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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Jack Goody’s Expansive Moment: A Review

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

In this text, Jack Goody sets out to address some critiques of British Anthropology in Africa, ones which mainly concern charges of anthropological work providing aid to colonialism. Goody assures the reader that such accusations are based on a lack of knowledge about the actual heterogeneity of opinion and approach of those academics being critiqued, as well as a misreading of the relationships between academics and colonial governments, and mistaken assumptions about the motivations and aims of organizations which funded anthropological research. Historians are particularly vilified in the book, being, according to Goody, wholly dependent on textual sources which they do not have the proper knowledge to decipher correctly. Only personal experience and acquaintance with those individuals involved is enough to allow for the interpretation of these deeply complex and puzzling documents, and Goody graciously offers his own such expertise to aid readers and hapless historians in untangling the history of British anthropology in Africa (even if he does not quite manage to cover the entire time period from 1918-1970, as the title of the book may suggest). Goody, able to draw on his personal knowledge of individuals and institutions involved, should indeed be able to provide added context and detail to accounts of the history of the anthropological project in Africa. Instead, he carefully pares away all but a curated assortment of descriptions of relationships between a few selected actors, spending many chapters in lengthy (and yet severely limited) reflection of the correspondences and other writings of such popular figures as Malinowski, Fortes, Evans-Pritchard and so forth. These are followed by a hackneyed and oddly interpreted list of “achievements” of anthropology in Africa, some talk of theoretical advancements within anthropology, and a painfully defensive lashing out against the work of one historian in particular, Henrika Kuklick’s The Savage Within.

Goody’s presentation of documents from the time is absolutely illuminating, although not for the reasons he hopes. Despite his best efforts to choose writings which support his argument, and to offer them to the reader along with his own, often tremendously over-generous interpretations of them, the reader can still see clear traces of exactly the colonialist mentalities which Goody seeks to disconnect from the proffered material. Rather than revealing a plethora of independently minded researchers, each working to uncover information for its own sake, the documents reveal the everyday functioning of anthropology in Africa via inclusions and exclusions driven by racism and understandings of British superiority, sexism, and favored and unfavored forms of politics and religion. Even if this was not true of the selection Goody brings the reader, and each piece of text was entirely innocent and devoid of these overtones, this would still not be any kind of proof against charges of complicity in colonialism in Africa. First, because given the heap of documentation that Goody himself assures us is available, it really should not have been that difficult to find some which supported his point with less ambiguity. Second, because whether or not the researchers wished for the information they unveiled to be utilized by colonial governments, what matters is not their benevolent intentions, but the results. If the researchers’ letters to one another prove that they did not care at all about colonial governments, being all too wrapped up in their own petty animosities and coalitions, this does not show that the works they created were not used by those same governments. It is also difficult to see in the excerpts provided any iota of regard, interest, or care for the African peoples suffering under colonial oppression and violence.

Of interest with regards to disproving charges of aiding colonial governments and projects in Africa would be questions such as: What areas and peoples were focused upon as part of these studies? How were the studies financed? Who was the intended audience of these anthropological works? In what language were they written? Where were they available for purchase or loan? Who actually read them? What did those readers do, if anything, with the information found within? Was such information available in other ways to colonial officials? Goody pays attention to few of these questions, and his examination of those is suspect at best. For example, his characterization of the Rockefeller foundation, which provided funding for many anthropological studies, as a simply benevolent American organization “interested in social reform” (192) with no interest whatsoever in colonialism is one which requires a stubborn naivete to swallow (in this case consisting of a refusal to acknowledge wider global power structures at the time). The separation of an interest in “reform” from that of colonialism is another interesting move that Goody makes in his text.

Throughout the book, Goody ostensibly puts forth evidence to support his defense of British anthropology in Africa. What his argument (if his fractured, defensive ramblings can be so characterized) actually depends on, however, is a redefinition of colonialism along with an extremely narrow conceptualization of what it means for an anthropologist to be complicit therein. This is clearly illustrated in chapter seven of Goody’s book, entitled “Some achievements of anthropology in Africa”. Here he chooses lineage studies, kinship and marriage, law, religion, and the economy as areas of study which anthropologists are to be congratulated for advancing in Africa. He speaks at length about the individual researchers and their findings, and yet what is conspicuously absent from the chapter is any attempt to explore the reasons for interest in these particular systems, or any attempt to address the subsequent use to which this information was put. As he states at the end of this chapter, “It was truly an expansive moment, both qualitatively and quantitatively” for anthropological research (117). Yet we are not to indulge in any curiosity as to why this was the case. Goody would like us to understand it as a tumble of interpersonal relationships and individual drive and brilliance, and not as a part of larger systems of colonialism and the mobilization of knowledge that is required for projects of governance and control. This requires a violent cutting away of context and analysis, resulting in a cave of self-imposed ignorance from which he beckons the reader to join him. Goody’s work in this book is a desperate move of denial, and I see nothing in it which succeeds in releasing the anthropological tradition from its roots in colonial projects.

Bourdieu’s Homo Academicus, Commentary on the Preface and Chapter 1

Bourdieu, Pierre. (1988). Homo Academicus. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. [Preface to the English Edition, pp. xi-xxvi] & [Chapter 1, A ‘Book for Burning’?, pp. 1-35]

In the “Preface to the English Edition” of his work Homo Academicus, Bourdieu makes a brief but compelling case for the necessary use of critical self reflection on the part of academics. What his book attempts to do, he explains, is help shed light on “what is entailed by the fact of belonging to the academic field” and in doing so to aid the researcher to recognize and neutralize the “probabilities of error which are inherent in a position, understood as a certain angle of vision, hence a particular form of insight and blindness” as well as to “reveal the social foundations of the propensity to theorize… to withdraw from the game in order to conceptualize it” (1988:xiii). He argues that scientists must acknowledge that they are themselves within the world and its structures, and that these structures influence the acceptance or rejection of certain representations of the social world (xiv). However, Bourdieu contrasts his position with that of certain (unnamed) postmodernists by suggesting that the recognition of a scientist’s position within social structures and the biases and interests which accompany these positions should not lead to a rejection of science or objectivity. Rather than lending itself to the abandonment of scientific projects and explanations, a scientist can “study the historical conditions of his own production” thereby “reinforcing his capacity for objectification” (xii).

In the first chapter of Homo Academicus, Bourdieu begins his project of turning scientific scrutiny back on the producers of scientific knowledge by detailing the ways both research, researcher, and academic rhetoric are constructed. He also points out the ways science is used irresponsibly to hide conflicting interests and violence (1988:25), allow misunderstandings (21), and deflect doubt about one’s work (31). All providing further support for Bourdieu’s claims of reflexivity being “the principal weapon of epistemological vigilance” (15). Scientists must resist the urge to hide behind scientific procedures and jargon, “to offer oneself as a referee or judge, to negate oneself as subject involved in the field… with the irreproachable appearance of an objective, transcendent subject” (6). Scientists must be diligent and responsible, since the work they produce holds much power. As Bourdieu explains, “In the struggle between different representations, the representation socially recognized as scientific, that is to say as true, contains its own social force, and, in the case of the social world, science gives those who hold it, or who appear to hold it, a monopoly of the legitimate viewpoint, of self-fulfilling prophecy” (28).

This chapter provides an enlightening exploration of the workings of scientific practice and knowledge production. From the examples within, convincing evidence is provided for the necessity of reflexivity in scientific practice, although it occurs to me that awareness of one’s bias and self interest will not lead automatically to a reflexive undertaking of neutralizing these tendencies within one’s work. Indeed, a scientist seeking to be objective can use Bourdieu’s insights to increase “his” objectivity, but what if your goal as a scientist is to gain as much funding as possible? What if a “façade of scientificity” (1988:13) is exactly your aim? Is Bourdieu’s work meant for other scientists to better police each other’s findings? Is it just for social scientists to use in their own work? It is certainly not written with a non-academic audience in mind, so I doubt that his idea is to inspire the receivers of scientific “fact” to question the position of the scientist(s) at its source, but this could be an excellent use of the text nonetheless.