October 11, 2009

The Human Terrain System, anthropology, and the sounds of silence

"If we know anything it is that most anthropologists have remained perfectly silent and uninvolved in the debates surrounding HTS."

-Max Forte, here.

After spending my weekend reading about Franz Boas--including the 1919 censure by the American Anthropological Association (which was finally rescinded in 2005)--the above post by Forte reminds me that these sorts of problems aren't anything new. Hardly. The whole HTS debacle is just one of the latest manifestations of a certain mindset about the role of anthropology and the state.

Should anthropology be used in the military? Should ethnography be co-opted as a kind of counterinsurgency method? My answer to both is a categorical NO.

But what aren't more people talking about this? And why haven't more anthropologists even heard about this?

2 comments:

Stacie Gilmore said...

Hi Ryan - I was trying to think back to college anthropology courses and whether or not we discussed HTS. We did, as part of a Conflicts in Eurasia course. The professor gave us an article to read - I think it was a news article. She opened the article up to discussion and people made arguments both for and against it. The conversation was concluded with a noncommittal "so there are good aspects and bad aspects," and we went on to the next topic.

Don't a lot of anthropology discussions end up that way?...Lay out all sides, pros and cons, to give a "balanced" perspective, and then be sure not to "take sides."

The idea here seems to be that anthropology should be offering a "diversity of perspectives" but not be overly promoting or condemning of any particular perspective.

But, actually, in this case the students' perspectives were the ones being solicited, not, for example, Afghan perspectives. Instead, we were able to artificially "balance" the discussion by offering arguments for and against HTS and conclude that we'd done our work for the day.

Ryan Anderson said...

hey stacie...

"Don't a lot of anthropology discussions end up that way?...Lay out all sides, pros and cons, to give a "balanced" perspective, and then be sure not to "take sides.""

yes, they do. there is often a lack of resolution after a thorough critical deconstruction of all sides of the issue. after a while, it starts to seem like a game of semantics.

i see the need for balance, but at the same time don't we need to make some kinds of decisions at some point?

"But, actually, in this case the students' perspectives were the ones being solicited, not, for example, Afghan perspectives. Instead, we were able to artificially "balance" the discussion by offering arguments for and against HTS and conclude that we'd done our work for the day."

that's a good point. these kinds of non-solutions make us feel better maybe? i have been wondering about this whole idea lately...the whole not taking sides, being apolitical, not really having a position one way or another. there are definitely issues with losing all sense of perspective, that's for sure. but what are the ramifications of sitting back and viewing everything from a cool, calculated, and proper anthropological position? at what point is that problematic?

anthropology sometimes feels like a creative trap where my opinions are drowned in academic nonsense.