Patterson on Anthropology in the Postwar Era: How Research is Directed by and Serves the State

Patterson, Thomas C. (2001). A Social History of Anthropology in the United States. Oxford: Berg.

(Chapter 4, pp. 103-134)

In this chapter, Patterson describes the fluctuations and trends within anthropology between the end of World War II (1945) and the end of direct U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War (1973, two years before the war’s official end). He blazes through multiple crises and huge shifts within U.S. society, politics, and economy and ties these shifts to anthropological thought and research, while attempting to also cover the larger global context as it is relevant to these changes. Patterson tackles the adjustments of areas of learning in universities (along with the funding opportunities made available for academics) to fit the state’s needs, the rise of support for analytic frameworks which countered more radical ones, the increased flow of funding from the government and private philanthropies to researchers, the erasure of certain subjects (such as Marxism) from academia and research, and the phenomenon of researchers losing their jobs due to their political beliefs and activities. He lays these points out in the beginning of the chapter, leaving the reader to carry them through the remaining pages.

Of particular interest in this chapter is the internationalization of anthropology which stemmed from WWII and the postwar projects taking place overseas, as well as the U.S.’s attention to newly independent nations following decolonization. Anthropologists, previously focused on issues and peoples at home, moved their projects abroad following funding from the U.S. government and organizations such as the Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie foundations. Patterson shows how area studies shifted according to which parts of the globe were receiving the most interest from the government, and how research initiatives within and outside of universities were formed in conjunction with foundations’ funds which closely aligned with state needs. In 1946 the Russian Research Center was formed with Carnegie money at Harvard, and, according to Patterson, was linked also to the CIA and FBI. Funding in Micronesia was granted to researchers who supported navy efforts there, and those same researchers became administrative members of the “Trust Territories” that their research helped establish in the area. In the mid-sixties the Ford Foundation gave 138 million dollars to universities to promote the study of non-Western languages. MIT’s Center for International Studies worked with the CIA to ensure that newly independent nations would become capitalist societies which could in no way challenge U.S. interests. In a move that would later become quite controversial and lead directly to the establishment of the AAA’s Ad-Hoc Ethics Committee, The Department of Defense funded Project Camelot, consisting of anthropological studies of social revolutions in Chile, Columbia, and Peru. Anthropologists also lent themselves to counterinsurgency efforts in Thailand. Finally, in 1968, Kathleen Gough published “Anthropology and Imperialism”, an article which critiqued the ways the discipline was serving the politics of domination and called for a reflexive, critical anthropology.

Patterson also details changes within the discipline and universities during this time, noting how the influx of veterans into higher education after 1946 doubled the number of college students. This resulted in a general swell in the size and number of universities and more specifically of anthropology departments, causing a rise in the numbers of anthropologists working as professors instead of as government officials. In accordance with the increased number of people doing anthropology, there was a proliferation of schisms within the discipline. Patterson details the split of sociology from anthropology as well as the division of anthropology into the four fields of linguistic anthropology, physical anthropology, sociocultural anthropology, and archaeology. He notes that archaeologists in particular enjoyed National Science Foundation funding due to their concerns with cultural evolution (borrowed from a depoliticized Marx) and their cross-cultural emphasis, as well as their properly scientific methodology. It is evident from these and other examples given in the chapter that anthropological research never took place on a plane of pure intellectual curiosity divorced from the political, social, and economic realities of the world in which it was situated. Furthermore, it is clear how anthropological knowledge was produced in order to respond to state needs, not simply produced innocently and co-opted by the state.

Even as succinct as he is, it feels as though Patterson had a particularly tough time jamming all of the massively important events of these years into one thirty page chapter. The feeling is far from unique to this chapter, indeed during each segment of the book I wish Patterson spent more time making his connections and arguments explicit, exploring the significance of the events he outlines more fully. Instead it is often left to the reader to fill this in themselves as they work their way through the history packed between these pages. This is not to say that the connections Patterson draws are unclear, as the focus on funding and politics and the relationship of these with anthropological research is consistent throughout the entire book, but they beg to be fleshed out.

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One thought on “Patterson on Anthropology in the Postwar Era: How Research is Directed by and Serves the State

  1. Pingback: 2015: Just Another Year for Empire | ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY

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