Militant Forces and the Legacy of Anthropology: A Review of David H. Price’s Weaponizing Anthropology

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

Shrapnel was invented by an Englishman of the same name. Don’t you wish you could have something named after you? – Kurt Vonnegut, Man Without a Country, 2005

In reading any piece of activist literature, it is wise to determine the intentions laden in its words and to critically reflect on what kind of action should be taken. Given activism’s penchant for being on the periphery of controversy and mobilizing against dominant forces, newcomers to the field may find themselves swept up in the fervor of injustice with the urge to enact immediate social change. Alternatively, newcomers may also find themselves deflated by the helplessness of the situation presented, thus quelling their desire to become involved in some way, however ‘small’ that might be. David H. Price’s Weaponizing Anthropology (2011) is a call to social scientists, namely anthropologists, as well as wider audiences with an interest in the activities of imperialistic institutions. He is concerned about anthropological knowledge and anthropologists involved in military-state activity, primarily focusing on Human Terrain Systems (HTS). Thus, his topics do not veer far from two main themes: (i) anthropology’s ethical positions and responsibilities, and (ii) the imperialistic actions of the U.S. military-state to both the field of anthropology and foreign cultural milieu.

Price’s book is also, in part, a counter-attack against manuscripts such as the Human Terrain Systems Handbook and the Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Price tells us the Handbook aims to “[engineer] the ‘trust of the indigenous population’” (p. 103) but instead “compartmentalizes the project as something separate from larger neo-imperial missions of invasion and occupation” (p. 103). Price describes the Manual as essentializing the concept of ‘culture’ in the form of a short manuscript aimed at training soldiers in counterinsurgency tactics (p. 185-186). Thus, Price’s Weaponizing Anthropology is a pocket-sized book, comprised of short chapters, sports an attractive black silhouette of a military drone on a red background with stark white letters. It is accessible reading, tailored for both anthropologists and the layperson. He speaks plainly and openly about his lack of trust in the military-state, its administrative roster, and their earnest claim that they are acting in order to save lives. Throughout the book, he gives us various accounts of different investigative routes that all point to the same thing: the rampant abuse of anthropological knowledge by the U.S. military-state produces a perverted rendition of contemporary anthropological stances and positions on social, political, and cultural conflicts.

From a methodological point of view, studying ‘up’ or the study of elites presents some dynamic practices of anthropological data collection. Price’s book is not an ethnography, at least not in the conventional sense. He does not employ participant observation, but relies on a number of other methods, including: analysis of both public and leaked documents, interviews, questioning government funding of select university programs, and provoking responses from elites and their institutions in order to create an opportunity for response and critique.

This list of alternate methodological approaches is less a criticism on the lack of traditional participant observation and more of an observation of how the study of elites must be conducted in the face of authority and structures of power. For example, he tells us the training grounds for educating CIA agents takes place at select universities, under various program titles (i.e. PRISP, ICSP, NSEP). These programs are designed for the development of specific skill sets in order to produce a “thorough understanding and deep knowledge of particular areas of the world” (Simons, 2003 in Price, 2011, p. 35). While it may be common knowledge that this kind of training takes place, Price notes that there has been next to no public reaction at the increase of government funding to these programs, post-9/11. One could argue that this might be a necessary step in the face of national security, and yet, as Price notes, the continuing expansion of these programs shows no signs of stopping (p. 34). What is worrisome is the public’s complacency as unchallenged social and cultural change is organized, mobilized, and put into action by the military-state.

Another example of challenging the state’s actions is the prolific amount of academic material that the state plagiarized in the production of their Counterinsurgency Field Manual (p.118-124). It is not only a violation of copyright laws, but also a blatant mismanagement of scholarly work and interpretation. Furthermore, the role that the University of Chicago Press played in making the Manual a piece of “domestic propaganda” (p. 127) cannot go unchecked for its potential danger in rekindling public support for imperialistic efforts disguised as defending notions of freedom and democracy. Price reports how criticisms from various public magazines and blogs, such as CounterPunch and Small Wars gathered enough attention to draw out military officials’ responses. Despite the military’s unsatisfactory responses, Price makes it evident how academic and military goals regarding interpretations of passages are at polar ends, and that the military is more than comfortable in violating copyright laws and misrepresenting academic positions without having to adequately attend to academic scrutiny and critique (p. 122-123).

From an insider’s perspective, Price gives us John Allison’s account of his experience as an anthropologist working for HTS. Price says, “the significance of John Allison’s insider account of HTS training is found in the details he provides about the program’s inability to address basic ethical or functional issues” (p. 171). Allison was open to HTS reform, but Price says he is not convinced that HTS, a fundamentally unethical program, can be fixed such that it could employ competent anthropologists — and rightly so: anthropologists are not ‘social doctors’ remedying the ails of human conflict, nor are they ‘journalists’, simply reporting on events. Rather, in my view, social and cultural anthropologists are akin to detectives, piecing together complex puzzle pieces. As far as the ‘science’ in ‘social scientist’ goes, they are balanced and pragmatic about the knowledge they manage to piece together. In this way, the role of the anthropologist in the context of human conflict is to be a stoic figure that should be employed as a force to help level the field where power imbalances are clear and unjust. As a human being, in the sense of possessing a moral code, practicing anthropology becomes a personal ‘sense’ of what is right and wrong. Much of our class debate took place around the idea of being able to endure being involved in direct work with the HTS program. What was particularly telling about my classmates’ positions is that while everyone seemed to agree that participating in HTS would not be for them, there are different degrees to which we each understood the necessity of such programs in the face of political and cultural conflict.

Another question that was raised about Price’s book was: “why do we think there is a heavy focus on this book in intelligence gathering and targeting?” In my view, it shows one of the ways that anthropological knowledge can be used globally by non-anthropological agencies. This proves anthropology’s methods of data collection as an invaluable resource, but it also demonstrates its potential for cultural genocide and imperialism. Price tells us that anthropology’s involvement in counterinsurgency efforts exacerbates issues and tensions between military forces and local residents/cultures. Price makes it evident through his account of John Allison that regardless of an anthropologist getting involved, the military’s agenda will continue to create problems for foreign territories. Thus he presents us with the moral dilemma of letting the military-state go unchecked versus dirtying one’s hands in the name of protecting both anthropology’s name as well as minimizing damage in foreign territories.

The issue that Price does not attend to in this book, however, is anthropology’s value to the public. Or in another way, to what end can anthropologists serve as a tool for mounting their own ‘weapon’ against imperialistic forces while maintaining their dignity, endurance, and values? When we consider the media’s sensationalism, western lifestyle (purchased through ‘oil money’ and consumerism), and lack of interest in a deep understanding of foreign cultures, a different kind of challenge presents itself to anthropology. That is, anthropology must bring its concerns to the public, and to a much wider realm than activist domains. In order to do this, perhaps a first step should be that instead of fighting the military-state at its own game, of which they are the experts, anthropologists should re-focus on its own expertise. In an address to anthropology’s involvement with HTS, the American Anthropological Association (2007) has positioned itself and its knowledge as a distinct and separate entity, despite the state’s pillaging – but to what end? (

Anthropology’s weapon is knowledge. The elite institution of anthropology is not without its own set of fundamental flaws, given its colonial history as well as its catering to hegemonic and hierarchal practices of ‘academic stardom’. Rather than attending to other institutions’ shortcomings, and in the face of global crises such as HTS programs, anthropologists must first come to terms with its own discipline. This is not to say that those who are well invested in their respective fields should halt all action. I am saying that in order to gather and mobilize anthropology as a movement, there must be some agreement that a consensus must be reached. Simply disassociating and doing separate research cannot and will not garner public support. If military movements have taught us anything, it is that they possess the ability to unite people under a common belief in order to achieve a goal. Even when there is a lack of agreement, the notion of uniting and achieving a goal is a difficult thing to resist. There are other valuable and admirable traits to the military, such as its ability to discipline troops and produce and mobilize a sense of goal-oriented ‘order’ to its actions. Some may write this off as brainwashing, and I would not be the first to object. Still, the prospect of militaries disbanding and disarming themselves is a pipe dream left to fiction and sci-fi, and as such, we must consider the potential of what it means to agree to collectively rally against authoritative and imperialistic forces. As far as the discipline of anthropology operates, it plays out something like this: in order to understand anthropological theory and practice and become anthropologists, students undergo their own rite of passage, and yet the outcome is often riddled with a hazy set of indeterminable ‘cultural values’, without a clear sense of a goal in mind. My questions then are: what is the point of discipline without a goal? Upon acquiring competence in their theoretical area of study, where are anthropologists going with their disciplined knowledge? Do they intend to act in solidarity? Without a clear sense of purpose, I find it difficult to see how anthropologists can mobilize its ‘forces’ (students, scholars, and those in public fields). As individualistic as they may be, and in order to produce knowledge that the lay public can find accommodating and useful, it is in contemporary anthropology’s interest to publicly reevaluate how they promote the benefits of understanding and to find common ground between different people, not simply assert it.

Additional Works Cited:

American Anthropological Association. (2007). Statement on HTS: American Anthropological Association Executive Board Statement on the Human Terrain Systems Project. Retrieved from, accessed April 13, 2014.

Travel, Humanitarianism, and Becoming American in Africa, Chapter 6: ‘How do they know I am American?’ Travel and the Discovery of Home

Mathers, K. (2010). “Chapter 6: ‘How Do They Know I Am American?’ Travel And The Discovery Of Home.” In Travel, humanitarianism, and becoming American in Africa. Palgrave Macmillan, 137-154.

In this chapter, Mathers attends to “the ways American travelers respond to the reverse gaze of South Africans that marked them as American” (138). Mathers notes the gaze as a fundamental trope that has been employed in both historical and contemporary travel writing and tourism theory. While Mathers analyzes the social exchange and reflexive responses of her participants, our class discussion brought to the fore the notion of her representation of her participants, the consumerist aspects of social exchange, and her particular focus as exclusionary to important issues in South Africa, such as poaching. In this way, Mathers’ representation of her participants invokes classic cross-cultural positions, but at the same time, her constructions do not fulfill the holistic view that anthropological representations should endeavor to meet.

Part of the problem is perhaps owing to how Mathers dealt with her pool of participants. As we get to know them better in her ethnographic descriptions, we can understand that they are all going through their own rite of passage, learning aspects about their national, ethnic, gendered, and racial identities. Their conclusions about their positions as American travelers in South Africa and to political ideology show us stark contrasts of how certain American values are internalized and expressed via confidential conversations, diary entries, and so on. This draws some parallels between anthropological and tourist reflexivity, which Mathers touched on in Chapter 1, but lacks substantial elaboration. That is, Mathers seems to have spent much of her time taking ethnographic notes on her participants’ internal struggles and how they reflected on their self, rather than analyzing their expressions or actions to certain situations.

Another problem is Mathers’ lack of elaboration with key theoretical concepts that she raises. For example, on the notion of boundaries, Mathers seems to be unaware of Fredrick Barth’s (1969) seminal work, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries, which speaks of boundaries (of ethnicity). This work has subsequently been refined by many scholars to highlight the identity within boundaries as distinct, but also in a state of perpetual change or negotiation. This is not a sort of ‘fluidity’ of identity as much as friction caused by two borders inhabiting the same space. For identities to be ‘fluid’, I would argue that the flow must be unrestrained, or find a way around any obstacles, as one might imagine the way water flows around and over rocks in a river.

Mathers’ interpretation of this exchange is quite different, marked by the tourist gaze. Mathers describes this as problematic exchanges of negotiating (internal and external) terms of identity. She describes social actors as they attempt to reach a certain destination or pass as locals, and limits her results as ethnographic data that stops at her cross-cultural comparison. Both situations are less prone to demonstrating the attempt to embody local identities but, instead, show how the American tourists manage to create more space within the boundaries of their ‘bubble’, exacerbating a sense of distance between different cultural attitudes to foreign encounters. This is not to say that the American students made ‘enemies’ or created antagonistic situations per se, but even the tiny victories of amicable exchanges seem to be hollow in the greater face of national identity, a force that Mathers describes as quite out of the Americans students’ scope of understanding.

However, many other passages are drawn short by Mathers’ scattered attention to a plethora of issues and concepts: identities (markers of gender, race, nationality, class, politics, etc.), flows, space, time, home, embodiment, privilege, and wealth. Rather than deciding on how to draw together these issues and theoretical concepts into a solid ethnographic position that speaks to what the gaze represents, Mathers opts to unfairly focus on the shortcomings of her participants, casting them as liminal victims to their own ignorance or lack of wisdom. I am not saying Mathers has done this intentionally. Rather, she has failed to speak to the disparity between concepts of wealth in the form of mobility in tourism and travel, instead opting for her cross-cultural notes, with slight mention to other scholarly works.

Or, as another example, she has failed to bring out what it means to be “black” in the social and historical context of contemporary South Africa in the process of Americanization as a form of globalism. Instead, she speaks to pop cultural references such as Oprah or Chris Rock, which give weak links to the influence American black identities have on South African people and culture. In the voice of Sheryll Wilson, Mathers quotes, “part of Oprah’s success lies in her ability to conflate media icon with self and in making her audience believe that the person they see on television is Oprah Winfrey herself” (187). This potentially gives us more than a simple criticism of the damage wrought by popular celebrities. What I imagine Mathers could have expanded on are ideas around the influence that role and status play in the construction of American ideals and identities embodied in young travelers, coming from America, which create a rolling snowball effect that manifests within the gaze itself. Thus, the practice of gazing in an American way could have attended to notions of space and boundary as a reflexive rite of passage to the construction of identity in American tourists.

Furthermore, the influence, or ‘flow’, of American media in America is a force to contend with and worth in-depth analysis, especially in light of its effects on South African citizens. The surprise that Mathers’ students felt at its popularity overseas, as exemplified via the television show, 90210, show us a disconnect between popular and material cultural knowledge and nation-state identities. While Mathers’ description of Maria in Chapter 5 is telling of American positions on ethnic and national identity, she does not continue to build upon this, as the title of Chapter 6, ‘How Do They Know I Am American?’ Travel And The Discovery Of Home (138) seems to suggest. That is, situating ‘home’ through the gaze as influenced by travel, media, and the nation-state could have drawn together some elucidating points on how Western colonialism is subtly practiced through expectations and the consuming aspects of American travel experiences. Mathers touches on this idea, noting that “tourism or travel is often defined by the collection of stamps in one’s passport” (138), but again, falls short in expanding on this notion.

While Mathers’ ethnographic accounts are interesting, she clearly has taken on many tasks in order to fulfill the requirements of her book. Still, the lack of drawing together her ideas in a tighter conceptual frame leaves us scratching our heads as to how she comfortably reaches some of the conclusions at the end of the book.


Travel, Humanitarianism, and Becoming American in Africa, Chapter 1: Moving Fieldwork: Traveling with Americans to and from Africa

Mathers, K. (2010). “Chapter 1: Moving fieldwork: Traveling with Americans to and from Africa.” In Travel, humanitarianism, and becoming American in Africa. Palgrave Macmillan, 11-41.

Mathers opens this chapter with two straightforward statements: “this book is not an ethnography” and “my focus is on how an imagined and encountered ‘Africa’ is mobilized to support certain ideas about America and being American” (11). In anthropology, ethnographies have served to accomplish a multitude of tasks: some texts focus on engaging with abstract theoretical concepts or culture-specific practices, while others on Geertzian ‘thick descriptions’ in order to detail the affairs of people in foreign places. It is often the case that these tasks work together to explain one another. These ‘classic’ approaches to writing ethnographies have served to provide ample wiggle-room that allow various styles and approaches to writing and explaining culture. For this reason, I am puzzled as to why Mathers insists that her text is not, on a whole, an ethnography simply because she does not “claim to study an American ethnos” (11). She does not explain if this means, in her view, that in order to write an ethnography, one must be actively engaged in the societies one chooses to write on, or if reflexive positioning of herself and her subjects (as far as this chapter goes) simply doesn’t make the cut. The closest I can come to understanding her statement is similar to a person who paints a picture only to inform subsequent onlookers that the painting is not ‘art’. Is this a case of humbling oneself, or did we (as a classroom of discussants) all fail to understand what was missing?

Leaving this quizzical bit aside, and suffice to say, I consider this an ethnographic text and do read it as one – albeit, Mathers claims to be strictly focused on a particular set of theoretical concerns rather than deep ethnographic accounts to provide us with enriched anthropological holism. She continues along these lines of positioning in defining the parameters of her study as concentrated on “a specific historical and political moment in the United States…[while] focusing on broad categories…[to] show how ideas about Americanness are being expressed in multiple ways by the Americans I observed and through American popular as well as political cultures” (12). What is problematic comes next in her claim that her fieldwork examines experiences “outside of every day life” (12).

For Mathers then, accompanying travelers on their journeys outside of every day life somehow entails a non-stop glamorous and surreal experience that is beyond the scope of the mundane aspects of living. This of course, is somewhat of an overstatement, but Mathers appears to deny the existence of the repetitive and banal processes of sitting, waiting, boarding buses/airplanes/trains, aimless walking, asking for directions, eating packed sandwiches, etcetera, that are included in the experience of travel. Rather, Mathers emphasizes the paradigm of contemporary tourism and tourists in an increasingly mobile world. Weeding through the details of other scholarly works, Mathers’ intentions with tourists as the subject are to show how at first glance, privileged mobile persons may not appear as ethnographically rich as other more ‘exotic’ categories of oppressed mobile subjects, such as refugees, exiles, and forced migrants. However, their process of negotiating identities as they move through space and time should not be overlooked. In this space of inquiry, Mathers challenges the metaphorical and symbolic attributes revolving around the term ‘tourist’ and juxtaposes its meaning to the term ‘anthropologist’. At this intersection, Mathers highlights the reflexivity of tourists compared to anthropologists as a means to identify the intentions and motivations behind travel itself. For Mathers’ case involving her tourist informants, their aim is to generally experience alterity as a form of travel experience, and they are aware of the ‘reverse gaze’ in light of her (as an anthropologist) questioning; whereas anthropologists (in her context) are motivated by the dynamics of liminality, and about stretching the parameters of understanding fixed concepts of social actors in various places. I will attend more fully to these ‘polar’ roles below.

Mathers thus restates her book as “about the strands that connect people to particular places and to particular identities and the way those strands are made visible by stretching them across nations and continents…I make my site of study the ways the strands that link home and away are forged, mobilized, negotiated, accepted, or rejected” (13). Mathers notes that travel does not necessarily situate the traveler away from home but, rather, that boundaries are continuously erected that demarcate positions of self in contrast to forces of alterity. Mathers explains that for her subjects, these boundaries act as active points of reference to define their American values and identity as they negotiate their positions in various situations.

Returning now to the notions of ‘tourist’ and ‘anthropologist’, Mathers attempts to unpack the tourist’s mobile qualities as transitory and temporal states of being, and of enacting ‘reversed gazes’, while using herself as an example. In this way, American tourists in Africa carried ‘home’ with them in the contexts of nation, race, class, and gender. Mathers claims that for the American tourists, these markers of identification work with popular culture and mass images of representation in order to construct meaning and evaluate foreign exchanges between local residents. Mathers also contrasts this method of interpretation with her experiences, as a South African, on American soil. She explains how a black American student engaged with work regarding South Africa only acknowledged her for her knowledge of the site, but not as a South African with local knowledge with authentic cultural value. What would be interesting here is if Mathers had played with the notion of anthropologists gazing upon other anthropologists in the field. Seeing as most anthropological work is a solitary task (but not exclusively), I do recognize this difficulty. Still, the meticulous unpacking of each position, both tourist and anthropologist, gives us a sense of hostility between the two. As certain agendas may appear the same between both tourist and anthropologist, Mathers makes it clear that it is their mutually exclusive intentions of traveling and gazing at others in the field that distinguishes the result of their after-the-fact claims. In the hypothetical construction of observing other anthropologists in the field as they work, the construction of ‘self’ as ‘anthropologist’ could serve as an effective ‘mirror’ or simulacrum to safeguarding practices of mis/representation.

Mathers then shifts to outlining her participants in different categories. These categories include vacationers, political tourists, international student journalists, and study-abroad students. What is particularly telling about these different categories of participants is not so much their differences. Rather, how as travelers-all, they enact particular identities at conjunctures of cultural diversity and moments and spaces of awkward engagement. For Mathers, it is important to meticulously track the “complex and mediated worlds that they [inhabit]” (40), which exemplify their representational practices. Furthermore, for Mathers, “these linked them to a wider conversation and to an important set of ideas about who they are or might become that is specific to this generation and to those Americans who get to travel to Africa but also extends to a wider set of ideas about what it means to be American” (40).

Our class discussion included various views on representation and voice regarding ‘Africa’. First, the perpetual use of the term ‘Africa’ to explain away one ‘group’ of people was called out as absurd. While we agreed that most people know that Africa is a continent and that it contains a make up of many countries, this manner of reference serves more than an ‘acceptable’ short cut in making colloquial sense, but also plays into the notion that alterity or otherness is homogeneous, and thus dominant issues of poverty, corruption, violence and so on are widespread and mutually understood and felt across the continent. That is, this view understands that Africa is constitutive of the litany of social, economic, and political problems that pollutes the continent. As a result, social scientists that travel abroad are naturally drawn to seeking out and studying the ‘natural phenomena’ of exotic, dirty, and unsavoury elements of human life. This inspired another comment that proposed social scientists as compelled to seek out ‘negative’ aspects of foreign human cultures, rather than ‘positive’ or ‘beautiful’ elements. In doing so, and in response to the overwhelming literature and colonial history of the social sciences, we agreed that it would be somewhat difficult to escape the conundrum of playing the ‘apologist’, which would inevitably highlight the ‘negative’ aspects of Africa.

“Anthropologist and Accomplice in Botswana” by Jacqueline Solway

Solway, Jacqueline. (2005). “Anthropologist and Accomplice in Botswana.” In Anne Meneley and Donna J. Young (Eds.), Auto-Ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic Practices (113-125). Toronto, Ontario: Broadview Press.  

In this chapter, Jacqueline Solway employs her fieldwork experiences to tell us a few ‘anti anti-morality tales’. Her message is largely aimed at young anthropologists, who possess supposed tendencies of succumbing to hubris despite their motivation for empowering social change. Solway gently reminds us of our assumed position as active anthropologists as instead being mere ‘inconsequential’ actors (or should that be witnesses?) to a wider scheme of history unfolding. Her reflexive tone regarding anthropologists’ involvement in Botswanian affairs is cautionary, if not pragmatic, rather than cynical or dismissive.

Solway traces particular occurrences in Botswana’s political and social history to identify the process of social change as one that includes ethnic-rights activists and organizations vying for a position of established authority and acknowledgment in the political system. Solway’s account begins in the late 1970s with the political economy involving diamond mines. The success and wealth resultant from these mining projects led to an emergent middle class. Subsequently, the newfound wealth of the 1980s bore a reformation of the education system. Solway explains that local wealth also influenced notions of autonomy, thus diminishing the expressed importance of foreign aid. As a reformed community took shape in the Kalahari area, Solway describes the 1990s as a period of strife regarding conflicting ethnic identity politics between Bakgalagadi and Tswana peoples.

Much of this strife involved the notion of democracy and its applicable uses and/or misuses. Solway describes working with activists and local scholars to compile information that would become the report that she wrote and addressed to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Solway’s account describes the usual ping-pong game played between the political administration and her affiliated organization. Two Tswana state policies of note came to the fore as primary concerns due to the marginalization and the lack of acknowledgment of non-Tswanan identities. Enacting the detective’s persona, Solway recounts tracking down a particular legal document with a supposed ‘keyword’ to emancipation, which isn’t without its own sense of historical irony of colonialism: where the keyword refers to ethnic groups of human beings as belonging to a particular ‘stock’, of all things!

This bad joke snowballs even further into colonial anthropological history. The legal document entitled, The Ethnic Composition of Tswana Tribes (1946), was originally written by colonial-anthropologist Isaac Schapera. Solway provides some measure of context. Circa 1940, she tells us the colonial administration that employed anthropologists carries somewhat of a contentious history. Anthropologists collecting data would often write reports concerning rituals and detailed accounts of the locals. This kind of information was all but relevant to the colonial administrators. Their purpose in employing anthropologists was to have them perform the undesirable task of being around the locals long enough to acquire competence in local customs, in order to then impart this knowledge to British officers on site. Schapera’s document was one such report and would become part of the legal system in contemporary Botswana.

However morally questionable the history of Schapera’s document may be, Solway tells us how the document, still in effect and accordance to contemporary Tswana constitution, established ancestral associations rather than ethnic divisions in the territory of Botswana. This meant that the Tswana government would have to legally attend to the document, which they did, and concede House of Chiefs membership entry to a number of representative groups.

For Solway, the occurrence of social change does not end here. Her account shows how a colonial-made document somehow managed to accomplish some measure of ‘good’ for Botswana’s disenfranchised and marginalized ethnic groups. But, this is a case of savvy legal work and clever sleuthing. Before this particular case had unfolded and served to benefit Botswanian people, Solway tells us Schapera was considered as just another colonial confined to history books. Solway considers the irony of Schapera’s promotion from ‘cultural pariah to cultural hero’ within the Botswanian community and universities. She hints to Schapera’s credit, were he still alive, that he may have even contributed to working with advocates for ethnic human rights. And yet, his shortcomings as an advocate on behalf of anthropology to the colonial administration remain evident. In short, Solway is informing us of the power of interpretation, and how history can allow unsavory aspects to slide in place of more contemporary and pressing issues.

This is not permission to be or act irresponsibly; in fact, it is quite the contrary. Indeed, Solway admits to taking part in the whole scheme as an ‘accomplice’, and yet her personal victory is not without its own sense of reflexivity. Solway closes with a final anecdote, set in the 2000s, whereupon she had been granted permission for further research in the same Kalahari region. She re-encounters a woman she had met 2 years prior at the research office who inquires about the nature of her research. Solway discovers that activists had come to the region claiming to be anthropologists, intent on filming the Bushmen of the Kalahari in order to promote their views of Botswana’s inhumane treatment of its people. According to Solway, the ensuing public reaction had a detrimental effect on the diamond production industry, causing grievous damages to Botswanian public relations. Here, we are presented with the other side of the traditional ‘conquering colonialist’ – that of the ‘colonial hero’ – poised and ready to save the people from themselves and unafraid to brashly inform the world of the injustice of foreign lands. As a result, Solway again wisely reminds us to instead practice and represent anthropology as sensitive, disciplined, and not too seriously.

In my view, Solway’s words are wise, catering to a kind of pragmatism that should be practiced by all anthropologists, and most carefully amongst activists. Solway has shown how a colonial document, intended as an expedient classification system of Botswanian people, was transmuted into a voice to politically acknowledge various ethnic groups. While this is a somewhat of a fortunate case, it does not discount the notion of accountability for our intentions and actions. Given the overzealous attitudes of some well-intentioned activists, it is the pragmatic anthropologists’ responsibility to state their intentions clearly, and repeat them if necessary. Building this kind of imagery of anthropology would translate into the inevitable promulgation of stereotype, where even our characteristic studious nature may serve to dispel the image of the hyperactive minorities in our discipline. In doing so, the manipulative business of activists posing as anthropologists may not have the same luck in tarnishing our discipline. The litany of outsiders interfering with territories of native inhabitants has not shown any intention of slowing down. As vigilant and sensitive anthropologists, however, we may offer some measure of mediation. Committing our efforts to a tempered and pragmatic understanding of the knowledge we accumulate and communicate seems like a good place to start.

Interpretive Review Of ‘Introduction: Auto-Ethnographies of Academic Practices’

Meneley, Anne, and, Young, J. Donna. (2005). “Introduction: Auto-Ethnographies of Academic Practices.” In Anne Meneley and Donna J. Young (Eds.), Auto-Ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic Practices (1-21). Toronto, Ontario: Broadview Press.

In a rather earnest introduction, Anne Meneley and Donna Young lay bare some of the current realities and hardships of the academy situated in North America. They encourage those invested in intellectual practices to consider the value of thinking ethnographically about various national and international institutional networks of meaning and power. As such, Meneley and Young espouse that an auto-ethnography of academic practices will provide what Marc Augé calls ‘the anthropology of proximity’ – essentially a call to critically analyze the routines and rituals conducted in and amongst academic sites and communities.

Meneley and Young explain the turbulence faced by the academy as both the work of inside and outside forces. Given that political climates change through various movements in history, it is no surprise that the utility of the liberal university has come under fire time and again. Any historical overview of an institution is bound to carry a set of characteristic demons. In the case of universities, this includes politics of classism, colonialism, racism, sexism, and elitism. With such exquisite red stains on their past, the administrators of the social sciences and humanities have had to cope with their fair share of scornful critiques that have resulted in the continuous reshaping of intellectual practice. However entrenched the academy is in its past and present day demons, there remains much to be said for its utilitarian efforts that speak to the progressive tide of improvement and push for a continuous reflexive standpoint. As a measure of good faith or transparency, Meneley and Young have enlisted contributors at different hierarchal stages within the career spectrum: graduate students, part-time and non-tenure-stream faculty, untenured and tenured faculty, editors and publishers, administrators, and even interveners in public debates. In addition to the contributors’ position, Meneley and Young are responding to the issue of dominant voices that subjugate and relegate certain institutions to the periphery. In this case, they identify those working in Canadian institutions as part of a “subaltern class of intellectuals”, which logistically situates those in American institutions as commanding a hegemonic centralized political force.

The subsequent section of the introduction is divided into three parts that address different movements of writing genres, representation and voice, and the social scientist’s moral scope of personal feeling and responsibility.

The first part identifies four particular genres of writing. The first of these genres includes ethnographers who have worked in their own societies, producing emic standpoints. Here we witness an account of two sociologists, Anderson and Bradwin, which marks the beginnings of participant observation as an analytical tool and the value of the insider perspective for providing detailed and meticulous accounts of particular practices. And yet, their lack of academic training to instill an etic standpoint in their writing raised immediate concerns for those inside the academy. Lacking the ability to convey emic knowledge in an objective manner to non-native scholars thus became a focal concern. The translation of local knowledge and practice into a coherent transmission of useful intellectual thought requires more than ‘journalistic’ or ‘storyteller’ modes of writing. In broad terms, this highlights one of the firm markers of distinction to the discipline of the social sciences and humanities.

The second genre of writing discussed is autobiographical reflexivity, which came to fruition in response to critiques of ethnographic objectivity. Much of the critiques stem from anti-colonial and feminist positions of knowledge production, which effectively split self from others, anthropologists from natives. As far as racist and colonial attitudes were attributed to the academy, an arguably useful residue formed in what came to be known generally as the post-colonial or postmodern world. Not without its own set of conundrums and wordy pitfalls, postmodernism gave anthropologists the opportunity to question the nature of identities, thus demystifying the ephemeral quality of the ‘native’ as simply another colonial (or should it be situated as post-colonial?) term. What is certain is that the practice of ethnography became a site of internal debate and reckoning with what separates categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’, which became essential topics of discussion to the articulation of thoughts into text.

The third genre of writing is attributed to the political economies involving the so-called ‘stars’ of the American anthropological world. These elites are lured from institution to institution by high salaries and benefits that offer reduced workloads at the expense of other professors’ salaries, time, and energy. Not only are adjunct professors made to suffer but this pandering to the elite few creates a disadvantage for students, whose overall academic experiences and training become encumbered by the weight of neglect. The spread of ideas thus becomes conversational at a hegemonic scale of interaction. When the notion of scale is invoked, we must also measure space and boundary, which are personified as titles and positions within institutions. Effectively, this practice acts as a limiter to the productivity of non-elites, curtailing the critical necessity to invest time and energy into meaningful work.

The fourth genre of writing is attributed to the celebration of select intellectual minds within the anthropological field. This celebration is expressed through retrospective analysis of texts involving an attempt to access intimate frames of mind. The value associated with these forms of analyses revolves around a certain kind of pomp and circumstance of sentimentally crafted times. Imbuing a ‘need to know’ stamp to this part of academic history complements flashy tales of anointed knighthood and full professorships, but also of issues of gender and class tribulations. The resultant effect of analyzing these snippets of anthropology’s history is somewhat a mixed bag of vanity and admiration – the former for the glory and the latter for its successes.

The second part addresses representation and voice. It is imperative for anthropologists to bear the repercussions of the eventual text that follows any fieldwork. Much of the foundational concerns include typecasting, stereotyping, and romanticizing the native or ‘Other’. Ethnographically speaking, the narrow and rigid method of formulating accessible explanations remains problematic, especially in regards to new students. Conversely, the ability to write Geertzian ‘thick descriptions’ is no simple task. An alternative method is available, although equally as daunting. By building bridges between communities, we can effectively create an ongoing discourse that will undoubtedly rebound a multitude of times. This process speaks to a higher calling of the social sciences, namely of cultural exchange and social change over time. Beyond the purview of self-acquired knowledge of a given cultural terrain, what is more promising is the notion of continuously flowing through a discourse of exchange and harmony between differing points of view. To this end, the accomplishment and burdens do not solely rest on the shoulders of one struggling and morally cumbersome scholar, but on the rate of exchange in which multiple parties are engaged.

The third and final part addresses the social scientist’s moral scope of personal feeling and responsibility. Meneley and Young take a moment here to give us the weight of the feelings and sensibility that are compiled into the selected essays of this volume. As anthropologists, they acknowledge the accomplishments of the discipline thus far, but this does not serve as patting oneself on the back as much as a reminder to remain vigilant. If anything, they put forth this collection of essays as a defense against those (inside and outside of the field) that would undermine anthropology’s methodological efforts, which despite their misgivings and questionable past deeds, is something worth fighting for.