Thoughts on Weaponizing Anthropology by David H. Price

Price, David. (2011). Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

‘Weaponizing Anthropology’ by David H. Price is an intriguing book. The first impression the title connotes is that an ongoing process of militarizing (weaponizing) the discipline of anthropology is taking place. After a gradual glimpse of familiarity with the content of the book, the ancient story ‘Ajax Dilemma’ came to mind as a reminder that it is difficult to make ethical choices and decisions in life which would be fair to one’s own convictions and to all individuals, all groups of individuals and all nations on earth. One of the complex and troubling issues raised in this book is the quasi-impossibility of joining the ethical to the politically hegemonic in practicing anthropology in particular, and social science in general. Anthropological methods and theories are useful to understand cultures, systems of belief and worldviews for the sake of an independent knowledge. Military agencies are interested in the same kind of knowledge for utilitarian purposes; to divide populations and eventually control them. Moral values sometimes cannot be associated with utilitarian policies and practices?

 Accordingly, military access to anthropological research material, so as to consolidate and resume the imperialistic ‘mono culture’ processes, is an indirect form of colonialism. Unfortunately, the aftermath of 9/11 led to the deployment of policies to study and eventually eradicate an imagined enemy (Price, 2011:1). In order to facilitate such a task, anthropological expertise seems the best mediator of a ‘smooth’ encounter. The contemporary academic researcher remains dependent on funding institutions for conducting research. Most of these entities impose their own agendas and guidelines on specific regions and/or topics of research to be funded in comparison with other ones. But the world of academia cannot be orchestrated by the interests of such corporations, especially when it has the potential agency of freeing the minds from useless dogmas and sterotypes. Social scientists, perhaps, already agree that the notion of common good should not be conceived of mainly from the point of view of the dominant institution or culture. I still believe that there are remedies, and why not future solutions, to the temporary condition of militarization. Without a constructed image of an enemy out there, the military institution will have no reason to interfere with academia.

Political strategies manifest themselves in ordinary everyday life. Mere division of labor within the family institution, for example, could be captured as a way of doing politics, such as who is taking the role or obligation to always run a few errands or even being condemned to constantly wake up from deep slumber in the middle of the night to take care of the crying infant baby. On parallel terms, American students in Anthropology as well may face the inevitable dilemma of ‘competing’ for the short road leading to a successful carrier in the name of ‘saving the world’. They can also opt for the other difficult road with no readymade guarantees and perhaps no exit. But anthropologists are aware of the beneficial outcomes of collaboration and collective agency while uniting for the same common cause: freedom of academia from militarization. I am aware of the fact that the last option is ‘The one less travelled by’ to borrow from Robert Frost in his poem ‘The Road Not Taken’. It appears to be an irrational choice in these contemporary times. Yet it is hoped that it might contribute to authentic independent knowledge. Open dialogue, introspection and critical thinking are capable of shaping new policies which pave the way towards a peaceful inhabited world. Beyond immediate personal interests, free useful knowledge will benefit all humanity instead of subscribing to utilitarian agendas of military institutions in the academia.

Since one does not live completely detached from the market nexus, necessity to have recourse to funding agencies in academia to do research cannot be denied. This fact is too big to ignore. But instead of adhering to imperialist projects and the propaganda of ‘saving the world’, primary importance should be dedicated to prioritizing acquaintance with neutral funding institutions first. Academic integrity necessitates awareness of the agendas of the funding institutions. Avoidance of programs having direct correlation with counterinsurgency tactics and HTS is a matter of common sense. The Book ‘Weaponizing Anthropology’ by Price is an example of a bank of information on a variety of reports, projects and programs and funding agencies, such as Project Camelot, Minerva, Yale report, PRISP, ICSP, NSEP and HTS, coin and other counterinsurgency programs, which aim at studying social structures and cultures in different regions of the globe for the sake of controlling them (Price, 2011:33). According to Price, some of these funding projects require students to pay back the invested money after graduation or to work for their agenda. Other ones are so desperate to recruit anthropologists, such as the case of John Allison being recruited for training by HTS, and train them in a way that will only fit the purposes of the funding agencies (Price, 2011: 155). As a result, militarized training might lead to altering the foundations of anthropological research methods and ethics since the complexities of culture and group populations are being studied hastily in an oversimplified way (Price, 2011: 144). Secrecy in conducting such trainings and cultural immersion in the field alongside the strategies of provocation and intimidation is prove that such engagements are risky and nuanced by double discourses.

The anthropologist has responsibility to do no harm to the population that he or she studies. During wartime, this responsibility might diminish due to other risk priorities and un-anticipated circumstances. I think it is better to avoid fieldwork in zones of conflict. Local people are the ones who know better their own traditional forms of organization and cultures and the best ways to negotiate and resolve their own conflicts. Military intrusion despite its efficiency may lead to more chaos, suspicion, imposed control and division. The world needs peaceful cohabitation between nations rather than utilitarian militarization. Price draws attention to the necessity of gradually emancipating the intellect from essentialist discourses emanating from military institutions, and other mediated representation. It is completely understandable for students in anthropology to join military programs since they provide financial security and training. Perhaps, the honor of serving one’s nation and ‘giving back’ to one’s country is a good motivation as well. But beyond ethno-pride or sense of duty, beyond status advantages, using anthropological knowledge for the service of imperialism and militarization at the expense of other local peoples for more military expansion, which leads to more conflicts, is not acceptable.


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Weaponizing Anthropology by David H. Price

  1. A very strong essay, and a very stimulating one as well. Many thanks for this work, I hope others “out there” will take some time to read, and re-read, these various contributions.

    • Many thanks for everything Dr. Forte! I learned a lot from you and from all my classmates in this seminar. Thank you for choosing to make the group’s contributions to the readings and the class discussions accessible to the general public through this website. It is my first class in this program and I enjoyed it.

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