Keeping the Home Fires Burning: Anthropology Goes to the White House

Price, David H. (2008). Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War. Durham and London: Duke University Press. [Chapter 6, Anthropology and the White House War Projects, 117-142]

David Price’s sixth chapter of Anthropological Intelligence approaches three ways in which anthropologists were involved with the White House during the Second World War. The first of these methods was through personal correspondence, the second was through involvement with the Migration, or M Project, and the third was through the preparation of reports for the White House as seen with the case of Philleo Nash. This chapter describes these various projects and involvements as well as provides some criticism of these actions. Despite this criticism, this chapter still lacks analysis of the power structures in these wartime projects, which are part of the ongoing issues with the involvement of anthropologists in the military.

Price begins by discussing the role of “public” anthropologists and makes use of the familiar figure of Margaret Mead to demonstrate how some public anthropologists corresponded directly with the White House during the war (117-118). Mead’s letter, according to Price, demonstrates the zeal with which anthropologists threw themselves into war work, which ties back to previous chapters where anthropologists were eager to engage in war work; however, in many cases they did not consider the broader implications of this applied anthropological knowledge. The role of Aleš Hrdlička is also discussed here in his letters advising President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on possible schemes for resettling refugees after the war concluded. Despite Hrdlička’s overt racism when describing the Japanese as “insular pirates” (118), he was generally pessimistic about resettlement schemes, feeling that the endeavour would be incredibly costly and logistically problematic (122). Despite this, Roosevelt continued to pursue the study of resettlement, which became the core focus of the M Project.

The M Project is the focus of discussion for the second section of this chapter. The Migration Project’s mission was “first, to investigate the complex problem [of migration] in its most minute details without regard for national or international prejudices, sensibilities and jealousies; and second, to suggest ways and means whereby the problem could be solved once and for all- even if it takes from 20 to 50 years to solve it” (125). A central figure in the project was Henry Field, an anthropologist and assistant curator of anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago. Field was initially approached by John Franklin Carter, an advisor to the President, and was viewed by Carter as “an academic glory grabber” who overemphasized the direct role of the President in the project itself (125). Despite differing accounts of Roosevelt’s involvement, the M Project still produced 666 reports on migration schemes for refugees after the war. According to Price, many of these reports consisted of dry facts and naïve assumptions about cultures within the studied areas and their history (128).

Moreover, the project relied heavily on the notion that the lands where refugees were to be resettled were empty or under-used, and as such it was within the United States’ interests to bring efficient American management to these under-utilised or otherwise empty lands (127-128). This was coupled with a prioritization of white European refugees over the native populations living there, who were seen as more desirable, especially in the case of Australia who wished to integrate these refugees as new Australian citizens (131). There were clear political issues inherent within the project as it was carried out without regard for political borders. Aside from the case of settling refugees in Australia, the project was cloaked in secrecy. The project was kept secret from fellow anthropologists of allied nations, as seen with the example of the Canadian anthropologists Diamond Jeness and William Mackintosh who were kept in the dark about the purpose of the data they were analyzing (126). Of note is the lack of schemes involving the settling of refugees in the United States, some areas of which were roughly comparable to the areas being studied for resettlement. This was due to the racial biases and eugenicist views of the project’s director, Isaiah Bowman as well as his aspirations to revive areas that were under-performing in an economic sense to benefit the American economy (128).

When the end of the war came, further issues with the M Project continued to emerge. The project grossly underestimated the total number of refugees who would need to be resettled as well as the costs of resettling them. President Harry S. Truman did not continue Roosevelt’s patronage of the project. He described the project’s legacy as truckload of documents and 2,000 pages of unpublished reports (134). Indeed, the only idea to come out of the project that he followed was the resettlement of European Jews in Palestine, creating the state of Israel (142).

After discussing the M Project, Price then examines the work of Philleo Nash, an anthropologist studying racial dynamics at the Office of Facts and Figures (OFF) at the beginning of the war, and later with the Office of War Information (OWI). Nash’s goal was to keep an eye on racial tensions in war industries to ensure that the flow of war goods was maintained and to deliver reports on this to the White House. By keeping an eye on information flowing into the OWI from official and his own network of reporters it was possible to direct resources to local authorities to prevent race riots and ultimately work stoppages (136). Price underlines the fact that Nash did not look at the fundamental reasons for these racial tensions, rather he was interested in maintaining the status quo for the sake of a perceived greater good of keeping the factories running and the home fires burning.

Price also discusses why anthropologists were able to partake in these projects which had ramifications for the cultures that they had been studying. Price argues that war necessitates decisions that would not be normally made in peacetime and creates blind spots in the judgement of anthropologists . In this case the decision was made to fight fascism first, then to turn their attention to the civil rights issues at home because if the fascists won they would all be living in worse conditions (141). In class, this argument came up in discussion. Some questioned whether or not the two issues were mutually exclusive, and if it was really necessary to separate civil rights issues from the fight against fascism. One colleague -Appreciate_America_Stop_the_Fifth_Column-_-_NARA_-_513873wondered how the fear of native and oppressed populations within the United States potentially supporting Fascism or undermining the war effort as a fifth column fed into this notion that fascism had to be defeated first. I believe that this idea bears weight. In the case of “total war”, a term often invoked to describe the wars of the 20th century, widespread tactics of focusing public perception towards benefiting the war effort and ignoring civil rights issues are ubiquitous. This is clearly seen in propaganda posters, and the fear of a fifth column disturbing this status quo is present in the American poster as seen in the image on the right. 

Another issue found within this chapter that was met with agreement in class was the lack of analysis of power structures within these projects. It is briefly mentioned that Field was given a naval commission as a lieutenant when he entered the M Project, but little is made of this military power structure that Field is entering into. This analysis of the power structures the anthropologists of the Second World War were involving themselves in is a major facet of the story that is missed up to this point of the book, a facet of these projects that I would very much enjoy reading about. However, it is understandable if this is simply the result of editing to attempt to present a more coherent reading experience for the reader, or perhaps this is discussed later in the book.



In Defence of a Field: A Review of Jack Goody’s “The Expansive Moment”

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

Jack Goody’s The Expansive Moment invites readers to looks at the accomplishments of British social anthropologists in Africa and to study the history of these accomplishments. Throughout the book, Goody uses personal letters and other archival material to build a history of the dominant figures in the field between the years of 1918-1970. Through this Goody hopes to dispel the argument that British social anthropologists were involved in the colonial domination of Africa, and that these experiences are emblematic of anthropology’s role in colonialism. Unfortunately, the attempt to dispel this critique through an analysis of history causes several problems throughout Goody’s attempt to vindicate his mentors.

These problems are visible throughout the book beginning from the first chapter. In this chapter Goody takes a look at the role of foundations in funding anthropological endeavours in Africa. Goody focuses specifically on the role of the Rockefeller Foundation and its alliance with Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics (LSE) and the International African Institute (IAI). The goal of this project was to send anthropologists to Africa to study culture contact through practical anthropology (21-22). Here Goody asserts that British anthropology could not have been deeply entwined with colonialism because it was receiving funding from an American social reformist foundation and that it only began receiving funding from colonial governments during the period of decolonization. While this argument appears compelling, Goody does not really discuss why the Rockefeller foundation is interested in Africa, aside from a short description about its shared interest in education with the IAI (18). A fault with this argument lies in the fact that the Rockefeller foundation was also actively funding social science research in the United States. As Goody tells American anthropologists to examine their own history before critiquing British anthropology, it is surprising to see him use the Rockefeller foundation as a reason why British social anthropology was not as involved with colonialism as it is made out to be.
Chapter two discusses the process of training that anthropologists like Meyer Fortes underwent before embarking for the field. This chapter is interesting due to the similarities it bears to Pierre Bourdieu’s discussion of the time-economy in French Academia, especially in the expectation by Malinowski that Fortes must complete a year of seminars before he could enter the field to ensure that his methods aligned with Malinowski’s (31). Another similarity it bears is the reliance on supervisors for postings, as seen with Malinowski’s statements about finding Kirchhoff a post in chapter three. In the following chapter, the topic shifts to the process of gaining entry to the field and Kirchhoff’s story is explored in detail. Kirchhoff was barred from entering Africa due to allegations of being involved with communists. Despite attempts by Malinowski to reverse this decision and an attestation by German police in Kirchhoff’s favour, ultimately Kirchhoff was sent to take up an academic position elsewhere (46-47). This story is held up by Goody as proof that anthropologists were sometimes seen with suspicion by colonial authorities and as such could not have been as important in colonial projects as previously portrayed. This argument is also problematic, as in chapter nine Goody argues that the acquisition of an entry visa for anthropologists did not constitute submission to colonial authorities and that many anthropologists who did enter Africa were indeed leftist in their background. To him, no matter where an anthropologist is conducting fieldwork they must deal with state authorities and that this should not be seen as complicity with colonialist projects; however, if anthropologists could not acquire an entry visa they could not conduct any research and as seen with Kirchhoff this could have a devastating effect on their career. In order to conduct fieldwork anthropologists had to conform to a degree to the expectations of colonial authorities. They also have to conform to the expectations and research interests of the foundations that were funding them in order to enter the field at all. Even when they were forced to allow an anthropologist to enter the field it only happened through political pressure exerted by institutions like the LSE or the IAI, as seen in the case of Meyer Fortes entering the field. The omission of this power dynamic was also brought up in class discussion.

The fourth chapter discusses the friendship between Evans-Pritchard and Fortes. Goody portrays this friendship as important as it was a structure of mutual support in their research that would lead to the formation of the Oxford Group after the Second World War. This chapter stands out among the rest as it also demonstrates the zeal with which Evans-Pritchard approached the Second World War and displays his actions as an agent of empire, contrary to Goody’s project in this book (65). The fifth chapter takes a different approach; here it examines the animosities between colleagues in the field and features Evans-Pritchard’s remarks about his colleagues quite prominently. This demonstrates the internal divisions within anthropology and seems to be Goody’s attempt to argue that these divisions are contrary to the depiction that British social anthropology as a whole was part of colonial projects. Goody cites Evans-Pritchard’s critiques of anthropologists who were “cheapening” the field to show these divisions, and argue that some anthropologists were against the practical application of anthropology by the state (73).This is peculiar, as Evans-Pritchard himself was quite contradictory and was incredibly enthusiastic about anthropology’s role in the Second World War (75). In addition to this contradiction, Goody argues in the introduction to the book that the critique of British social anthropology as colonialist anthropology glosses over the social situation of the time period. However, in this chapter in particular Goody readily dismisses the sexist comments Evans-Pritchard makes about Audrey Richards, crediting them as jealousy on Evans-Pritchard’s part (70).

Chapter six moves on to discuss the Oxford Group in detail, and casts the anthropologists in this era as belonging to tribes. It is here that Goody’s nostalgia manifests most clearly, recalling times where he was pulled back into pubs to discuss seminars lest he be thought of as anti-social (85). To Goody, the most notable achievements made by anthropologists in Africa belonged to the earlier members of the anthropological tribe that he describes. In this vein, he continues on to examine these achievements in chapter seven (86). In class, the seventh chapter was handily described as looking at five “subfields” to which British social anthropology directly contributed through the individual interests of the actors in the group. This included studies of lineage, marriage, law, religion and economies. It is at this time that anthropology is expanding in the scope of its studies and this is where the book earns its title.
In chapter nine Goody wraps up his argument about British anthropology’s involvement with colonialism in Africa. Goody pushes for a cumulative model of theory wherein we build upon the knowledge of our theoretical forebears, rather than challenge and dismiss their work as being colonialist (147). Goody’s comments on Geertz betray this view quite well:

In any case I see no need to leave aside other lines which are beginning to yield some pay-off merely in order to adopt something ‘new’ (although this is the title of our symposium). We all wish for greater advances, all desire some panacea for our analytic ills. But this won’t simply come about by pursuing some ‘new’ line, by thinking up some ‘shining’ new model. (147)

Appendix two continues this line of thought, where Goody is arguing against Kuklick’s critiques of British social anthropology and its role in colonialism.

Indeed, many of the issues within this book stem directly from Goody’s defensive tone and project to defend British social anthropology from this critique. Goody’s argument seeks to displace the problems of colonialism by arguing that Russian and American anthropologists were no better. It appears to be an attempt to shift focus away from his mentors and their mentors before them. Why is Goody arguing for this? This links back to his argument for a cumulative approach to anthropological theory. Goody does not want the legacy of anthropologists working in Africa in this time period to be forgotten, and with it his legacy as a student of these anthropologists. While this is not explicitly stated in the book, this compelling thought was brought up in discussion and I pondered it as I re-read my notes for this commentary. In my opinion, Goody’s The Expansive Moment should have stuck to the topic given in its subtitle: a history of social anthropology in Africa from 1918-1970. By attempting to argue against Kuklick it diverted Goody’s discussion away from an in-depth examination of this period and added in a defence of the field, a topic that would have been difficult enough to cover in a single volume of its own.

Bourdieu’s Homo Academicus: A Commentary on the Postscript

Bourdieu, Pierre. (1988). Homo Academicus. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. [Postscript, The Categories of Professorial Judgement, pp 194-225]

The final chapter of Bourdieu’s book takes a painstaking but illuminating look at the role that language can play in the academic field through professorial judgement. He examines two separate case studies to drive home his argument and to tie together many key thoughts articulated throughout the book. Firstly, he examines the academic files of a cohort of students at an école première supérieure in Paris. His second case study involves the careful analysis of obituaries of École Normale Supérieure alumni. Through these case studies, Bourdieu aims to demonstrate that the academic taxonomy found within these judgements play a pivotal role in not only the classification of students and colleagues, but in the articulation of academic power and the reproduction of academic hierarchies discussed in earlier chapters. Bourdieu argues that the judgements he discusses are an excellent way to understand the organizing principles of the academic field (195).

His first case study involves the examination of the marks, professor’s comments and the inherited social capital found in a female école normale supérieure (197-198). By doing so, Bourdieu remarks that students with more inherited social capital tend to have less pejorative remarks attached to their work than those who come from more humble social origins. He also discusses the ways in which these remarks are structured with euphemisms to seem like the comments are academic and neutral in nature. For example, he discusses the role of euphemistic terms like “vulgar”, which in a standard context would incite anger in the person to whom the term is applied. He also discusses the use of qualifiers such as “just about” in the comment “just about correct” which also serves as a euphemism (204-205).  These euphemisms are legitimised through arguments that the epithets apply to the person’s work rather than the person themself and that the person can still improve. What is hidden is the fact that the judgement is levied in part through the professor’s interpretation of the student’s bodily hexis, on which the social origins of the student is imprinted (200). As such, the “academic” judgements that the professor is giving are in fact socially informed.

This is not to say that all professors have sinister intentions and intend to hold back students from lower classes. Bourdieu believes that a critical part of the system is that professors believe it is a necessary part of academic life and that their comments are purely academic in nature (206). The structure of professorial judgement is in itself reproduced through the act of applying these judgements and only functions if the agents in the system truly believe in it. These arguments of legitimisation help the actors to do so.  Over time, students also learn to classify themselves and each other in this way and perpetuate the very taxonomy that they are classified by (207-208).  The reference letters Bourdieu examines demonstrate how this taxonomy can select the next generation of professors through the use of euphemism quite clearly (209).

This taxonomy is also seen in the second case, which deals with the obituaries of deceased normaliens. He notes how social origins are conveyed through the obituaries, as well as how these obituaries demonstrate the hierarchy of professorial virtues such as academic asceticism, which Bourdieu credits to be part of a contradiction in  academia. Academics commonly praise the ideas of intellectuals like Marx, and aspire to such freedom in thought; however, the further they move into the academic field they find themselves more constrained by its rules, hierarchies and norms. The refusal of honors and recognition found in academic asceticism in this case is a symbolic refusal of the system they find themselves in and a way for actors to have a sense of freedom in thought(223).

Overall the obituary acts as the final judgement of the professor by the community that they were a part of and a judgement of their virtues through academic taxonomies. Only those who truly excelled in the academic field are able to escape this taxonomy in their obituaries. Despite this seeming inescapability of the academic taxonomy, Bourdieu cautions against assuming that there is a mechanical causal relationship at play. For example, the ambitions of actors in the field must also be taken into account as they can predetermine the judgements that will later be passed on them. Ambitions therefore are one way that actors have agency in the academic field, as limited as it may be (216).

An interesting notion of predisposition pervades this chapter. It seems as if Bourdieu is arguing that to some degree you have a certain set of career paths you can follow which is reinforced by professorial judgements. The only agency he allows is your own ambitions, which are also judged. The only escape from these judgements and this path is to truly excel or to exit the system entirely. As there was no time for discussion in class, it may be productive to carry out some of this discussion here. Do you agree with this? Do you feel that the academic field we currently find ourselves in operates in this manner?