‘Anthropology As A War Weapon’: The Instrumentalization of Anthropological Knowledge During WWII (Review of Chapter 5)

Price, David H. (2008). Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War. Durham, NC:Duke University Press.

At first glance, David Price’s “Anthropological Intelligence” can appear exceedingly descriptive. This is particularly glaring in chapter 5: “American Anthropologists Join The Wartime Brain Trust”, where critical inquiry is seemingly lacking as Price outlines the relations between anthropologists and various academic institutes, government agencies and private interest during the Second World War. However, hidden within the politicking and workings of the wartime era, is insight into how the discipline of anthropology was instrumentalized during the Second World War, and it’s utility in the postwar growth of American imperialism. It’s also important to note that conversely, the war also proved to be instrumental to anthropology as well. Not only did it help ‘legitimize’ the discipline beyond the academic realm, it also brought forth discussions of how and when anthropological knowledge should be used, and for whom. In brief, if read between the lines, this chapter provides readers with enticing questions to the nature of the discipline, the boundaries of objectivity and the ways in which knowledge is, and can be, weaponized.

In July of 1945, reporter Charles R. Walker penned an article available to the general public, titled “Anthropology as a War Weapon”, disseminating the notion of the militarization of anthropological knowledge during the Second World War (p.95). It accredited regional U.S military successes to sources provided by the ‘Cultural Bank’, a resource stocked by anthropologists and their knowledge (ibid). Much of the military uses of anthropology came from anthropologist George Peter Murdock’s “Cross Cultural Survey” (CSS), a project aimed at systematically gathering and sorting data from various cultures in order to test various cultural theories. It came into effect after Yale University established the Institute of Human Relations (IHR) in 1929. The CSS became the IHR’s most notable contribution, particularly in its uses as a cultures resource both during the war, and after, by various military agencies and private groups, notably the Rockefeller Foundation, who provided millions of dollars in funding. While the events of Pearl Harbor called for the formation of anthropological research units to provide information on various Pacific islands for the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Rockefeller Foundation was funneling money to the IHR to create a “Strategic index of Latin America” (p. 92).

Both the U.S. government and the Rockefeller Foundation had tactical uses for the information collected by anthropologists: On the one hand, it provided the military with resources that would aid in facilitating the occupation of Japanese-held territories and in acclimating their soldiers to new cultures and aiding in traversing the human terrain. Interestingly, Price notes that even before the war ended, the US government was making preemptive efforts in establishing a postwar administration of Micronesia (ibid). On the other hand, Nelson Rockefeller merged his interests with the American government in scoping out the loyalty of different Latin American loyalty, and whether there were chances of them joining the Axis against the Allies. Rockefeller was appointed director of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, and under his monitoring, the CIAA’s concerns were cultural and economic. They engaged in propaganda methods aimed at Central and South Americans to promote and foster goodwill and benevolence amongst the people towards the American government (p.107-109).

Rockefeller interest isn’t new. As we saw in Jack Goody’s (1995) “The Expansive Moment”, they’ve had a long history in funding specific forms of research in strategic locations, oftentimes in line with colonial and imperial efforts. Rockefeller’s wartime involvement in South America was twofold: to guard natural resources being sent to the States for the war efforts, and to secure personal investments in the postwar period. In fact, he told his staff that “their job was to use the war to take over Latin American markets… (and) to monopolize Latin America’s raw materials” (p.109). Cultural knowledge of people and places became an important commodity for him, and helped in gaining access to the cheap labor of Latin America’s native population (p.111).

For the anthropologists involved, there were many reasons as to why they would join the wartime braintrust, and quite literally weaponized anthropological knowledge. As the world went to war, feelings of nationalism and national duty rationalized their input into the CSS, which provided standardized classification systems of various cultures that were of interest to the government that could be used by intelligence agencies easily. While the ethnographic information provided an efficient means to cultural knowledge, it also erased cultural nuances and rehashed stereotypical and ethnocentric views of various peoples. The handbooks in which anthropologists had a hand in creating facilitated military occupation and domination, and aided in the American victory.

Some anthropologists also viewed their input as enacting the “good neighborhood policy” (p.110), especially in relation to Latin America. Through their eyes, the information they provided supposedly “help” these people, and overlooked power struggles that ensued fro personal political and economic purposes. The American involvement also gave certain anthropologists their first encounter with Latin America, building relationships which were capitalized upon during the postwar years, where many continued their own anthropological work. The spatial and temporal context in which these connections were made no doubt had an influence on the knowledge they produced and the methodology employed.

Price’s chapter is a great resource in materializing the various insidious relations between academics, government agencies and private interests, and the kinds of knowledges and discourses they produce. Science and scientific knowledge isn’t produced in a vacuum, but is embedded within the political and economic discourses of the societies who produce and consume it. This chapter provides a glimpse to the importance of being critical of the discipline’s history and the ways in which it has influenced contemporary knowledge production, and aided in proliferating American imperialism through Rockefeller’s economic interest. Furthermore, it demonstrates how anthropology itself was legitimized in the public as it provided utility for wartime efforts.

It also highlights that as anthropologists and scientists, we try and maintain objectivity, yet we are sites of conflict and biases that inform our research. This chapter also points to our complacency in following specific anthropological research trends that may or may not be guided by state or private interests. Price notes throughout the chapter that many anthropologists weren’t knowingly helping the government and Rockefeller in missions of domination and conquest; many different reasons and convictions coalesced that enabled their willingness. This makes us wonder how we, today, are influenced by similar means. The chapter also raises the question who should have access to anthropological knowledge and what are the ethical issues involved when institutes of power can potentially use it as tools of domination. Can consent by those studied even be given within that framework? As noted during the seminar, the act of publishing our work gives wide access for whomever to consume the knowledge it produced, including bodies of government. Do anthropologists limit access, or should we provide our perspective to counteract biased information produced by who have strategic interest in different cultures?

Our seminar also raised the question about the validity of directed research. Do specific intentions and directions always influence research? Who is laying out these research paths, and can it ever be independent? As such, can both the discipline and anthropologists truly be objective in the work they conduct? This all ties back to the notion of how knowledge can be weaponized. While we often think of knowledge as abstract, divorced by tangible consequences, this chapter has shown how anthropology was, and can be used, to inflict and aid in violence against the peoples and places studied. As someone during the seminar pointed out, Price’s term “weaponizing anthropology” presupposes that there’s an anthropology that isn’t weaponized. Considering its history, the conception of anthropology itself was a weapon in domination and subordination in colonial efforts. Nonetheless, this term reveals how knowledge can be mobilized to have concrete effects, as demonstrated in this chapter.

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



On the Production of Knowledge and the Mystification of Power Relations.

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

 “We remind ourselves that anthropology does not merely apprehend the world in which it is located, but that the world also determines how anthropology will apprehend it” Talal Asad – Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter

The colonial legacy of anthropology is increasingly central in critical assessments of its history and its relation to contemporary articulations. Despite recent efforts in the decolonization of the discipline, and the unmasking of colonial discourse, there is nevertheless repudiation of these implications, or at least an attempt at situating the development of anthropology as marginal within colonial history. One such example is The Expansive Moment: Anthropology in Britain and Africa 1918-1970 by anthropologist Jack Goody. Goody traces the emergence of British social anthropology by examining the interactions between prominent figures of the discipline through anecdotes and correspondences retrieved from different British institutions in an attempt to challenge the criticism of anthropology as a child of colonialism. He refutes this claim in two ways: First by denouncing the homogeneity of the ideological and social backgrounds of the anthropologist, and in their theoretical output, and second by pointing discontinuities present in the assumed linear alliance between colonial institutions and social anthropology. Though the bulk of early anthropological research was conducted in Africa, he claims that the ideological driving force was not in any sense acted out as willing or compliant to colonialism, but in earnest pursuit of knowledge and objectivity. Here I’d like to add that declarations of scientific objectivity presupposes a notion of neutrality; a claim which can mystify and distort ties to colonialism (Asad 101). In considering the above notion, the aim of my examination of Goody’s book is to investigate the power relations found in production of anthropological knowledge as elucidated in his discussion of agents and institutions, focusing on Bronislaw Malinowski, E.E Evans-Pritchard and the Rockefeller Foundation. Questions of when, what, why and how it is produced, oft overlooked by Goody himself, will be the driving force of my inquiry.

The overarching argument Goody makes, the denial of the centrality of colonialism in anthropology’s development, is undoubtedly politically charged. The history of colonialism, and its continuity and rearticulation in the anthropological discipline, has never been more salient in academic discourse than it is now. As such, his focus on colonialism in his discussion is rightly situated. Goody does an adequate job at materializing the contradictions and conflicts that were present during British anthropology’s formative years, rejecting a linear and homogenous account, particular in regards to the political views of the anthropologists he discusses. However, what’s curious about his account is that he is at once both rigorously political and astoundingly uncritical. While there is no denying that his focus on individual political persuasions is an important, albeit rather thin, addition in his analysis on whether colonialism had an effect on the production of anthropological knowledge, it’s his lack of critical engagement with the relationship present between individuals and power structures. While the actors in his book were shown to disagree and reject absolute exercise of colonial power, and even support emancipatory movements, he misses a critical opportunity in demonstrating that power is at once more structural, and more situated than he proposes. In order to elucidate my claims, we must return to the foundations of the discipline.

London School of Economics (LSE) professor Bronislaw Malinowski is often cited as being the founder of social anthropology due to his groundbreaking methodological fieldwork practices, and his ability to recruit many students (Goody 1-2). Malinowski’s popularity and development of functionalism as a school of thought garnered interest from funding groups, notably the American philanthropic organization “Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial” and the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), who provided financial support for research, mostly undertaken in colonial Africa (Goody 2). Goody makes explicit the fact that British social anthropology was funded by American philanthropy (via Rockefeller) and not through British institutions. While this elucidation can be seen as problematic in that American hegemonic practices were being diffused through their interest in anthropological research and further, in the colonies itself, Goody downplays their involvement since Americans apparently showed no direct interest in perpetuating British colonial efforts, and that by and large, they were “progressive” (Goody 154). This contradicts accusations he makes a bit later where that he argues that (and rightly so) Americans engage in their own form of colonial domination (Goody 198). While his differentiation between American and British imperialism is curious in itself, what’s more so his failure to question the motivations behind the Rockefeller Foundation’s funding, and the influence of America’s own colonial efforts. Nobody gives money for free. Donald Fisher (1986), in an attempt to shed light on this issue, points to the ideological structures found within the foundation itself and its strive for social control as motivation. According to him, the “watchwords” of Rockefeller philanthropy was “efficiency, control and planning” forcing anthropology to be more “empirical, realistic and practical” in their scientific approaches (Fisher, 5). He also noted that Rockefeller interest was critical in the discipline’s development, with anthropology offering “knowledge that would make the practice of colonial administration both more efficient and more humane, (increasing) social control” (ibid). Thus the knowledge produced by anthropologists funded was effectively utilized in practices of domination, a point Goody would no doubt deny. Furthermore, Fisher argues that Malinowski was the “link between Rockefeller money, the Colonial office and beneficiaries of these resources” (ibid). While Goody aims to detach Malinowski’s direct involvement in colonial efforts, he’s shown here as instrumental in generating knowledge that would inevitably benefit two major global powers, that of the Americans and British. This begs the question on whether or not Malinowski’s research and research methods were in some way informed and shaped by those who proliferated his development of the discipline. Why would one receive money for research if the research itself were not in some way profitable for those handing out cash?

In situating Malinowski as a link between the discipline and institutional power, this makes critical the fact that Malinowski trained most of those who would go on to cementing the discipline’s theoretical foundation. His influence shaped the research of his pupils (Goody 117), who would then engage in the reproduction of knowledge that was influenced by institutional alliances. Goody himself points out that Malinowski ran a tight ship in his disciplining and guiding of his students research interests and directions, thus exerting power over his pupils, and the knowledge produced (Goody 150). However, it’s important to note that Malinowski’s success in his achievements and in his pupils’ hinges on the fact that they had access to Africa due to British colonialism, in which the government obviously had to grant admission. The weight of this point is not given much attention in Goody’s account. The conditions, which made the development of social anthropology feasible was this accessibility to the field which was rooted in the existing “power relationships between dominating (European) and dominated (non-European) cultures (Asad, 99). It is in this exchange where we need to question how it effected the discipline and further more, how the knowledge produced was used, and if claims of objectivity can be upheld (ibid)

The epistemology of British social anthropology can thus be seen as being implicitly and explicitly shaped by existing global power relations through access and funding. Goody’s uncritical assessment of the influence and power between anthropological agents and institutions is also evident in his discussions of E.E Evans-Pritchard, another prolific anthropologist who was influenced in large part by Malinowski. While it is noted that he was apprehensive of colonial governments, Goody also points out that Evans-Pritchard had a close relationship with, and financial support from the Sudanese government. Even in these political relations, Goody claims that Evans-Pritchard viewed himself as “independent”, advising students to “keep right away from administration” (Goody 43) while working in the field. Though the advice is no doubt sound (although likely improbable) Goody fails to engage intellectually on the outcomes of Evans-Pritchard’s alliance with the Sudanese government. Since Sudan, at the time when this took place, was effectively an extension of the British colony, it would likely counter the claims of Evans-Pritchard as “independent”, and more perhaps view him more as a colonial agent, and the work he produced as instrumental to colonial efforts. Even though Goody attempts to point out contradictions in claiming Evans-Pritchard a tool of colonialism, he later discusses how Evans-Pritchard encouraged anthropologist Meyer Fortes to “participate in intelligence work in Africa”, since “he himself was a member of the military government in North Africa…. (and) he was dependent on support from official funds, in this case, from the government of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan” (Goody, 75).

The above discussion is simply a slice of the contradictions found in Goody’s book. The implicit (and sometimes explicit) power relations between the actors of his discussion and the various institutions are minimized in lieu of accounts of individuals and their ideological and social makeup. The importance he gives to individual action and influence is always at the expense of looking at structural forces, and the ways in which it informs their production of knowledge. As such, the book seems to mystify these relations, rather than materialize power dynamics. Talal Asad (2000), in his critique of the relationship between colonialism and anthropology, points out that

“it is not a matter of dispute that social anthropology emerged as a distinctive discipline at the beginning at the beginning of the colonial era, that it became a flourishing academic profession towards its close, or that throughout this period its efforts were devoted to a description and analysis – carried out by Europeans, for a European audience – of non-European societies dominated by European power. And yet there is a strange reluctance on the part of most professional anthropologists to consider seriously the power structure within which their discipline has taken shape” (Asad, 96)

Goody is very much part of this reluctance. While Goody is right in maintaining that most early anthropologists weren’t necessarily directly involved in perpetuating structures of power, they were nevertheless instrumental in maintain it, and that those structural did indeed have an influence on what kinds of knowledge were produced, and for what reason (Asad, 100). Furthermore, there was a “readiness to adapt to colonial ideology” (ibid) in that it was through colonialism that anthropology was able to flourish.

Goody also failed to engage with the effects of the knowledge produced beyond the temporal space he engages with. How is contemporary anthropology affected by its history? How has it effected those upon which were studied? Hasn’t our access to specific colonial spaces and colonized peoples inevitably shaped our discourses, regardless of early anthropologists intention and meaning? I acknowledge that answering these questions weren’t necessarily the aim of this book, but omission of these discussions makes him out to be an apologist, rather than an “objective” investigator. It’s also worth noting that Meyer Fortes, a pupil of Malinowski, was Goody’s own mentor. This raises the notion that this work may appear to be self-serving, with aim in reproducing the status quo, and furthermore, his legacy than truly critically engaging with the discipline’s colonial past.

Asad, Talal. “Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter.” Encyclopedia of Anthropology 6: Political Anthropology. Ed. Darshan Singh Maini. New Delhi: Mittal Publications, 2000. 90-102. Print.

Fisher, Donald. “Rockefeller Philanthropy: And the Rise of Social Anthropology.” Anthropology Today 2.1 (1986): 5-8. Online.



Bourdieu, Pierre. (1988). Homo Academicus. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit. [Chapter 5, The Critical Moment, pp.159-193]

The final chapter of Homo Academicus, aptly named “The Critical Moment”, analyzes the events of May 1968, and the convergence of crises between the academic field and the broader social landscape resulting in a mass societal mobilization. 

Bourdieu’s analysis is both discursively complex, and rich in its insights. He at once traces the evolution of a crisis from its origins within the academic institution, and provides an insight on the construction of a societal revolution (or lack thereof). Conversely, he also manages to weave a close reading on how doxic beliefs engendered individuals different reactions and roles throughout the event while materializing inherent contradictions. For Bourdieu, social uprisings don’t occur in a vacuum, nor the awakening of collective consciousness; different individual and structural factors coalesce in order to create a crisis. The different fields, both simultaneously autonomous and conjunct, function within and through fundamental structures, a “independency in dependency” (174) rendering a crisis possible.

The analysis of the crisis necessitates a return to its source: the academic field. The event was brought on by morphological changes to the university field; an increase in the student body led to an increase in teachers being hired, producing a “generalized downclassing” (163): as higher education became more accessible, diplomas and accreditations decreased in value, limiting it’s tangible and symbolic worth. Furthermore, downclassing produced students and lecturers who felt dispossessed, creating conflict between dispositions and reality, particularly in those high in cultural capital. As such, a whole generation of individuals stood outside the old academic order of reproduction. As most changes happened in the humanities, particularly in sociology, it played a critical role in triggering the crisis. On the one hand, the discipline itself holds an “aura of indeterminacy and vagueness” (165) for students’ post-graduate prospects. On the other hand, sociology held a structurally low position in the university hierarchy. This was compounded by the fact that as the discipline itself had a penchant to be critical, a result of dealing with politics and societal theories. Furthermore teachers, hired in haste as a result of growing demands, resented the uncertainty in receiving a position high in academic capital, causing a break in “the chains of anticipated identification” (163) with professors. The homologous subordinate positions held by students and teachers created “fantasied alliances” (164), expediting the development of the crisis. As the university crises penetrated society, others who faced similar conflicts in their subordinate positions in different fields (such as the proletariat and journalists) joined in, fostering mobilization through the synchronization between the various crises.

Despite inherent social and power differentiations between the different fields, strategic use of rhetoric was utilize to unify the various factions and causes. “Time” was another important factor in creating unity. Each field’s temporal rhythms had to converge to a collective time, allowing for the synchronization of a generalized crisis. This acted as a developer compelling individuals to take a stance on the issues, leading to “repressed feelings and judgments (breaking) out into broad daylight” (181). As tensions were revealed, it functioned to “shake the doxa” (ibid) (question the naturalized truths). This created a liminal space in which taboos were broken, and where “all futures are possible for all people” (182). The transgressions upon the symbolic order that were once internalized, were now objectified and revealed; this is what Bourdieu sees is the critical moment in a crisis.

Important to note is that though the mobilization of different agents appeared spontaneous and an outcome of some collective goal, it was not. In fact, much of the protests, manifestos and popular slogans were crafted and orchestrated by those who already had experience in the matter. Furthermore, this illusion of spontaneity masks power differentiations, leading to a control and weaponizing of discourse: “… in the vast semi-anonymous assemblies of these critical moments, the mechanisms of competition for the expression and imposition of legitimate opinion, which, like market mechanisms act ‘in spite of anarchy, in and through anarchy’… (producing) unanimous, monopolistic meaning and its expression” (191). In fact, Bourdieu argues that rhetorical violence was used in silencing diverging opinions. Thus the articulation of this crisis (and perhaps all crises) is never divorced from working within and through power, perhaps providing hints to its failure in fostering a true revolutionary event.

Bourdieu’s analysis in incredibly incisive, even in his failure to situate his role and convictions towards the event. This can prove alarming in a book calling for the necessity of academia to be reflexive. Though this omission is likely accounted for by his rigorous attempt at being objective and scientistic in his analysis (problematic in itself), it would given further insight into his process and results. Also, as pointed out in class, Bourdieu did a close reading of French society during a specific moment in history where many movements and crises were happening worldwide, but omitted any discussion on how different events may have had an impact on France.

Nonetheless, this chapter provided insight in the construction of mass social movements, and elucidated the factors hindering a societal revolution. Diverging social positions, doxa and interests inform the reactions and politicking of various actors thus rendering a “true” collective conscious difficult. This work is also incredibly contemporary, especially when drawing parallels between the French and Quebec student movement and their inability to enact true political change.

While discussing the logic behind barring access to public services in the name of austerity, a classmate of mine argued that by forcing class cancellations, a whole cohort of students may be delayed from entering the job market. As was in Bourdieu’s analysis, this illustrates the importance of the educational system in the systematic reproduction (or halting) of the society

Discussions of student participation in the Quebec student protests drew similarities; those in hierarchically superior disciplines such as law and engineering were not as involved as students in the subordinate disciplines, echoing Bourdieu. While there are divergences in the discourses between the two movements in its rhetoric, class discussion pointed out the fact that student mobilization in both cases was less likely to occur in faculties where jobs were awaiting them (such as in medicine) than those with less concrete futures (as is the case in the social sciences).

Another converging aspect was the general depoliticization of youth occurring after the peak of both crises. Bourdieu discusses how post-May 1968 university elections resulted in a low voter turnout. While rates of participation were greatest in faculties high in academic capital, the opposite was true in subordinate disciplines such as sociology. This, he explicates, can be result of either a political stance through nonvoting, or a result of apathy and dispossession. Conversely, high voter turnout is “an indicator of conformity to, or support for the established university order” (169) and was evident the prestigious disciplines (ibid). Furthermore, high rates were linked to the ability of a discipline to relate itself to a precise profession, in which vagueness and uncertainty about the future were not afflictions. It was pointed out during class that in the case of Concordia students, not only was there low voter turnout at the latest student union elections, but there was no student representation at the Sociology and Anthropology department meetings, even though it was generally expected. If Bourdieu is right, then reason for this is the inability for these disciplines to define themselves beyond the academic realm, offering limited identifications towards which the students can look. While discussing the possibility of Sociology and Anthropology taking a stance to define itself, questions were raised about why hasn’t it been done yet, how it can be done and what are the stakes?

As the old adage goes, the more things change, the more the stay the same.