Who’s the Nazi? The Complicity of US Anthropologists in WWII Internment Camps

Price, David H. (2008). Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. [Chapter Seven, Internment Fieldwork, 143-170]

This chapter recounts the aftermath of US President Theodore Roosevelt’s February 1942 Executive Order 9066, and the involvement of anthropologists in the atrocities that followed. The order allowed the Secretary of War to declare certain areas of the US Territory as military zones, from which individuals of Japanese ancestry were evicted. About 110,000 Japanese-Americans (two thirds of whom were US Citizens) were removed to concentration camps euphemistically called “relocation centers”. Price himself uses the word “concentration camp” (153) (although internment camp is more common). This term is significant in that it is usually associated with Nazi Germany, but Price’s use of it blurs distinctions between the righteous Allied nations and the “evil” Axis. The co-occurrence of racism in allied as in axis nations during the Second World War is also indicated by Earnest Hooton’s genocidal plans for Japan in chapter eight (192), which led the class to conclude, tongue-in-cheek, that it is a challenge to discern “who is the Nazi” (class discussion). Furthermore, these events raise the question of the meaning of citizenship and who is a citizen, an issue that remains highly relevant in today’s political climate.

Price outlines the three different organizations that employed anthropologists to study Japanese-American internees. These included the Community Analysis Section (CAS) of the War Relocation Authority (WRA), where Robert Redfield instituted a “democratic” system whereby internees would be kept distracted from the main cause of their suffering; the Bureau of Sociological Research (BSR) run by the Office of Indian Affairs, where Alexander Leighton employed an illusion of “self-government” to facilitate control of internees until the camp was relinquished to the WRA, and the secretive Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS) run by Dorothy Swaine Thomas at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not interested in cooperating with the WRA and who directed fieldworkers who aimed to “publish a true picture of the evacuation and life within the centers” (Wax, quoted in Price, 160).

In February 1943, WRA staff developed and distributed a questionnaire to all WRA detainees, including the notorious question 28, which asked whether they would commit to unconditional loyalty to the US and renounce any allegiance to Japan. Morris Opler’s fieldwork among camp Manzanar internees showed that the responses of those who refused were often due to “disillusionment with the American system of due process” (155) or a response to racial hatred, rather than indicative of any pre-existing loyalties. Nevertheless, those who responded to question 28 in the negative were branded as disloyals and moved to Tule Lake Camp. Opler warned that the poor conditions in the camps would lead to deepening problems, and his brother Marvin K. Opler wrote sympathetic reports regarding Tule Lake Camp prisoners. Such reports were systematically ignored, as were attempts, such as those by Asael Hanson, to represent the needs of the interned to those in power. Anthropology was used in the camps for pragmatic purposes, such as Weston La Barre’s turning over of “troublemakers” to the FBI, and the study of social movements and their control employed by Leighton.

Class discussion of this chapter revolved around the concept of “harm reduction”. It was suggested that anthropologists working in the internment camps were there to “make [the operation] look good”, and that those who were genuinely interested in the condition of the interned Japanese-Americans were employing the harm-reduction concept. The idea of harm reduction in this context, where the harmful conditions were themselves created by the government that employed the anthropologists, was dismissed as naive and useless. It was argued that if these anthropologists really wanted to make a difference, working in the camps was not the way to go about it, as it forced them into the military hierarchy in which their views, when they did not conform with those of their superiors, were disregarded outright. Instead, these anthropologists might have critiqued the idea of the internment altogether, and perhaps enforced a boycott of the camps by refusing to work with them at all. However, given that, as Price suggests, due to the nature of internment fieldwork and the intentions regarding its use on the part of those in power, the camps didn’t necessarily require specialists in anthropology (Suzuki, quoted in Price, 169), the effectiveness of such a strategy is open to question. Of course, given the different personal and political interests of anthropologists, a boycott might have been difficult to achieve. Even assuming a unanimous boycott was possible, would it be heard? Given the deep-rooted connections of anthropologists to politically motivated funding sources linked to power, would such have been practically possible? Will anthropology ever be able to extricate itself from its dance with power? The farce that is the AAA’s current BDS campaign, which is nothing more than a symbolic statement (class discussion), suggests otherwise.

The Expansive Moment: A Critique

Goody, Jack. (1995). The Expansive Moment. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

The Expansive Moment is a curious piece of literature. Goody presents his tome as a historical review of the development of British anthropology, particularly under the auspices of Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics. It is an account put together largely through the collection of personal correspondence, which Goody acknowledges has only focused on certain materials while leaving out others (5). It is also largely personal: Goody personally knew the anthropologists concerned, or their students, and the work in fact emerged as a by-product of writing an obituary to Meyer Fortes (4). Given the vested interest of the author in presenting himself–indeed, he dedicates a chapter to his own contributions to the field (118-143)–and his forebears in a positive light, and the defensive tone he takes in presenting some of his arguments (especially that regarding the role of colonialism in anthropology), The Expansive Moment can hardly be considered a work of objective history. In fact, it arouses great suspicion regarding what has been left out. Goody attempts to divest early British anthropology in Africa of its colonial roots. He uses two main lines of argument that are emphasized throughout the book: 1. That anthropologists at the time were largely independent in terms of the subject matter they chose to analyze, and thus did not contribute to colonial projects, which many of them opposed (he makes a point of emphasizing the ‘leftist views’ (9) held by certain persons, including Kirchhoff, who, despite the deceptive title of the third chapter, never “[made] it to the field as a Jew and a Red” (42-57)); 2. That the primary organism funding these anthropologists, namely the Rockefeller foundation, was not interested in supporting colonialism because it was, allegedly, an American foundation interested in reform. This essay addresses both of these claims, seeking to establish that, although they hold some truth, they are either deliberately deceptive or bely an embarrassing lack of insight on Goody’s part. An attempt is then made to understand Goody’s motivation in writing a book that seems to fly in the face of what is today considered to be common knowledge about anthropology’s less than savoury underpinnings.

One of Goody’s persistent claims relates to the idea that the generation of anthropologists following Malinowski and his contemporaries had a great deal of independence regarding the subject matter they wished to pursue (34, 42-43). He devotes a chapter to “Some achievements of anthropology in Africa” (which included lineage studies, as well as studies of kinship and marriage, law, religion, and the economy (87-117)), and highlights the fact that very little work was actually done on social change, in which the primary funder, the Rockefeller Foundation, was most interested. Goody does a good job of illustrating the power dynamics and the necessary negotiations between scholars seeking to pursue research for its own sake, and the structures that provide the necessary funding for that research: in order to receive funding, most of the anthropologists included “culture contact” in their proposals, despite the fact that a lot of the actual research that ensued was at best marginally related to this topic (34, 42-43). However, the real question is whether this purported academic freedom is actually significant. If the results produced by the scholars were utterly useless, would the funding agencies continue to support them? One possible explanation suggested in class was that perhaps the funding agencies have another interest in providing financial support to scholars: by doing so, they purchase anthropologists, effectively closing the doors to critique of the agency itself. The nature of Goody’s book may in fact be indicative of the limits of the academic freedom he extols. In any event, the fact that the research produced does not correspond with what the funding agency asked for is no indicator for whether said research is useful for anyone in a position of power to exert that power over the peoples studied (in fact any research conducted produces such a power imbalance: for knowledge in itself is power, and so the very act of deploying anthropologists to gather data is a move which amasses power). In a situation of conflict any information can be “useful”. For a close-to-home example, one can refer to the potential usage of cultural intelligence in torture methods at the Abu-Ghraib prison camp during the United States’ “War on Terror” (See Hersh, and Price 270) 1. It is strange that Goody should be implying that deep knowledge of customs of Africans didn’t help in ruling them. A peculiar reference is made to Evans-Pritchard quoting “Kirchhoff’s claim that, in a slip of the tongue, Malinowski declared that he was engaged in ‘telling South Africa how to take the Natives’ land away according to their Customs'” (74). Instead of investigating the claim, Goody leaves the reader befuddled at this damning assertion that on its very own serves quite well to completely derail his argument. As for the anthropologist who pursues his own interests without regard for what the powers-that-be want or need, he is nothing more than a pawn in a chess game, only aware of his own moves, and not of the larger scheme. But anthropologists are quite often the ones who point the fingers at those playing the game. Why does Goody fail to do the same?

Another strikingly odd claim Goody makes in an attempt to wash the hands of his mentors (and, in turn, his own) of the blood spilled by colonial empire, is his repeated claim that their primary source of funding, the Rockefeller Foundation, was an American Institute interested in reform (9, 154). He states that the British Empire was dying during the time period he is examining, as if such a fact somehow dissolves any remnants of colonial interest in Africa. A distinction was made in class between British Colonialism and American Imperialism. Goody is attempting to excuse or downplay the role of the former in anthropology, while completely ignoring the latter. The obvious conclusion raised by Goody’s characterization is that America was engaging in an attempt to sweep up the remnants of the disintegrating British Empire, which, considering the shift in the geopolitical power balance from Britain to America as world superpower during the period of the Second World War (class discussion), is clearly the case. The philanthropies of the Rockefeller Foundation itself stemmed from an attempt to recuperate what could be saved from Rockefeller’s own dissolved empire (class discussion), and as a result it is not a stretch to say that the interest in Africa was not purely philanthropic. Indeed, as brought up in class, Goody does not make any attempt to question why Rockefeller was interested in Africa at this particular period in history. So, if the anthropologists were involved in this intrigue, how is it any better than that from which Goody exonerates them? Drawing attention to the book’s date of publication (1995) makes it all the more embarrassing that a scholar of such influence as Jack Goody appears to be so blind to the extent and effects of American imperialism. His understanding of “reform” appears to be a very naive one. Anthropologists have time and again critiqued “reform” or “development” projects and shown that what is couched in language of philanthropy is often not what it seems. But of course, Goody is critical of “new directions” and interested only in building on the foundations led by his forebears (147). Or is he simply trying to pass the blame on to the Americans? But if this were the case, he is not explicit enough about it (that is, if his aim is not to fully pardon the anthropological endeavour of its sin, and instead, to scapegoat the Americans, he should develop a critique of American endeavours, which he doesn’t). Perhaps he lacks the academic freedom he goes to lengths to demonstrate existed among his forebears? After all, he, like the others, is in a relationship of dependence upon those who fund him.

Jack Goody’s book is an intriguing account of the early days of British anthropology. But it appears that a lot is left out or ignored, and that the primary interest of the book lies not in what it says, but in what it leaves unsaid. By reading between the lines, one can gain some insight into the continued influence of funding institutions on academic freedom, and how anthropologists’ own vested interests can lead them to disguise or deny truth. Unfortunately for Goody, he does more to undermine his own argument than to support it.

1For further examples of anthropology used to harm those it studies, see Patterson’s discussion of Project Camelot (124-125).


Hersh, Seymour M. “Annals of National Security: Torture at Abu-Ghraib”. The New Yorker. May 10, 2004. http://www.veronaschools.org/cms/lib02/NJ01001379/Centricity/Domain/588/Torture%20at%20Abu%20Ghraib.pdf

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

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

Bourdieu’s Homo Academicus: Commentary on Chapter 2

Bourdieu, Pierre. (1984). Homo Academicus. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit. [2, The Conflict of the Faculties, pp. 36-72]

In this second chapter of Homo Academicus, Bourdieu argues that political inclination is dependent upon one’s position in the academic field, and not vice versa. Distinguishing between three hierarchically arranged fields of power, he places the academic field in a middling position between the political and social fields. He posits a hierarchy of the faculties, in which those at the top are closer to political power. Bourdieu supports his argument using empirical data gathered through publicly available sources, presented in tabular form.

University professors, Bourdieu argues, are subordinate in the field of power to managers of industry and business, but are nonetheless “holders of an institutionalized form of cultural capital,” and therefore culturally dominant with respect to writers and artists (36). These academics, especially those at the top of the social hierarchy, present higher percentages of “indices of social integration and respectability” (36-37). Bourdieu claims that “the structure of the university field reflects the structure of the field of power, while its activity contributes to the reproduction of that structure.” (40-41) Thus, university professors have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. The degree to which they do is dependent upon their position within that field.

According to Bourdieu, two antagonistic principles of hierarchization are at play in the university field: “the social hierarchy, corresponding to capital inherited and economic and political capital actually held, is in opposition to the specific, properly cultural hierarchy, corresponding to the capital of scientific authority and intellectual renown” (48). Bourdieu holds that the first of these “becomes increasingly dominant as we ascend […] the hierarchy extending from the science faculties to the faculties of law or medicine” and that the latter, “which is founded on the autonomy of the scientific and intellectual order” (48), increases in the opposite direction. At this end of the spectrum, individuals tend to display a “rejection of everything which enforces respect for the status quo” (51).

Bourdieu also discusses how the university field reproduces itself. Specific mechanisms ensure the integrity of the institution, including nepotism (56) and “co-optation techniques” that “always aim to select ‘the [successful] man’ , who is envisaged differently according to different practitioners (58).

Borrowing from Kant, Bourdieu names the ‘higher faculties’: theology, medicine and law, which are claimed to be those “most directly controlled by the government” and which “train agents to be able to practice without questioning” (62). These practitioners, whose roles in society are regarded as providing essential services which must be dispensed in a uniform manner, are endowed with a “technical competence guaranteed by laws” (63), from which it follows that their behaviour must follow a certain standard, and is thus not open to debate. The stark contrast between these practitioners and those at the opposite end of the spectrum, the so-called “intellectuals”, stems from the fact that “a body of ‘authorities’ cannot present itself in a state of disarray, as intellectuals may, without compromising its capital of authority” (65). As a result, these ‘experts’, in order to maintain their authority, must reproduce it. They represent, “knowledge in the service of order and power” (68) , as opposed to those in the science and especially the arts faculties, who stand for “knowledge confronting order and power” (69).

What is most fascinating about Bourdieu’s analysis is that it reveals that the higher one’s position in the field of academic power, the greater the conformity required. The type of training required of doctors and jurists appears to be a type of brainwashing, where the “best practices”, as taught, are to be accepted without question. This calls into question the notion of academic freedom and integrity, and causes one to wonder whether authoritative figures can really be trusted, given that they are embroiled in the game of politics. The fact that the function of the training of the “right wing of the parliament of knowledge” (Kant, quoted in Bourdieu, 63) is to produce “agents able to put into practice without questioning or doubting” (63) is also telling of the arrogance often encountered by patients in the offices of clinicians, who dispense medical and non-medical advice as if it were indisputable law.

We are reminded of the recent scandal, discussed in class, involving a professor at Concordia University, whose research claimed that asbestos was not a hazard to human health and that any claims to the contrary were based on “strongly held feelings”1 . This occurred at a Centre dubbed “The Luc Beauregard Centre of Excellence in Communications Research”. A perusal of the webpage of that institution reveals that its “ultimate goal is to strengthen exchanges between industry and academia”2, which leads one to suspect that it is in fact a mouthpiece for industry to assuage the public of any concerns they may have regarding companies’ products or practices. As discussed in class, having recognized the weight and symbolic value attached to science, these business-people recruit researchers and adopt “scientistic language” in order to “block questioning and criticism” and “disguise the pathways to power”. Not dissimilarly, GMO lobbyists have recruited academics to publish and publicly emphasize the safety of GMO products 3.

As was discussed in class, public visibility and being answerable to the media often comes at the cost of academic freedom. We should only hope that the left wing of the parliament of knowledge, the “opposition audience” described by Kant in the chapter’s introductory quotation, and, according to Bourdieu, consisting of we in the arts faculties, should actively voice their “severe scrutiny and objections”(36), and that these should be heard.

1 http://montrealgazette.com/news/concordia-to-review-asbestos-report
2 http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/us/food-industry-enlisted-academics-in-gmo-lobbying-war-emails-show.html?_r=0