Are you ready to lead the revolution? A final review of David Price’s Weaponizing Anthropology

Price, David H. Weaponizing Anthropology (2011) CounterPunch and AK Press.

Weaponizing Anthropology (2011) by David Price is a highly informative and deeply provocative text that argues against the (mis)use of social sciences –particularly anthropology –by intelligence and military agencies in the theatre of war and counter insurgency operations. Drawing on documentary and historical research, Price raises serious moral and ethical concerns regarding the role of anthropology in the development and implementation of counter insurgency programs such as Human Terrain Systems (HTS) and how funding agencies (corporate and state) have infiltrated onto university campuses across North America. Importantly, Price’s work is a sobering reminder of the importance of upholding the discipline’s duty to ‘do no harm’ and acquire informed consent from those we collaborate with and share research experiences with in the field.

Price argues that the present danger facing  the discipline is that anthropologists have been aware of anthropology’s involvement in these affairs since WWII and Vietnam (the AAA’s code of ethics was made as a result of Vietnam) yet seemingly have not learned from past experiences as evidenced by their continued involvement in war time operations. Anthropology cannot and will not be the hand maidens AGAIN to this infernal machine, regardless of propaganda or media spun and twisted to garner affectual sensibilities. Importantly, anthropologists need to be diligent in their work to expose these imperialist operations at home and abroad, and, above all, they need to support each other in this critical project. This text provokes the reader to think about the changing context of war and how cultural data and ethnographic work is increasing being used by intelligence and military agencies to better understand and control occupied populations, even target and kill those considered to be a threat to these operations. Price’s text is also a reminder that as much as anthropology does not belong in war, it cannot ignore it or those who find themselves caught in the line of fire. Although anthropology has an ethical duty to ‘do no harm’ it also has the moral duty to ensure that no harm comes to innocent lives as a result of state sponsored violence through war or occupation.

If we did take Price’s suggestions or criticisms to heart what would it change? Bombs are still going to be dropped on houses, drones are still going to electronically identify, engage, and remove enemy assets and targets (home or abroad), and soldiers are still going to kill. Civilians will still die. That is war. Big corporations will continue to make weapons (BAE, Northrop Grumman, etc) and they will continue to profit from war –as we all do even if indirectly. How then how are we to remedy this paradox? Is this an irreconcilable truth of our being citizens of the North American superpower (or its neighbor)? If not from within anthropology or the social sciences or outside of them, then from where do we make a stand? I’m not one to subscribe to impoverished cynicism or abject nihilism –I believe that we can make a difference in the world and that the opinions and criticisms of anthropology and social sciences (even from the classroom) can be that voice of challenge and change. But when corporate, military, and intelligence agencies are funding programs in Montreal and across Canada, what are we to do? What can we do? Are you ready to lead the revolution?

Ultimately, I think that we need to take the title of this book seriously –we need to weaponize anthropology. We cannot let state agencies, the military, or corporations weaponize our bodies or knowledge. We need to do it ourselves. I was reminded in class by a colleague that knowledge and reflexivity are the weapons of anthropology and that this kind of radical position is easy to take when one is not invested in life, with a career and a family to think of first. And she was right. However, radical politics demands action as much as it demands sacrifice. Radical politics and action must be transformative if they are to be successful and meaningful. Anthropologists need to see themselves as the instruments of change and not be instrumental to projects or campaigns that seek to further state imperialism, but rather to effect positive change in the world. We are the instruments –we are the weapons –knowledge and reflexivity is our ammunition. ‘Anthropology needs you’ –not Uncle Sam or the Great Canadian North –to fight the good fight, to lay down your life for the greater good. People die every day –civilians and soldiers –fighting for what they believe to be honorable causes for justice, and to preserve a way of life. Is this what anthropologists need to do? Is this going too far? Are we too far removed and insulated in our ivory towers that this sort of commitment is behind us? Maybe we are. I am not advocating that anthropologists need to go to war; indeed Price is arguing that anthropologists do not belong in the theatre of war at all, certainly not in the context of helping to identify the enemy or produce cultural data frameworks to assist military occupations. We do, however need to give this line of inquiry some serious thought and ask ourselves whether we as anthropologists are willing to put our lives –that is, our careers and livelihoods at the very least –on the line to critique, protest, and expose these imperialistic designs. I think that these are the kinds of questions that need to be asked and debated if we are to approach a philosophy –and anthropology –capable of dealing with these issues. Price’s text is certainly a good point of departure for anyone –anthropologist or not –to begin to do just that.


Reflections on the final chapters of Travel, Humanitarianism, and Becoming American in Africa

Mathers, Kathryn. (2010). Travel, Humanitarianism, and Becoming American in Africa. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

This is a summary and discussion of the final two chapters and conclusion of Travel, Humanitarianism, and becoming American in Africa, by Kathryn Mathers (2010). It has been structured from the minute notes of the seminar dedicated to these chapters so the answers, opinions, compliments, criticisms, and general sentiments within this post are not only reflective of this author alone but contain those of all the seminar participants. My efforts here have been to coherently reproduce these various positions to dialogue with (rather than a response to) these closing chapters.

The three students (Megan, Corey, and Maria) were defined as just “white” and “American” by Mathers. She placed a good deal of emphasis on how these three student travelers needed to express their ‘Americaness’ and ethnic identities through food, fashion, and hair style. Do you think that South Africans are homogenizing what it means to be American? (Is it fair treatment by the author?) Is Mathers implying that who they are is determined by South Africans?

While Mathers certainly argues that South African culture has a homogenizing effect on the American student travelers she spent her time with, it is not a unidirectional process. As far reaching as American culture is globally it does not have a totalizing effect, rather, the development of ‘Americaness’ in parts of the world not in the United States is a collaborative endeavor. Both sides appear to be engaged in this homogenizing project, it is a two way street. Both Americans and South Africans had preconceptions and assumptions of each other. Mathers mentions how South Africans generally viewed Americans as leading opulent, privileged and wealthy lifestyles. Much like their American counterparts their constructions of America and Americans was heavily influenced by mediated film and television imagery (Beverley Hills 90210, Fresh Prince of Bel-air, etc) though Mathers is less accusative of South Africans than the student travelers from the United States.

As well, the American student travelers were confronted with stereotypes and cultural models that they did not normally have to do deal with which evoked a deep sense of disjuncture with their normative cultural narratives. These Student travelers expressed reactions ranging from confusion to disgust. Many also reported a general awakening (personal, emotional, social, political, and cultural in form), but it should be noted that these moments of clarity and connection with the local populations they were immersed in their travels were highly personalized moments of self discovery that it into their preconceived notions and assumptions of Africa as a place in need of their intervention.

Are the author’s descriptions of South African homogenization adequate? That is, did the author’s descriptions of Americans through an organizational matrix prove adequate? (As opposed to a political-economic identity: not a ‘Montrealer’ but a ‘banker’) It seems that South Africans (who are most often nameless) and Mathers are engaged in a process of guilt transfer: as if these young and vulnerable student travelers need to account (or are being asked to take account) for these heavy power relations between America and Africa. Or rather, by framing these larger socio-political and economic issues around tourism and humanitarian work by Americans in Africa, Mathers draws our attention to how some of these larger issues are at the core of Americans’ projects of self discovery. Perhaps if Mathers had made the individual journey’s of these student travelers, and their preconceptions and assumptions, as the central point of departure, and not the larger macro issues surrounding ‘Americanness’ or Western Hegemony, then these types of organizational identities would not have been so problematic. As well, the journals that the student travelers were asked to write and the context of the Mathers research project brought these imperialist stereotypes into their thoughts. For instance, Maria’s journal entries appear to be highly reflexive, but an imperialist is not an adequate description of her attitude or comportment in the field. Rather, she seems at odds with imperialist or western hegemonic attitudes in her need to express herself through her ethnic identity rather than her ‘Americanness” so to speak.

Mathers seems to lean on an argument that Baudrillard put forth that post 9/11 America is composed of weakly defined notions of freedom and democracy that spread easy but leave culture in the United States undefined. That is, we know where the United States is and what it looks like (on a map or through stereotypes and stereotypical imagery) but we do not know where it ends. It is dilemma that involves both entity and process. Entity in that there are Americans in America; process in that there are places and individuals who have been Americanized all over the world. These Americanized individuals may not have passports but they hold American “values” and culture” to a high degree (language, Harvard business, freedom, and democracy). This dilemma, Mathers says, makes it difficult to talk about American culture because “everybody and nobody can be American” (2010: 142).

Although it can be argued that a unique form of American identity may not be fully realizable under these types of conditions, there are many unique formulations of localized ‘Americanness’ in many parts of the world. These formulations are also heavily influenced by mediated imagery in the news, film, and television, fashion, and generate their own subcultures of knowledge and worldviews. Moroccans, for instance, are very much connected to western politics and culture through television. They consume idealized representations of western food, people, capitalism, politics, etc that are used as symbols of status, literally ‘to know’ or possess knowledge of western culture, politics, and affairs is a form of social currency. This is also not limited to Morocco as many cultures utilize these forms of social capital to engage in everyday relationships, Canada especially due to its proximity and close ties economically and politically.

Mathers seems to be over emphasizing this idea of pervasive ‘Americanness’ after the fact. She indicates clearly in the beginning of the book that she never thought about ‘Americaness’ before she set out to do this research and that it was a realization she came to in the field. Discovering one’s main topical idea in the field is not an uncommon occurrence as many ethnographers have had assumptions dispelled or moments of clarity through interactions with research populations, however, Mathers decision to make this the central and over arching theme to her book seems more revisionist, something done after the fact. Still, Mathers rightfully describes this privilege that United States student travelers have to go abroad and travel compared to South Africans. This is not a wrongful or inadequate description since Americans are privileged in this sense, besides enjoying the privileges of being citizens of the most powerful military and political country in the world.

Being that Mathers is an anthropologist traveler (at a minimum to the United States and back), how might the argument of this book and its conclusions reflect on the encounter in the field and on anthropology in general? One important aspect of the book is that it draws attention to the assumptions and motivations that anthropologists have going into the field. But are the anthropologists not also travelers?

Firstly, this book uniquely displays how anthropologists move, dwell, and occupy foreign places. Anthropologists immerse themselves in foreign cultures to better understand them, the daily lives of their practitioners, and their struggles. Secondly, it shows that as much as anthropology is concerned with adventure and discovery of new places and people, it is also a journey of self discovery. Field experiences and encounters change the anthropologist as much as those they collaborate with. There are always preconceptions and assumptions when entering the field. That they may concern your topic of research is of little importance as we carry cultural and social biases, norms, markers, and assumptions to every foreign cultural encounter. The journal entries that Mathers produced helped to articulate this symbiotic and reflexive relationship throughout the book. However, the downplaying of the relationships that some of the student travelers had with local South Africans and Kenyans left the reader asking how these relationships influenced not only the perceptions and assumptions of these student travelers but of their companions as well.


Reversed Gaze, Chapter 5: Mega-Anthropology

Ntarangwi, Mwenda. (2010). “Mega-Anthropology.” In Mwenda Ntarangwi, Reversed Gaze: An African Ethnography of American Anthropology (p.101-125). Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press.

Ntarangwi opens up the chapter with a bold statement that anthropology needs to apply what it has learned “from studying other cultures towards studying themselves and anthropological culture itself” if it is truly to become a cultural critique (2010: 101). A critique, he says, that must approach the study of professional anthropology the same way as it has with the traditional exotic and far away locations that have been its focus of study.  By not assuming that high-status professionals posses a more sophisticated level of social or cultural knowledge than the researcher as it does in para-ethnography, a more systematic analysis of anthropologists in their ‘everyday lives’ can be pursued. The goal of this endeavor would be to enhance our reflexivity and dispel assumptions of this “assumed sophistication of ‘advanced’ societies” (2010: 102). The AAAs (the annual meeting of the American Anthropology Association), he contents, and offer an ideal setting where the performed rituals of this anthropological work can best be observed. Importantly, a study such as this can help to reverse asymmetrical power differentials between anthropologists in the United States and between the North American and European anthropological community and the rest of the world.

He contrasts the AAA against the ASA (the Association of Social Anthropologists) and the PAAA (the Pan-African Anthropological Association) in an attempt to gain further insight into this cultural phenomenon. He argues that a comparison between these conferences can teach us a great deal, however, besides his ethnography of the annual AAAs in New Orleans (2002) and Washington D.C. (2007), he offers little in the sense of a comparative analysis except for the last two pages of the chapter with the ASA. The most striking revelation he says is the difference in the sheer numbers of members of the AAA (approximately 11,000 as of 2005) as compared to the ASA and PAAA, but oddly, offers no membership numbers for the latter two of these associations.  We are either left to imagine these numbers ourselves or simply take his word for it. In fact, this information does not seem to be available online in any form. The only population statistic available was found on the ASA website noting that 400 members attended the conference in India in 2012[1].  The PAAAs membership numbers are equally as difficult to locate. No current membership numbers could be located online regarding these associations. The AAA website proudly claims that there are at present approximately 12,000 active members with its annual meetings drawing over 5,000 members on average[2].  He states that the open membership policy of the AAA for “any person having demonstrable professional or scholarly interest in the science of anthropology” (2010: 124) as opposed to the invitational membership of the ASA that must also be vetted by two existing members of the association might be one reason for this, though he uses this point to justify his reasoning behind why the ASA is more able to host meetings outside of the UK instead.

This issue of the sheer size of the AAA in comparison to the ASA and the PAAA seems to be more of an issue concerning the quality of the work presented and the level of collaborative practice between respective associations or professionals. For instance, the ASAs have no concurrent panels to ensure that all members participating can be included in each discussion while the AAAs have overlapping panels and a myriad of activities taking place during the conference period that makes it impossible to attend every panel or presentation. Besides the ethnographic observations and interpretations he offers of the annual AAA meeting in New Orleans Louisiana in 2002 –which will be discussed presently –this is the only criticism he really offers in his comparison of these associations, and even then, he mentions the PAAA in name only focusing on the ASA only, which leads us to question the purpose of this interrogation in the first place.

Ntarangwi dedicates the majority of the chapter to his ethnographic observations and interpretations of the Annual AAA meeting he attended to in 2002. He provides accounts of his experiences at the airport in New Orleans, the taxi ride into the university, dining, and finally the conference proceedings themselves.  He describes the differences in the wardrobe of participants at the conference; distinguishing the different levels of academics by the way they present themselves at the conference, with a particular note on the “culture of conference bags” (2010: 107) prevalent in American conferences that he is not accustomed to in African conferences. He uses this to further distinguish the PAAAs from the AAAs in terms of “socioeconomic differences in knowledge production and dissemination that exist in these two disparate locations” (2010: 107).  With over a century of history the AAA has built a considerable base of members who all must pay their own way to each conference unlike the PAAA and ASA that provide financial support for their smaller membership bases to do attend conferences if needed.

He draws attention to the language used at many of the panels he attended as being overly complicated to the point of distancing the presenters from their work and making the whole affair seem overly narcissistic and artificial. Moreover, the “recycling of field notes” (2010: 109) added to this distancing as many of the presenters were including data that was obtained many years before.  An attempt, he says, to seemingly remain relevant and impressive by “practicing brilliant accounts” (2010: 110).

The Annual AAAs in Washington D.C. in 2007 was another opportunity for Ntarangwi to apply an ethnographic frame to his attendance and participation. His primary observations are that the AAAs are predominantly (and intimidating it seems)”White”(2010: 112) and extremely noisy with hundreds of members talking and chatting in the main lobby that contrasted against the “many Africans and African Americans working at the hotel” (2010: 113). He also focuses on the placement center –or employment area –of the conference and observes the behaviors and interactions between prospective employees/academics and employers/institutions.

Ntarangwi does mention in the very last paragraph of the chapter that anthropologists need to remain vigilant in the face of growing interdisciplinary work between the social sciences to “remain relevant in our own field, at a time when other disciplines are assuming they can readily and successfully carry out our roles” (2010: 125). He stresses that if anthropologists do not respond accordingly that the profession could be in danger of becoming “irrelevant in a world where neo-liberal economic models have already prevailed, even in higher education” (2010: 125) –especially in the United States.

A review of David Graeber’s “The Auto-Ethnography That Can Never Be and the Activist’s Ethnography That Might Be”

Graeber, David. (2005). “Chapter 12: The Auto-Ethnography That Can Never Be and the Activist’s Ethnography That Might Be” In Anne Meneley and Donna J. Young (Eds.), Auto-Ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic Practices (189-202). Toronto, Ontario: Broadview Press.

Graeber’s piece is a meditation on some of the dilemmas he has encountered as a self-styled anarchist anthropologist. He compares and contrasts the tensions that anarchist principles have with being an academic to open up the field for discussing alternative possibilities of conducting anarchist academic work. Graeber points out that anarchism and academia do not go hand-in-hand and that much of “ordinary intellectual practice…resembles just the sort of sectarian modes of debate anarchists are trying to avoid” (2005: 191). Anarchism, he says, has recently gone through a sort of renaissance with its principles of autonomy, voluntary association, self-organization, direct-democracy, and mutual aid being adopted as the basis for the organization of social movements all over the world. Academics, however, have been mostly dismissive of the potentialities that anarchism offers as a politics of emancipation.

Part of the reason for this stems from an institutional difference historically between Marxism and anarchism: academic Marxism has been widely popular while anarchism has been pursued by less than a handful of academic anarchists. There has been a rich literary history of Marxist writers –including Karl himself –who have produced academic texts over the last century and a half investigating almost every conceivable permutation of Marxist philosophy while historical anarchism has had little review. Besides several 19th century thinkers (Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin) who wrote on anarchism more in the sense of it being a moral faith or sense, it “was never really invented by anyone” (2005: 192).

Graeber points out that, one the one hand, anarchism tends to be an ethical discourse that emerges “from some kind of organizational principle or form of practice” (2005: 193). Academics, on the other hand, tend to be involved in producing texts based on theoretical or analytical discourse. Anarchism is performed; it is the embodiment of an ethics in practice. It is a program of action that has a means to an end that demands that “one must embody the society that one wishes to create” (2005: 194).

This sort of horizontally managed, autonomous, self-regulated, direct-action philosophy, however, has not been entirely conducive with  the feudal university environment “full of deans and provosts  and people wearing funny robes” (2005: 194) fighting intellectual battles in arcane languages hidden away in their lecture halls and libraries. Graeber contends that adhering to ab anarchist attitude as an academic could be strategically suicidal. He urges those interested in pursuing anarchist studies to look to the rich history of vanguardism and its alternative possibilities for inspiration.

Vanguardism is the typical label accorded to “those who believe that the role of the intellectuals is to come up with the correct theoretical analysis of the world situation, so as to be able to lead the masses on a truly revolutionary path” (2005: 196). Social theory, vanguardism, and the avant garde share a common historical origin in the works of Comte and Saint-Simon. Each proposed new ‘religions’ in the wake of the French Revolution to provide modern, industrial society “the ideological cohesion and social integration” (2005: 196) that had faded since feudalism. In Saint-Simon’s New Christianity, artists were placed in the roles of the priesthood (the avant garde) and would provide the creative “visions that scientists and industrialists would put into effect” (2005: 197) eventually leading to the dissolution of the state and its coercive mechanisms. Comte’s New Catholicism, on the other hand, proposed “the regulation and control of almost all aspects of human life according to [the] scientific principles” (2005: 197) of his newly founded sociology with the sociologists as his priestly managers of public affairs.

Anarchist sympathies within the artistic communities of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s were quite popular, especially with the Saint-Simonians actively recruiting artists for various socioeconomic and political endeavors. Bohemianism –a marginalized and impoverished voluntary lifestyle of like-minded individuals engaged in artistic, musical, or literary pursuits –was the most significant development that emerged out of the prevailing cultural conditions during this period. Graeber argues that vanguardism was co-opted by radical newspapers and points the finger directly to Marx as manipulating the original anarchist ethos to better suit the focus of his revolutionary designs: the proletariat (2005: 198). As a result the roles of artists or self-styled artisans were relegated to minor importance, if any, with little to offer. The political manifestation of vanguardism in a party dedicated to the organization and deployment of an intellectual project on behalf of the oppressed with the intention of designing a violent revolution was never fully realized. This had a strong influence on the artistic avant garde most likely, Graeber contends, stemming from a shared sense of alienation they experienced in the face of elitist social, political, and economic formations. In fact, he says that:

even in times and places when there is next to no other constituency for revolutionary change, the one place one is most likely to find it is among artists, authors, and musicians, even more than among professional intellectuals (2005:198).

 For these reasons it is no surprise that revolutionary coalitions tend to “consist of an alliance between a society’s least alienated and its most oppressed” (2005: 198) and points to indigenous and anti-globalization movements as prime examples.

 On a final note Graeber turns back to the role of ethnography and posits that times of great ethnographic curiosity tend to arise during periods of heightened revolutionary protest and social change. If the ideal nature of ethnography is to tease out “hidden symbolic, moral, or pragmatic logic that underlies certain types of social action” then it appears that this could be a potential role for the “radical, non-vanguardist intellectual” (2005: 199). The aim of such a project would be to identify the actors who are developing alternative modes of social, economic, and political actions in situ and try to ascertain the larger implications of their activities to effect change. Ultimately, this can only be achieved through an auto-ethnographic approach which has its own set of concerns and dilemmas, which this collection of works has most certainly covered. Graeber makes it clear, however, that he is not looking to provide a model so much as provide the grammar to further discuss and explore alternative possibilities.

 Of all the pieces that this book has had to offer, Graeber’s chapter resonated the most with my own work in deviant subcultures such as the graffiti and street art. Graeber also stands alongside other academics such as Jeff Ferrell, Mark Hamm, and Stephen Lyng in their unconventional approaches to conducting research from the perspective of those labeled as criminal or deviant. I find myself approaching an anarchistic mode in my constant pursuit of a horizontally oriented, open-ended, experiential, rhyzomatic, and autonomous methodology. My work is action oriented and involves a good deal of ‘doing’ in the field, documentation, photography, and collaborative fieldwork endeavors, or ‘missions.’ I too feel the pressure to conform to the standards of research and academic work, though I would have to disagree that taking an anarchist position is academic suicide. Suicidal, perhaps, but one some level it must depend on the capacity for a researcher to sell the approach to the right buyer –that is, argue and justify it, even if it means by hybridizing it to whatever institutional standards stand in the way. In this sense, perhaps auto-ethnographies involving anarchist or alternative methodologies can have their day, even in an academy that seemingly dismisses them –change after all, begins from within.

“Who Wears the Trousers in Vanuatu?” by Maggie Cummings

Cummings, Maggie. (2005). “Who Wears the Trousers in Vanuatu?” In Anne Meneley and Donna J. Young (Eds.), Auto- Ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic Practices (51-64). Toronto, Ontario: Broadview Press.

This chapter focuses on the fieldwork of Maggie Cummings in Port Vila, Vanuatu, concerning the “cultural politics of femininity, dress, and appearance for young women” (2005:51) and how this intersects with national identity. This final chapter of the section on ‘initiations’ continues the authors’ inquiry into the dilemmas that anthropologists may have to negotiate when trying to act responsibly and ethically in the field. Typically understood as a rite of passage for many anthropologists, fieldwork always involves some level of risk that requires the researcher to be conscientious of his personal and professional limitations. As Cummings points out by the end of her chapter, even when the researcher goes to greater lengths to ensure that these limitations are respected or observed, adverse or unexpected reactions to the presence of the fieldworker or the nature of the research are still possible.

The contentious debate over the appearance of young women in Vanuatu society largely revolves around the clash between traditional and modern modes of living: Ni-Vanuatu women asserting their individuality and femininity are considered to be a threat to the patriarchal elite of Vanuatu society. Just prior to her arrival in Vanuatu a group of chiefs ruled for the banning of women from wearing trousers that, intermittently enforced, became the focus of much public debate.  By the time that Cummings had arrived justifications for the ban had been elaborated by a “vocabulary of blame, protection, and ‘trouble’” (2005: 54) within a traditional and religious (Christian) context.

The preconditions set out by the government of Vanuatu demand collaboration with local researchers and the production of research initiatives that benefit the local people (2005: 23). Cummings was assigned by her doctoral supervisor to such an initiative that involved the production of a video aimed at providing Vanuatu women a means to express themselves about everyday matters. This work provided her the opportunity to engage with the Ni-Vanuatu women regarding their disputes with the patriarchal assertions that women wearing trousers were on the one hand being disrespectful to the traditional domain of “kastom” and, on the other hand, asserting themselves too provocatively making them vulnerable to rape.

In order to negotiate the delicate issue of her assumed anthropological interests in ‘kastom’ by the local women, she adopted the suggested label of volunteer. This seemed to be supported by her collaborative work with the VYPP (Vanuatu Young People`s Project) that her supervisor had assigned her to. This helped her get closer to these women to illicit more comfortable and willing responses about their experiences, thoughts, and feelings about this contentious issue. The label of volunteer and the anthropological nature of her work, however, brought with it the expectation of involved activism (‘making a difference’ or ‘making things happen’ so to speak) and implicated Cummings in a direct-action protest by a group of women in the VYPP –showing up to work wearing trousers rather than dresses –that ended with those involved being harshly reprimanded.

Cummings work raises important considerations regarding the collaborative nature of research in general, let alone research involving corporate or institutional oversight, that can be of great value to any budding anthropologist in the field. In particular, she draws attention to the difficulty of trying to fit into one’s field setting and research population. Her choice to wear dresses and skirts and to adopt the label of volunteer may have helped her avoid being categorized as just another controlling, wealthy, white, foreign woman; it did not save her from discursive invocation of her whiteness and academic status by other local parties.

At the same time, Cummings seemingly glosses over the discussion regarding the pressure to confirm to the institutional imperatives set out by her doctoral supervisor and university. The question of “who wears the trousers?” could also be asked of her in the sense of who she must answer to in the course of her research: does Cummings not answer to a higher academic authority? What were the repercussions she suffered for having strayed from the original intentions of her work?  Were there any repercussions? She was sent to produce a video, not involve herself in the local politics, regardless if this involvement came out of her initial mandate. She remarks how her collaborative fieldwork was not what it seemed and invokes the moral imperative that anthropological work should be relevant to the local populations where it is conducted. Though apposite, this explanation falls short of contributing to the discussion of the anthropology of academic practice that this volume speaks to and the lack of any discussion regarding the matter leaves this reader curious as to what hidden tensions may reside under the surface of Cummings contribution.

Overall, Cummings contribution does well to highlight the challenges involved in collaborative projects and the possible tensions that can arise in the field. She does well to display that Ni-Vanuatu women are not duped by the patriarchal discourse of blame and corruption eschewed by the ruling chiefs. These local women have agency and awareness –as evidenced through her discussions with local women and their having taken direct action –and do not share the implications that their mode of dress is being disrespectful of traditions or putting them at greater risk of physical or sexual assault. Importantly, Cummings shows how the decisions and actions made by anthropologists in the field regarding the extent of collaborative research, even if accounted for, can still have unintended consequences.