choosing to label yourself as an anthropologist, you accept to serve the people you are working with; your informants, the inhabitants of the places that welcome you. Who would betray the trust of his or her hosts? The theme of ethics is present throughout the book, and I believe that it is its strongest point. The future of anthropology is intrinsically linked to ethics, and to reinforce this aspect of the discipline is the only way to set the standards of what can be labeled anthropology and what cannot.


One thought on “Price, D. H. (2011). Weaponizing Anthropology. CounterPunch and AK Press.

  1. Just a couple of notes and comments:

    The New Counterinsurgency Manual is in fact called FM 3-24: Counterinsurgency and it is available in numerous places, this being one of them:

    As for the comments on Assange, as in class, I am not following what exactly is the nature of the criticism or question being raised. What should Price have questioned? What should he have said about Assange, and why? Assange simply helped to deliver a document. Are we to shoot the messenger? Also, why do you choose to single them out by sex, as “male characters”?

    To be correct, Assange did not come up as a source in the text. The sources are the actual army documents which Price is discussing. Price also spent years, rather than hours, building up the documentary base of his research–I just point that out in case it could mistakenly look like we are minimizing his efforts.

    Other than that, you raise a lot of good points, thanks.

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