Situating David Price in the Analysis of the Power – Knowledge Production Nexus

Price, David H. (2008). Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War. Durham, NC:Duke University Press. [Chapter 9, Archaeology and J. Edgar Hoover’s Special Intelligence Service, p. 200-219]

In this response I will focus on the central operative theme of this chapter (and arguably the book itself). This I identify to be the power – knowledge production nexus. Price attempts to address this dynamic through his study of the formative internal workings of US intelligence agencies (hence the particular use of the FOIA) as they sought to deploy US anthropologists in Latin America to assist in wartime needs. I take the position that Price cannot be expected to fundamentally challenge the basis of this operative nexus for he remains firmly confined within a US-centric framework that is invested in this same nexus through his identity and practice. I argue that unless one is making the difficult effort to challenge the entanglement of one’s ontology and epistemology in the dynamics of the power – knowledge production nexus, with the explicit goal of challenging and shifting these modes of being and knowing, there can be no real systematic challenge made to addressing the consequences of the status quo power relations embedded in the work produced.

This chapter provides an insightful description of the formative context in which the US intelligence architecture was constructed during WWII. The internal workings of hierarchy in the context of power struggles over intelligence control give an interesting insight into the workings of US national security (NS), as well as implicitly acknowledging the function of fear and the power of an order (understood either as a command or a mode of organization) that is the institutionalization of hierarchies in knowledge production. Intelligence in this case is aligned with knowledge production, as the accumulation of information becomes intelligence when organized and presented by the relevant ‘authority’ in the hierarchy, and is therefore knowledge as it serves to reinforce worldviews and present justification for the actions of power – in this case potential military deployment.

In 1939 the Military Intelligence Division, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the FBI were all given the responsibility of overseeing US foreign intelligence. This joint task proved to result in serious internal power struggles (p. 201), tricks and collusion, as each organization sought to accumulate access to, and power over the management of information into the realm of intelligence. A clear example of this comes from chapter 7 (Internment Fieldwork) where FBI director Hoover was actively fearful of the surrendering of organizational power to the army as it related to the question of the mechanism of internment of US citizens of Japanese ancestry. In 1940 the Special Intelligence Service (SIS) was established under the FBI with the role of overseeing US intelligence in Latin America. Price notes that the SIS used ‘ American business firms for a constant study of Axis operations’ (p. 201), but does not provide any further questioning or emphasis on the role of the economic interests of US MNCs as they are directly related to the functioning of US NS internationally. This point brings a sharp questioning that is unexplored by Price, when considering the role of the MNC and US stated NS interests in what came to pass in Latin America throughout the decades of 1951-1981.

As these internal power struggles continued in the consolidation of the US intelligence architecture, William Donovan (a former Wall Street lawyer) was made Coordinator of Information (COI), to oversee all international intelligence operations and the functioning of a ‘centralized intelligence clearing house’ (p. 202). Donovan was supported by the British intelligence agencies who were directly involved in the formation of the COI position which led to the formation of the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA. I see it important here to note the existence of what I continue to call the unbroken pact of Anglo-American[1] hegemony that deploys Imperialism to continue the patterns of domination set by colonial conquest and rule (see my earlier response ‘THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTEXT IN GOODY’S EXPANSIVE MOMENT‘ in this blog for more of this context).

The FBI managed a program for SIS operatives to be trained in ‘spycraft’ in order to function as ‘on-the-ground human sources gathering vital information for intelligence analysis.’ (p.202). In this effort US anthropologists were ready for deployment due to the precedent set in WWI with the use of ‘archeologist spies’. Center stage in this chapter is Lothrop, a US anthropologist who served as one of these WWI ‘archeologist spies’ in the Caribbean (p. 203) and returned to duty in WWII for a tour in Peru. I do not see the need to relay this ambiguous story but to note key points. In his deployment Lothrop created a web of lies under the pretext of doing archeological study at a museum to cover for work organizing a network of informants (p. 205). His activity was suspicious to many (including himself) and he was caught in various struggles with the US embassy and later the FBI. He did provide various forms of information over a period of about three years until 1944 when he resigned and returned to his academic positions at Harvard and Carnegie (p. 216). It is important to mention that these two institutions, along with the FBI and the Rockefeller Foundation, funded Lothrop’s intelligence operations in this period (p. 206).

Price observes that the ‘recurrent mixing of intelligence with legitimate funding foundations’ (p. 217) essentially serves ‘to undermine the credibility of claims of foundations’ and research institutes’ independence’ (p. 217) with consequences for past, present, and future. In the presentation of the problem it is the ‘silences maintained’ and at times ‘enforced’ (p. 219) by actions within member associations that is the cause for concern, similarly as it is the lack of anthropologists’ ‘scholarly’ work to ‘investigate’ this troubling history. This problem presents ‘serious dangers for fieldworkers operating around the world’ (p. 219) resulting from the ‘damage’ ‘to anthropology’s reputation’ (p. 218).

It is here that I must abruptly interject due underlying concern that I have for Price’s positionality in presenting this work. I must now situate my concern by presenting a critical analysis of Price’s work as he inevitably locates himself within the presentation. It is clear to me that Price is an ‘American’ anthropologist, and in my opinion from reading this text he is insular in that worldview. The problem exists in the presuppositions of his language of reference, noting particularly his use of the term ‘American’. The Americas are a vast place, complex, multifaceted, and composed of a high degree of variety in ontology and epistemology. The US is not America. This needs to be the beginning of the shift if the difficult work started by Price is to be taken seriously. It is evident that Price has no real articulated conception of the complexity and pervasiveness of Imperialism. Even where it might be implicit that he is referencing imperialist relations, the absence of any real analysis of these dynamics speaks loudly of his lack when he chooses to instead detail his concern for the safety of (legitimate? innocent? or imperial?) US anthropologists operating in contexts of international fieldwork.

I see it important to state explicitly the three concerns that I identify to be central to Price in this chapter: i) The reputation of US anthropology, ii) the safety of US anthropologists conducting fieldwork internationally, and iii) the consequences of US anthropology’s uncomfortable and ambiguous history of working with US intelligence agencies as it affects the workings of institutionalized anthropology in the US today. I go from this to make an explicit parallel between the functioning of the US intelligence architecture and the operation of anthropologists working from an elevated position in the power asymmetry of the international arena (as every US anthropologist inevitably does when working in this context, even when not working under the direct contract of US intelligence agencies).

Imperialism is not solely about military, economic, and political power. Imperialism is also about a global and hegemonic threat to the diversity of ontologies and epistemologies that exists around the world. In Price’s analysis there is no apparent moment where he considers the function of anthropology itself as a force of power that accumulates information about other ways of being and knowing such that this information can be brought into self-defined theoretical frameworks in order to become recognizable knowledge. The power inherent in this system of knowledge production is that it ultimately serves in the process of complete domination of one social group (one way of being and knowing) over another. Furthermore it is arguable that the knowledge produced by anthropologists is accessible as intelligence to the military and intelligence agencies whether they are contracted or not. The reality is that science, and social science, have never been independent of the workings of power. That is true from the earliest times of formalized scientific practices and theories that were quickly entangled in the beginnings of the colonial expansionist projects right through to today where there is explicit collaboration of social scientists with the military, and biologists with corporations that seek to patent and police the genetic codes and building blocks of life.

It is arguable that there have always been traditions of resistance to and efforts toward subverting these relations of the power – knowledge production nexus. The important point is that there are no pure origins of science to go back to, or any independent state to go towards. The complex and uncomfortable reality is there is always struggle and confrontation inherent in knowledge and power. As I see it the question and work is then to bluntly and honestly confront and address the entanglement of these relations inherent to the power – knowledge production nexus such that we might be able to contribute to addressing the inherent power symmetries with the explicit goal of engaging a fundamental shift in ontology and epistemology such that the coexistence of the diverse modes of being and ways of knowing inherent in existence are not perpetually threatened by a structural hegemony, especially in facing the reality of increasingly endangered ecologies that were are embedded in as the basis of our means of survival on this planet.

[1] I use this reference knowing the contradiction inherent in the term ‘American’, a critique I do bring to bear on Price’s use of it. I use the reference Anglo-American deliberately as it provokes this contradiction while being a direct reference to a particular historical alignment of power that rested on a guarantee of a particular form of hegemonic centrism that is often labeled ‘western’; a term in itself fraught with contradictions as it presupposes a particular world view. The traps are endless, especially in the English language.


Questioning Anthropology in WWI to Set the Stage for WWII and Beyond

Price, David H. (2008). Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War. Durham, NC:Duke University Press. [Chapter 1, American Anthropology and the War to End All Wars, p. 1-17]

On the question of Anthropology in WWI the figure of Franz Boas takes center stage. Analysis of Anthropology in the WWI is important to understanding the contributions in WWII, and furthermore to understanding the nature of the problems faced by contemporary Anthropology in the face of increasing deployment in wars and more routine intelligence gathering. In this chapter Price sets out to contextualize the involvement of social scientists in WWI to set the stage for the rest of the book that focuses on Anthropology in WWII. I will further synthesize the context of these WWI contributions and move on to examine the problem presented by the case of Boas in this context. I will conclude by bringing the contradiction arising from this situation to bear on the problem of contemporary Anthropology.

The US population was divided on entry to what was considered a ‘foreign war’. In 1917 the US did enter the war, and the government set out a campaign to mold public opinion (p. 1). This broadly coincided with the first ‘Red Scare’, and the stated need to inform and limit the ideology of the US citizenry. This environment of restricted political dissent posed a problem to notions of academic freedom in their first forms of institutionalization in the US. The underlying contradiction was that this ‘freedom’ was indeed limited and was not to be used to oppose the war
(p. 2).

The contributions of social scientists to the war took a wide variety, with some institutions being more explicitly involved than others. Work undertaken was quite similar among the various nations involved, and was as follows:
i) The gathering of anthropometric data, and the creation & administration of intelligence tests in service of state requirements to order people for institutional purposes. ii) Various forms of topographical analysis for geostrategic concerns. iii) The production and dissemination of propaganda. iv) Spying under the cover of archeologists/anthropologists; British, German, and US involvement. In the US these spies were funded by their institutions and returned proudly to their academic positions after war (p. 10).

It is clear that all forms of analysis or belief were not equally welcomed as in the case of the firing of Veblen, Cattell, and Frachtenberg for various statements that were seen to undermine the government. In general the war limited speech and silenced many critics while giving opportunity for those who were ready to use their positions to work in support of the war. ‘These new interactions between anthropologists and military and intelligence agencies established some new social-science applications’ (p. 4) in effect providing templates to be expanded upon in the contributions to WWII. Anthropologists’ reactions and contributions to WWI influenced the generation of anthropologists in WWII. Perhaps the most significant outcome of US Anthropology in WWI came after the war with the silencing of Boas. His criticisms were remembered by anthropologists in WWII, however any hesitance was short lived (p. 15).

Firstly Boas openly opposed the war and was critical of the use of excessive patriotism in shaping the public’s attitude to align with the government’s war interests, with special critique of the US education system for its involvement in supporting the militarization of the society (p. 2). He further used and exposed President Wilsons’ contradiction with the conclusion that democracy in the US is a fiction as indeed ‘only autocracies maintain spies’ (p. 11). The second major concern Boas took up was the mal-use of science in the support of government’s wartime activities. He was angered at the abuse of his scientific reputation in the deceitful use of his recommendations to support ‘archeologist spies’. He labeled those actions as the ‘prostitution’ of science, and felt they were unpardonable as they disrupted the ‘truthfulness of science’ (p. 12). This deceit of the people and of science itself undermined the academic obligations to ‘humanity as a whole’ (p. 12) had grave consequences for future honest research efforts (p. 13) and any cohesiveness in the international order.

It was his second public denunciation that brought the consequence of censorship through vote in the AAA in 1919 (p. 13). This intersection has reverberations in Anthropology today as it clearly highlights the underlying contradiction between efforts to institutionalize moral-ethical codes of conduct as the responsibility of the individual, while there is explicit absence of any means of political accountability for anthropologists’ actions in research. To provoke a contradiction within the contradiction I do note that Boas’ analysis relied on moral and emotional (six mentions in the section on p.2-3) functions and did not have any explicit analysis of political-economic (zero mentions) hegemony, or any underlying contextualization of the origin and involvement of science itself in various projects of colonialism and imperialism. Also, his critique of patriotism utilized nationalistic language (citizen, nation) in his call for the service of the ‘common interests of humanity’ (p. 3). Besides the problem of using nationalist references to critique patriotism, I really do not have a tangible conception what the assumed common interests of humanity are, and what ‘equal rights’ he appeals to. His belief in a pure science, and scientists as separate from the rest of society to be upheld by unique moral considerations, is not sufficient for me to rest my concerns.

Nonetheless, in the relative context of the day one would have to consider Boas’ position in the public sphere as radical. From this juncture of Boas in the institutionalized academic setting, I conclude that not only until social-scientists thoroughly engage in critical reflection and analysis of the contributions to the world wars (p. 16), but furthermore until an ideological critique is made of the history of science and social-science itself and its relation to the systems of world domination engendered in the spread of European colonialism can the inherent contradictions between the individual’s ‘morals’ and any inherent political position taken be resolved. Price has set us on the way in the context of US anthropology with reference to its history, but there is a vast amount of work to be done to bring that to bear on an ontological shift that would enforce a fundamentally different understanding of the dynamic between morals and political accountability in the practices of knowledge production going forth.

The Importance of Context in Goody’s Expansive Moment

Goody, Jack. (1995). The Expansive Moment: Anthropology in Britain and Africa 1918-1970. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

The Expansive Moment is Jack Goody’s account of the formation and expansion of the ‘school’ of British Social Anthropology (BSA) in the period of 1918-1970. The book was written in the mid 90s after the cold war standoff of the two global superpowers, Russia and the U.S. The context of the book is dissatisfaction with the historical record produced about BSA as Goody rejects the broad classifications placed on the school. His primary concern is to demonstrate the invalidity of claims (mostly by U.S. and Russian anthropologists) that the interests of BSA were consistent with those of the colonial authorities (p.9). The book is presented in two parts: an account of the formation of the school and a response to the question ‘what did we do?’ (p. 3) The methodology is historiographical although Goody qualifies it as ‘notes towards’ or a ‘personal account’ ‘rather than a full-blown history’ (p. 5). The content presented is a selective synthesis of archival material ranging from personal letters to records of the Colonial Office. Goody’s argument rests on demonstrating the legitimacy, independence, and variance of the individuals and their intellectual pursuits in the field of BSA while situating the formation of that field in relation to its primary source of funding – the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM), a Foundation with ‘reformist tendencies’ that was ‘hardly concerned to support the continuation of European empires.’ (p. 154) I highlight the key themes identified to be essential components of the argument against the complicity of BSA in colonial rule, using those themes to bring forth what I see to be the major weaknesses in the approach. I will conclude by bringing the discussion back to the problem of representation in knowledge production in the context of asymmetrical power relations.

A large portion of the book is given to description of the dynamics amongst the individuals involved in the formation of BSA. These relationships are characterized by ‘friendships’ and ‘animosities’ within an underlying cohesion that existed through the tradition created by Malinowski (and Radcliffe-Brown to a lesser extent) which ‘established certain parameters for research, presented fieldwork in a theoretical frame, trained students in this framework and assisted them in turn to undertake fieldwork and eventually to get teaching positions.’ (p. 117) This well established order of succession, to follow from Bourdieu, is a large measure of the success of the field of BSA. For Goody, it was the ‘type of scholar who was recruited, and the climate of opinion in which they worked’ that was perhaps ‘the most important fact that leads one drastically to modify the account of British empiricism and imperialism.’ (p. 155) This emphasis on the individual is relevant as some of the key characters were ‘émigré scholars’, indicative of the varied historical and ideological background of the group, which for some became a hindrance in the noted challenge of ‘Making it to the field as a Jew and a Red’ (the title of chapter 3). There is high emphasis placed on the agency of individuals when it serves to indicate variance and freedom in thought, however Goody quickly downplays any emphasis on the appearance of overtly racist, sexist, or classist comments by individuals in reference to each other. The treatment of these comments are one of the contradictions that stand out, and leaves me with a worried question as to how the subjects of their studies were described in personal reflections.

The independence in the establishment of the school lies in the success Malinowski had in presenting to the LSRM, who in turn “bought” the Malinowski method. Goody works to demonstrate intellectual freedom throughout the book, setting aside chapter seven to detail ‘some achievements of anthropology in Africa’. This chapter highlights a number of sub-fields of study, naming some of they key studies and the variance in direction taken depending on the anthropologist at hand. What is omitted are any references to the consequences inherent in knowledge production in such a context of asymmetrical power relations. In the section on economy, there is recognition of the problems in attempting to apply European categorizations (whether neo-classical or Marxist) to indigenous societies, but there is no resolution to this problem offered except to note that ‘Anthropologists have provided intensive data’ (p. 115) on a wide range of phenomena such as productive systems, land tenure, markets, modes of tribute, and others. In the manner of presentation this appears to be mere information (innocent?), it is not knowledge production in service of power because ‘it was felt that priority should be given to indigenous societies’ (p.116). Stating these points Goody is satisfied to conclude that the ‘Rockefeller philanthropies had surprisingly little influence on what research was actually carried out and written up.’ (p. 116).

It is in the formulation of such an argument that I am concerned with what Goody attempts. There are a number of contradictions, such as the statement that ‘Malinowski’s major interest was in practical anthropology of another kind, while offering help to colonial governments as well as to the governed, inevitably led to a series of conflicts.’ (p. 39) There is also note of one of Fortes’ studies where ‘[a] bow was certainly made to the Rockefeller philanthropies’ (p. 57) and further that he carried out intelligence work in the wartime period (p.56) at the suggestion of Evans-Pritchard who was a member of a military government in North Africa
(p. 75).

I do not see it sufficient to rely on the intentions and ‘independent’ ideologies of individuals to counter an argument of BSA being complicit in colonialism. Context is most important. The period in focus was characterized by a shift in global power with the decline of the British Empire as movements for Independence challenged systems of colonial rule and there was concern with the organization of the international order on the behalf of those with vested interests. Post WWII is marked by the recognition of the U.S. as the military and economic global power, only rivaled by Russia in the build up to the cold war. The ‘communist threat’ was indeed a primary concern to both Britain and the U.S. with regards to the various Independence movements on the rise. There was an explicit problem as to how to allow the inevitable formation of independent states while maintaining an ideological and economic superiority in the global order based on an Anglo-American hegemony. Goody does note the importance of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940 (p. 56), along with the 1963 Anglo-American Conference of Anthropologists (p. 145) in the formation and direction of research interests of BSA. These two initiatives speak to a shift in the dimensions of power as it relates to the need to maintain order. While Goody understands the interests of the LSRM to be merely reformist, Patterson admits there was interest in social control, crime, delinquency, and furthermore that it was the connection with Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown that showed the ‘interest of the Rockefeller philanthropies in anthropology, especially in colonial policies and the social management of natives’ (2001, p. 73).

The description of the ‘achievements’ in Africa reads to me as a process of ordering societies (presented as primitive) through systematized knowledge production. This was the need of power. Colonialism is not simply a process of political domination and governance of other societies by a superior power. Colonization is also a social and epistemic process. In my reading of this book, Goody has no real conception of that, or simply chooses to ignore it. The question is not whether there were ‘good’ or independent intentions of anthropologists in their research, but rather, what systems of power does the knowledge produced serve? It is here that Goody’s attempt to disassociate BSA with colonial domination unwinds. He omits the context of shifting geopolitics as British colonialism gave way to American Imperialism. He does not recognize imperialism as a continuation of the patterns of domination established by colonial rule and that the powers were aware of these shifts and thus needed more subtle (sinister), flexible yet systematic approaches to domination.

Goody’s shallow understanding of colonialism, his Eurocentric bias, and overgeneralized characterization of the racialized other is exceedingly clear to me in the passage where Goody justifies the ‘insistence on intensive fieldwork’ ‘over an extended period’ ‘in close association’ as an ‘obvious but essential way whereby oral cultures’ ‘could be given the scholarly attention, and even the human dignity’ ‘that had hitherto been accorded only to the members of literate civilizations.’ (p. 153, emphasis added) I gasp at the idea of giving human dignity (?), especially through such anthropological classification. Further I see such a statement as domination and occupation, reified in knowledge production under the guise of anthropology. If there is one thing I am reminded of is not to judge a book by its cover. My first impression looking at the cover with the photograph of Fortes dressed in (military?) colonial attire sitting over an indigenous group in ritual, along with the title The Expansive Moment had me think that I was about to engage an account of an anthropologist reflexively describing colonial complicity. I could not have been more wrong, (naive? Yes probably) and I am compelled to be blunt in stating the dissatisfaction I have with the argument presented in Goody’s defensive account of the formation and expansion of British Social Anthropology.

Works Cited

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