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Anthropologists in the Public Sphere

Anthropologists in the Public Sphere
Speaking Out on War, Peace, and American Power

This anthology collects over fifty commentaries by noted anthropologists such as Margaret Mead, Franz Boas, and Marshall Sahlins who seek to understand and explain the profound repercussions of U.S. involvement in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

January 2004
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304 pages | 6 x 9 | 12 cartoons |

Anthropologists have a long tradition of prescient diagnoses of world events. Possessing a knowledge of culture, society, and history not always shared by the media's talking heads, anthropologists have played a crucial role in educating the general reader on the public debates from World War I to the second Gulf War.

This anthology collects over fifty commentaries by noted anthropologists such as Margaret Mead, Franz Boas, and Marshall Sahlins who seek to understand and explain the profound repercussions of U.S. involvement in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Frequently drawing on their own fieldwork, the anthropologists go beyond the headlines to draw connections between indigenous cultures, corporate globalization, and contemporary political and economic crises. Venues range from the op-ed pages of internationally renowned newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post to magazine articles and television interviews. Special sections entitled "Prelude to September 11" and "Anthropological Interpretations of September 11" include articles that provided many Americans with their first substantial introduction to the history of Islam, Central Asia, and the Middle East. Each article includes a brief introduction contextualizing the commentary.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction. Anthropologists in the Public Sphere: Speaking Out on War, Peace, and American Power
  • Part I. War, Peace, And Social Responsibility.
    • Chapter 1. Franz Boas: "Scientists as Spies" (The Nation, 1919)
    • Chapter 2. Margaret Mead: "Warfare Is Only an Invention—Not a Biological Necessity" (Asia, 1940)
    • Chapter 3. Marshall Sahlins: "Once You've Broken Him Down..." (The Nation, 1965)
    • Chapter 4. Gerald D. Berreman: "Contemporary Anthropology and Moral Accountability" (To See Ourselves, 1973)
    • Chapter 5. Laura Nader: "Two Plus Two Equals Zero—War and Peace Reconsidered" (Radcliffe Quarterly, 1983)
    • Chapter 6. Beatriz Manz: "Dollars That Forge Guatemalan Chains" (New York Times, 1985)
    • Chapter 7. David Price: "Anthropologists as Spies" (The Nation, 2000)
    • Chapter 8. Pierre Bourdieu: "Abuse of Power by the Advocates of Reason" (Acts of Resistance, 1998)
  • Part II. Prescient Anthropology: Diagnosing Crises Abroad
    • Chapter 9. Robert M. Hayden: "West Must Correct Its Mistakes in Yugoslavia" (Baltimore Sun, 1992)
    • Chapter 10. Robert M. Hayden: "NATO Fuels the Balkan Fire" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1999)
    • Chapter 11. Anna Simons: "No Exit from Somalia" (Washington Post, 1991)
    • Chapter 12. Anna Simons: "Our Abysmal Ignorance about Somalia" (Washington Post, 1992)
    • Chapter 13. Anna Simons: "The Somalia Trap" (Washington Post, 1993)
    • Chapter 14. Winifred Tate: "Increased U.S. Military Aid to Colombia Won't Curb Drug Trafficking" (San Francisco Chronicle, 1999)
    • Chapter 15. Winifred Tate: "Colombia: Rules of the Game" (Foreign Policy in Focus, 2001)
    • Chapter 16. Lesley Gill: "Colombia: Unveiling U.S. Policy" (Foreign Policy in Focus, 2002)
    • Chapter 17. Marc Edelman: "The Price of Free Trade: Famine" (Los Angeles Times, 2002)
    • Chapter 18. Ali Qleibo: "How Two Truths Make One Tragedy" (The Independent, 2000)
    • Chapter 19. Jeff Halper: "The Matrix of Control" (Media Monitors Network, 2001)
    • Chapter 20. Jeff Halper: "It Is Time to End the Occupation" (Middle East News Online, 2002)
    • Chapter 21. Hugh Gusterson: "If U.S. Dumps Test Ban Treaty, China Will Rejoice" (Los Angeles Times, 2001)
  • Part III. Prelude to September 11
    • Chapter 22. Ashraf Ghani: "Cut Off the Arms Flow and Let Afghans Unite" (Los Angeles Times, 1989)
    • Chapter 23. James Merryman: "U.S. Can Strengthen African Ties in Wake of Terrorism with Aid, Clear Policies" ([Harrisburg] Patriot-News, 1998)
    • Chapter 24. Robert Fernea: "Egyptians Don't Like Saddam, But..." (Austin American-Statesman, 1991)
    • Chapter 25. Barbara Nimri Aziz: "Gravesites-Environmental Ruin in Iraq" (Metal of Dishonor, 1997)
    • Chapter 26. Fadwa El Guindi: "U.N. Should Act to Protect Muslim Women" (Newsday, 1998)
    • Chapter 27. Zieba Shorish-Shamley, interviewed by Jana Wendt: "Women under the Taliban" (Dateline, 2001)
    • Chapter 28. William O. Beeman: "Follow the Oil Trail—Mess in Afghanistan Partly Our Government's Fault" (Pacific News Service, 1998)
  • Part IV. Anthropological Interpretations of September 11
    • Chapter 29. Catherine Lutz: "Our Legacy of War" (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2001)
    • Chapter 30. David Harvey, Talal Asad, Cindi Katz, Neil Smith, and Ida Susser: "Local Horror/Global Response" (Chronicle of Higher Education: Colloquy, 2001)
    • Chapter 31. William O. Beeman: "A War Our Great-Grandchildren Will Be Fighting—Understanding Osama Bin Laden" (Pacific News Service, 2001)
    • Chapter 32. Janet Mcintosh: "What Have the 9/11 Investigators Overlooked?" (Christian Science Monitor, 2002)
    • Chapter 33. Wade Davis: "We Need a Global Declaration of Interdependence" (International Herald Tribune, 2002)
  • Part V. On Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Middle East
    • Chapter 34. Robert Canfield: "Nation Is Home to Afghans, Mujahedeen, Taliban, Afghan-Arabs, to Name a Few" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2001)
    • Chapter 35. Ashraf Ghani: "The Folly of Quick Action in Afghanistan" (Financial Times, 2001)
    • Chapter 36. Nazif Shahrani: "Afghanistan Can Learn from Its Past" (New York Times, 2001)
    • Chapter 37. Zieba Shorish-Shamley, interviewed by Amy Goodman: "Women in the New Afghanistan" (Democracy Now! 2001)
    • Chapter 38. David B. Edwards and Shahmahmood Miakhel: "Enlisting Afghan Aid" (People's Geography Project, 2001)
    • Chapter 39. Kamran Asdar Ali: "Pakistan's Dilemma" (Middle East Report Online, 2001)
    • Chapter 40. Francesca Mereu, with Sergei Arutyunov and Ian Chesnov: "War Destroyed Chechnya's Clan Structure" (Middle East News Online, 2002)
  • Part VI. Examining Militarism and the "War on Terror"
    • Chapter 41. William O. Beeman: "US. Anti-Terrorist Message Won't Fly in Islamic World" (Pacific News Service, 2001)
    • Chapter 42. David Price: "Terror and Indigenous Peoples: War without End" (CounterPunch, 2001)
    • Chapter 43. John Burdick: "Afghan War Could Be Recruiting Tool for Terrorists" ([Syracuse] Post-Standard, 2001)
    • Chapter 44. Dale F. Eickelman: "First, Know the Enemy, Then Act" (Los Angeles Times, 2001)
    • Chapter 45. John Burdick: "Sept. 11 Exposes Futile Search for 'Perfect' Missile Defense" ([Syracuse] Post-Standard, 2001)
    • Chapter 46. Roberto J. González: "Ignorance Is Not Bliss" (San Francisco Chronicle, 2002)
    • Chapter 47. Mahmood Mamdani: "Turn Off Your Tunnel Vision" (Washington Post, 2002)
    • Chapter 48. Thomas Mckenna, interviewed by Nermeen Shaikh: "The Roots of Muslim Separatism in the Philippines" (AsiaSource, 2002)
  • Part VII. Academic Freedom And Civil Liberties
    • Chapter 49. Roberto J. González: "Lynne Cheney-Joe Lieberman Group Puts Out a Blacklist" (San Jose Mercury News, 2001)
    • Chapter 50. David Price: "Academia under Attack: Sketches for a New Blacklist" (CounterPunch, 2001)
    • Chapter 51. Hugh Gusterson, interviewed by Sharon Basco: "Lynne Cheney's Free Speech Blacklist" (TomPaine.common sense, 2002)
    • Chapter 52. Laura Nader: "Harmony Coerced Is Freedom Denied" (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2001)
  • Epilogue. Unconventional Anthropology: Challenging the Myths of Continuous War
  • List of Contributors
  • Permissions
  • Index

Roberto J. González is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at San Jose State University.


Every time intellectuals have the chance to speak yet do not speak, they join the forces that train men not to be able to think and imagine and feel in morally and politically adequate ways. When they do not demand that the secrecy that makes elite decisions absolute and unchallengeable be removed, they too are part of the passive conspiracy to kill off public scrutiny. When they do not speak, when they do not demand, when they do not think and feel and act as intellectuals ... they contribute to the moral paralysis, the intellectual rigidity, that now grip both leaders and led around the world.

—C. Wright Mills, The Causes of World War III (1958)

It is time to divert at least some of our research energies away from the minutiae of diverse problems and to focus on their broader context. What has been missing is perspective ... Anthropology appears to be a discipline that can show us how we got where we are and suggest how we might get out.

—John Bodley, Anthropology and Contemporary Human Problems (1985)

Anthropology for the General Public

This book is about anthropologists communicating what they know about culture, society, history, and power with the general public. Their statements are short, pointed, and passionate, based on experience and immersion in the subject matter—not fly-by-night observations.

In the 1930s and 1940s, some American anthropologists were so influential, and their work so well known, that they were literally household names. In magazines and newspaper articles and in public debates, Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead (all of Columbia University), as well as Ashley Montagu, regularly commented upon issues of national and international politics and culture using language that almost any literate person could understand.

It is not unusual for anthropologists in other countries to address broad audiences—for example, in Mexico, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Margarita Nolasco, and Roger Bartra often contribute commentaries to daily newspapers such as La Jornada and Reforma. In France, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Pierre Bourdieu published frequently in Le Monde and other periodicals. Brazil, India, and other countries also have anthropologists who are national figures.

Today few anthropologists could be considered celebrities in the United States, but that does not mean that none speak to the public. The contemporary picture is more disperse, with hundreds of individuals reaching out to wider audiences—in local newspapers, on radio programs and television shows, at schools, museums, libraries, and bookstores, and with community organizations. As the discipline has expanded, it has become more diverse and eclectic. Not surprisingly, efforts at publicizing anthropological knowledge are more varied and decentralized.

There is a wide range of projects under way to disseminate anthropology within the United States. An anthropologist at Virginia Polytechnic, Samuel Cook, has spent years working with community groups in the Appalachian region to draw attention to the environmentally destructive practice of mountaintop removal by coal mining companies. Robert Borofsky of Hawaii Pacific University is revitalizing public anthropology by searching for new avenues to make anthropological knowledge accessible to nonspecialists. His projects include the compilation of concise summaries of articles published in the discipline's most widely circulated journals. Recently, anthropology graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley, edited an anthology, September 11: Contexts and Consequences, to help broaden public knowledge about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Thousands of copies now circulate among those seeking a better understanding of fast-moving foreign policies. Eric Prokosch, whose anthropological analysis of antipersonnel weapons in The Technology of Killing (1995) provides critical information for researchers and the lay public, is perhaps best known for working with Amnesty International in campaigns to end torture and the death penalty. Still others, such as Jan English-Lueck from San Jose State University, are introducing anthropology to high school, junior high, and elementary school students, not only as a way of recruiting future generations of anthropologists, but also to train young minds to think comparatively and critically.

This collection of readings focuses on another group of anthropologists working to publicize their knowledge through the popular press. Specifically, they make use of mass media to diffuse information about U.S. foreign policy and its impact upon other societies. Most of the pieces included here have appeared in newspapers, magazines, or online journals, while a few others are from interviews on television or radio programs. These anthropologists are participant-observers and citizen-scholars whose work appeals directly to the American public.

Although all the contributors have been trained as anthropologists, not all are academics. Some are graduate students, while others are professors or professors emeriti. The collection also includes pieces by anthropologists working for nonprofit or nongovernmental organizations, popular magazines, radio stations, and activist groups. At first sight, it is striking that the majority of the articles have been written by anthropologists who are not based at the old prestige centers of the discipline—the academic departments of elite universities such as Columbia University. Yet an anthropology attuned to public audiences may well reemerge from the profession's peripheries, if greater tolerance for experimentation is permitted from off-center locations.

A common thread links the individual articles and interviews: they may be read as cultural critiques of American Empire. The emergence and extension of this empire and the corporatization of government are among the most important historical facts of our time and have inspired recent studies by social scientists, economists, and other scholars. Some of the contributors to this book directly address aspects of U.S. governmental foreign policy and its effects in Latin America, the Balkans, Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Others focus on the role of social scientists in U.S. imperialist projects. Still others examine connections between "free" trade, corporate power, and the role of military regimes in establishing and maintaining a "New World Order" in the service of multinational corporations.

The anthropologists included in this book are sophisticated in their use of cross-cultural comparison and history, and recognize that cultures are complex and change over time. Most are keenly aware—based on first hand experience—that the analysis of power and control in variegated forms on a global scale is necessary for understanding contemporary realities. The Cold War, economic development programs, and now the "war on terror" have had dramatic effects on people in the "Third World."

In some cases, an anthropologist's repeated efforts to make a prognosis appear clearly as open warnings to policy makers about the possible consequences of government action. Such commentaries are published but more often than not ignored by policy makers—this has especially been true in recent years. When the situation becomes a crisis, the anthropologist writes again, and recommendations once again are not used. After the crisis has come to a head and disaster has occurred, the anthropologist tries to draw a lesson from it, and he or she is sometimes invited in to fix things after the fact.

Lack of response from policy makers to early warnings might partially explain the surge in cultural critiques that have emerged since the attacks of September 11. Literally dozens of anthropologists have written and spoken about multiple aspects of the tragic events and their aftermath, often with tremendous urgency. For this reason, the geographic center of gravity of this collection falls in the Middle East and Central Asia, since the media, government officials, and ordinary Americans have looked upon these areas with interest and concern. Many of the authors counter ethnocentric or stereotypical views of a region's peoples by helping readers understand its cultural complexity and historical connections to Europe and the United States. Confronting persistent ignorance with persistent appeals to reason may lead to change if public opinion can be impacted. Although policy makers may not be quick to use anthropological commentaries, the general public often does a better job. It is to spark citizen thought and action that we write, since without the push and pull of ordinary citizens, there is no democracy.

A publicly engaged anthropology is more necessary now than ever before—not in spite of, but because of, what some call corporate colonialism and what others call free trade. Speaking out and insisting that anthropology play a role in public discussions is especially critical as private interests recruit anthropologists to help promote an expanding multinational corporate dominion by transforming peasants, hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, refugees, and immigrants into mass consumers.

Why Anthropology?

Daily newspapers, evening news programs, and weekly magazines report on a long list of pressing issues. Economic globalization and its contradictory effects, ethnic strife, biotechnology, multiculturalism, fundamentalisms and religious revival, nuclear proliferation, the nature of human intelligence, and the state of the environment frequently make headlines. So do seemingly endless wars on terrorism and drugs.

Topics such as these beg for thoughtful analysis. Many self-described experts, however, often suffer from myopia, ethnocentrism, lack of imagination, and, sometimes, dubious credentials. More and more of them are public relations people posing as independent third parties who conduct scientific research for the highest bidder while concealing conflicts of interest. Others who have been assigned the name "pundits" attempt to speak with authority about topics they often know little about. Some of them speak about culture and civilization as if they had come up with the concepts themselves—and abuse them daily.

Considering this sad state of affairs, anthropologists may be uniquely positioned to speak with knowledge and insight. The anthropological lens focuses on humans holistically and cross-culturally, never losing sight of long-term historical processes. Good anthropology integrates culture, language, biology, and history to answer questions about humans and the societies they have made.

At a time when technical experts are trained to think in reductionistic terms by breaking problems into tinier and tinier pieces, to view issues from an ethnocentric perspective ignorant of other cultures, and to live in the present without remembering the past, many anthropologists still strive to be generalists. This contrasts sharply with the approach of many policy makers in our country, who act under the flawed assumption that human troubles can be bracketed off and separated from history, culture, politics, and the future.

Yet we have learned that humans are not automatons. The human horizon has myriad possibilities: Homo sapiens is a creature that sometimes cooperates but just as frequently conflicts, a creature of habit and reflex but also of creativity and innovation, of selfishness but also of altruism. Some of the most persistent and perplexing questions seek to discover how and why groups of people coalesce or break apart—how human relationships hang together or unravel, what changes, what does not. We have long been interested in the question of survivalhow, under situations of tremendous ecological, political, or economic pressure, men and women innovate or acquiesce.

Perhaps as importantly, most cultural anthropologists undertake extended fieldwork, living in a different society for a year or more in an effort to understand things "from the native's point of view." We live and talk with real people and piece together complex realties from interviews, observations, documents, and other sources. Anthropologists are interested in streets, barrios, ghettos, villages, and refugee camps as well as airport lobbies, first-class hotels, theaters, and bars.

This wide-angle lens gives us a powerful tool for critiquing contemporary life, since we are at once culturally immersed and detached. With insight, anthropologists have challenged deeply held convictions about affluence and poverty, as when Marshall Sahlins suggested that limited wants—not just the accumulation of material goods—might be an alternative basis for defining wealth. Or about science—as when Bronislaw Malinowski insisted that all peoples have magic, religion, and science.' Or about sexual norms—as when Margaret Mead informed us that sexual practices are not universal.' Or about "race"—as when Franz Boas demonstrated that biological variation within human populations is much greater than the variation between theman early critique of biological hierarchies. Time and again, anthropological awareness of alternatives has opened new paths for the future.

Sometimes anthropology has demonstrated an uncanny ability to diagnose problems before they become crises. Anthropological prescience has sometimes foretold events months or years in advance. As we shall see, some anthropologists have very publicly predicted impending political and humanitarian disasters in Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, and Afghanistan, to name a few. In the selections in this volume, authors have pointed to specific conditions that signaled serious trouble ahead in Central America, Pakistan, the Middle East, and the United States. This work, based upon on-the-ground experience and intimate cultural knowledge, suggests a novel approach towards foreign policy in which anthropologists might take a leading role: a preventive diplomacy that aims to forestall (rather than await) future crises by addressing root causes. Current approaches based upon gunboat diplomacy and Realpolitik have proven to be unsustainable in economic and humanitarian terms—or indeed in survival terms.

Speaking Out as a Public Service

On the surface it is peculiar—even bizarre—that U.S. anthropologists don't have an even more public face, especially since so many either work at public institutions of higher learning or directly for government agencies. Taxpayers underwrite much of our work, legislators allocate the funds—but what are they getting in return? Granted, many of us teach, but should this be the extent of our public service? Should service include governmental policy recommendations? Expert testimony before congressional committees? Education of the general public?

We might step back in time, to the period before anthropology in the United States was based in universities. A century ago many of its practitioners were based in museums, public spaces for educating as well as entertaining the public. Some argued that for anthropology to survive, museums had to attract large numbers of laypeople—or else wither away from irrelevance and public indifference. The subject matter was inherently interesting, but the problem, still relevant today, was how to pitch information to the general public in a palatable yet enlightening way.

As more anthropologists became full-time academics in the twentieth century, concern for making knowledge public sometimes lapsed. Activities and publications thought to be nonacademic were seldom useful for attaining tenure (or for promotions), and the gap between academic and nonacademic anthropology widened. Today, the term "journalistic" is sometimes used to stigmatize such work. As a colleague once said, "You have to have two discussions going at the same timeone with the geeks in the department and another with the ordinary folks."

In many cases, university professors have abandoned ordinary folks altogether and are just talking to each other. Kendall Thu of Iowa State observes this when he points out that some cultural anthropologists "have been pursuing trendy issues of postmodernism, blurred genres and identities, hermeneutic interpretation, voices of hegemony, and reflexivity... we are making ourselves increasingly irrelevant to contemporary policy and politics."' This is not to dismiss postmodern approaches—after all, they have partly inspired critiques of hegemony discourses, including "Orientalist" discourses that have produced stereotypes of "the East"—but where they are found, introversion and self-absorption have undermined their potential connections to real world affairs. Malaysian anthropologist Wazir Karim argues that much of academic anthropology has isolated itself by refusing to confront pressing political issues such as the use of "Western" knowledge by "Third World" elites for the repression of workers, peasants, women, and indigenous people. And Laura Nader recently noted that "anthropology is presently vastly hampered by both secrecy and self-censorship and in danger of becoming insular to the point of irrelevance except for literary and cultural studies concerns."

in recent decades, anthropologists have become increasingly specialized and consequently fenced into narrow subspecialties and fields. Many are unable to communicate with wider publics. Critics have observed this phenomenon more generally across the social sciences and humanities, while others have commented upon the decline of "public intellectuals" in the United States in the twentieth century. This may be the culmination of historical processes: since at least the 1870s, social scientists who have publicly challenged established structures of power in the United States—particularly corporate power—have often been marginalized, persecuted, or stripped of their positions for allegedly violating the norms of an objective and value-free science." Yet as economist Douglas Dowd once noted, "The alternatives are not 'neutrality' and 'advocacy.' To be uncommitted is not to be neutral, but to be committed—consciously or not—to the status quo." We might take heart in knowing that there are clear exceptions to the rule of intellectual confinement among U.S. academics, as in the case of Edward Said, Patricia J. Williams, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Cornel West, Juliet Schor, Noam Chomsky, and Saskia Sassen, all of whom communicate with broad publics.

There are more reasons why anthropologists do not reach wider audiences. At the same time that political and critical perspectives have arisen, the corporate media is becoming more restrictive and homogenous. The range of political perspectives has demonstrably narrowed in the last decade, according to media watchdog groups and foreign observers of U.S. conformity.

Factors internal to the discipline may also play a role in anthropologists opting out of communication with wider publics. A host of everyday practices function as barriers between academic anthropologists and nonprofessionals, including the business model of the AAA (and increasingly of academic departments), annual meetings held in luxury hotels, hiring practices and patron-client relationships that tend to exclude women and minorities, and class-based distinctions such as dress, speech, and other practices that reinforce the relatively narrow boundaries of the academic culture.

The need for anthropological input is great. Although many men and women have vast information about the world at their fingertips, never before have so many known so little about it. The acceleration of everyday life, along with passive, seductive, and addictive forms of leisure, block the exchange of knowledge, even easily accessible knowledge. Many ordinary people want to understand how their lives are connected to economic boom and bust, migration, corporate dominion, and war. We have an important role to play in this enterprise, as our predecessors did in the 1920s, the 1940s, and the late 1960s.

A reconnected anthropology might begin by looking at one of the most exotic cultures ever invented—our own. An economic anthropologist from Mars would probably be surprised that in a country where equality is highly valued, the wealthiest 1 percent of the population owns approximately 45 percent of the total assets. In 2001, the average CEO earned 500 times more than the average blue-collar worker, and more than 1,200 times more than the minimum wage worker. Assembly plants continue to close in the Rust Belt, the Deep South, and Silicon Valley, as jobs are exported to Latin America and Southeast Asia where labor costs are cheap and environmental laws are lax or ignored.

If our interplanetary visitor examined politics, he or she might also be intrigued by the collapse of Enron and the apparent contradictions between democracy in theory and in practice. More than half of the members of the House of Representatives and 71 of 100 senators have accepted campaign contributions from Enron, and George W. Bush accepted more than half a million dollars between 1994 and 2001. When eleven congressional committees were scheduled to investigate the company, reports surfaced that of the 248 members of Congress charged with the investigations, no less than 212 received "soft money" campaign contributions from either Enron or its accounting firm, Arthur Anderson.

Undoubtedly fascinated with the contradictory culture of the United States, our extraterrestrial colleague might move on to an analysis of legal systems and find it remarkable that in a five-month period, certain fundamental guarantees protected by constitutional law have been suspended. The FBI, CIA, and armed forces under the Bush administration have detained more than 1,000 Muslim and Arab people living in the United States in violation of their Constitutional rights, subjected hundreds of millions to greater surveillance, and declared a unilateral "war on terror" in utter disregard of international law. In March 2003 the Bush administration launched a war against Iraq while ignoring the U.N. Security Council.

In times like these, anthropological voices might shed light on cultural contradictions in our own society, the divergence between cultural ideals and realities and what happens as a result, and new possibilities for human action in a democratic society.

This might be a public service and even a civic duty: to observe and comment upon the United States today, the most powerful country on the planet; the relationships between its government officials, military establishment, and multinational corporations; and the effects and consequences of American Empire on the people that we have lived with and learned from in our research.

Anthropologists as Citizen-Scholars

Civic duty can be defined in different ways, and so can civic anthropology. During World War II, many prominent anthropologists in the United States contributed to the war effort. Ruth Benedict wrote her famous study of "culture at a distance," The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, to better understand the Japanese; Margaret Mead tried to analyze problems facing American GIs in England; George P. Murdock expanded the Human Relations Area Files with funding from the military; and Clyde Kluckhohn worked with the Office of Strategic Services or OSS (the precursor to the CIA), along with dozens of anthropologists. Others worked directly with Army and Navy intelligence and the Office of War Information (OWI).

These experiences indicate that public engagement does not always result in progressive politics or even humane policies. In fact, cultural knowledge has sometimes been applied during extraordinarily dark chapters in U.S. history. For instance, although anthropologists working for the OWI attempted to "convince the military that they did not have to engage in acts of genocidal annihilation" against Japan to end the war, others working as "community analysts" for the War Relocation Authority enthusiastically advised the government on how to efficiently administer internment camps where approximately 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were incarcerated on U.S. soil." There are many other examples, including the case of Gregory Bateson, who while working with the OSS "applied his principles of schismogenesis to foster disorder among minority populations" in South Asia." Though Bateson would later regret participating in such projects, others did not. Elements of this research were later used in psychological warfare operations and "culture cracking" strategies employed by the CIA in Vietnam and other countries. Our discipline's involvement in World War II reminds us that the application of anthropological knowledge—especially in the direct service of wartime government agencies—is not free of possible contradictions, paradoxes, and ethical dilemmas.

After World War II, anthropologists continued conducting covert operations for the CIA. The American Anthropological Association (AAA) collaborated secretly with the agency in the early 1950s to create a directory of the association's members with information about their research. Eventually, documents revealed that some anthropologists had undertaken clandestine projects with the U.S. military in its war in Southeast Asia in which they provided detailed ethnographic data on peasant communities, prepared surveys and reports on counterinsurgency, and gave information about the region's geography. When word of this became public in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a fact-finding AAA committee headed by Margaret Mead reported no wrongdoing on the part of those involved, to the dismay of many members, particularly younger ones. For some social scientists, clearing the way for public debate on the war in Indochina began to take precedence over informing the CIA, the armed forces, and the military's think tanks. Critical to this shift was a change in notions of accountability: To which constituencies should the anthropologist accountable? To the federal government and its subcontractors? To the subjects of his or her research? Or directly to the country and the American public?

When anthropologists found that ethnographic information was being used in ways they never intended—for example, to inflict harm upon people such as peasants suspected of being Communist sympathizers—they did not stand helplessly by. They mobilized themselves, rolled up their sleeves, and got to work. It seems clear that by the mid-1960s, a new kind of anthropology was emerging that for some redefined civic responsibility. For this group, civic duty wasn't necessarily unequivocal support for an undeclared U.S. war in Vietnam, or rallying behind the president to support the war. An alternative definition of civic duty might mean protection and promotion of freedom, reason, and equality—even if that conflicted with official government policy.

The painful political lessons of World War II and Vietnam shook our discipline and the academy to their cores. We learned that the military-industrial complex described by President Eisenhower in his 1961 farewell address to the country might undermine America's liberties and democratic processes—and our professional autonomy.

Anthropologists were at the forefront during this transformation." Marshall Sahlins is credited with creating the teach-in at the University of Michigan in 1965, with help from colleagues such as Eric Wolf and, at UC Berkeley, Gerald Berreman. During teach-ins students, professors, and citizens would meet after hours (sometimes in all-night sessions) to read and discuss books and articles about the history and culture of Southeast Asia, Latin America, and areas of the world undergoing upheaval and to talk about current events, especially the war in Vietnam. In 1969 Dell Hymes edited Reinventing Anthropology, which among other things called for an anthropology relevant to the times, an awareness of its colonial roots, greater inclusion of minorities in the discipline, and the study of powerful institutions." Others including Laura Nader spoke to community groups such as Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs in order to inform older people about issues concerning young people: free speech, civil rights, women's rights, and Vietnam. Still others insisted that anthropologists be accountable primarily to American principles. Many insisted that the interests of field subjects take precedence over military interests, and succeeded in writing a code of ethics for the American Anthropological Association reflecting this concern—at great risk to their professional careers." (The code of ethics was passed in 1970, but as we shall see in Selection 7, it was diluted in the 1980s.) In different ways these scholars brought universities into the public spotlight, in some cases for the first time in many years, breaking the silence of the McCarthy era.

These scholars shifted their efforts to inform the general public and broaden public debate on issues of war and peace. Others continued informing the generals in the military. Those reaching the general public taught students and laypeople important information useful for carrying out the challenging work of participatory democracy.

Reconnecting Anthropology

What about today? If we focus upon the accelerating expansion of U.S. influence across the globe—and the imminent crises provoked by these new colonial relationships largely invisible to Americans—we find a growing number of examples of a publicly engaged anthropology that communicates directly with the citizenry, independently of official governmental channels. Some are speaking out and living up to the professional and public responsibilities of the discipline—a critical task in the current wartime climate of national fear and uncertainty." Anthropologist David Price has recently suggested that "in times of war we have a fundamental duty as scholars and citizens to counter the limited views of American and allied policy makers... efforts in this direction would be most effective if we operate as citizen-scholars outside of governmental agencies." This collection samples such independent scholarship.

It begins with "War, Peace, and Social Responsibility," a section written by anthropologists over a span of eighty years. Franz Boas' letter to the editor of The Nation, "Scientists as Spies," is a classic example of how anthropologists have engaged pressing contemporary issues—in this case, the use of social scientists for espionage during World War I. His brief letter aroused so much controversy that it led to his expulsion from the AAA. The next piece is a 1940 article by Boas's student, Margaret Mead, who in "Warfare Is Only an Invention—Not a Biological Necessity" makes an appeal for alternative means of resolving global conflicts. The next selections revisit the Vietnam era. In 1965 Marshall Sahlins shocked readers with an account of psychological torture techniques described to him by US. military advisers. Gerald D. Berreman discusses anthropology's lack of accountability following revelations that some of its practitioners had been involved in clandestine counterinsurgency projects. "Two Plus Two Equals Zero," a selection by Laura Nader written in the early 1980s, describes the unplanned, unconscious, and incremental movement toward war in our society at a time of unprecedented growth of the nuclear arsenal. "Dollars That Forge Guatemalan Chains" is a commentary by Beatriz Manz which documents the brutality of the civil war in Guatemala and the U.S. role in supporting the state military in that conflict. David Price's contribution, "Anthropologists as Spies," revisits the topic introduced by Boas in 1919. After examining the espionage cases mentioned by Boas, Price singles out the AAA's long-standing reluctance to issue statements condemning covert research and espionage. He notes that the economic realities of the present era may make spying even more attractive to some: "As increasing numbers of anthropologists find employment in corporations, anthropological research becomes not a quest for scientific truth, as in the days of Boas, but a quest for secret or proprietary data for governmental or corporate sponsors." The section concludes with a commentary by Pierre Bourdieu entitled, "Abuse of Power by the Advocates of Reason," which critiques multinational corporate regimes, the World Bank, and the IMF on the grounds that they are impoverishing entire regions and provoking violent backlash.

The next section, "Prescient Anthropology," zeroes in on the work of anthropologists describing international crises in the making—sometimes years in advance. For example, Robert M. Hayden, who conducted field research in the former Yugoslavia and India, published an early warning in 1991 about the impending threat of ethnic conflict in the post-Cold War era. His words read prophetically, years before the massacres in Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia. Another article by Hayden critiques the unprecedented NATO bombing of Kosovo in 1999. Anna Simons published a series of op-ed pieces for the Washington Post on the desperate conditions in Somalia long before Black Hawk Down. Her words tell the story of a nation devastated by civil war, famine, and refugees. They also convey concern for lack of media coverage and a poorly informed group of policy "experts." Her words too were visionary; they foretold and then analyzed the botched U.S. mission in Somalia. Other contributors are prescient in their analyses. Articles by Winifred Tate and Lesley Gill critique U.S. military aid to Colombia (specifically, its use in the "war on drugs") and emphasize the necessity for a peaceful resolution to that country's internal conflicts, while Marc Edelman's commentary focuses on the link between free trade policies and famine in Central America. The Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and the worsening crisis there are the focus of contributions from a Palestinian anthropologist, Ali Qleibo, and an Israeli anthropologist, Jeff Halper (coordinator of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions). The section ends with Hugh Gusterson's critique of our government's proposals to dump the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty.

The section "Prelude to September 11" includes articles and interviews describing grave crises in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Ashraf Ghani, an anthropologist recently appointed as Afghanistan's finance minister, was by early 1989 warning that abandoning that country could have disastrous consequences over the long term. James Merryman's piece, written following the attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, suggests that aid to the families of the hundreds of African victims and a clearer foreign policy might improve our country's standing in those countries. Robert Fernea and Barbara Nimri Aziz focus on various aspects of the first Gulf War and the aftermath of the economic embargo. Fadwa El Guindi, writing years before most Americans had heard of the Taliban, published an op-ed piece describing the plight of women in Algeria, Afghanistan, and several other predominantly Muslim societies. An interview with Zieba Shorish-Shamley describes different aspects of the Taliban's repression of women. The section concludes with William O. Beeman's 1998 analysis of the "mess in Afghanistan" and the role of oil corporations seeking to secure a route to the petroleum reserves of the Caspian Sea.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon inspired a great many responses from academics, and the section "Anthropological Interpretations of September 11"presents some of the most thoughtful and well articulated. Catherine Lutz, who has recently focused her career on the relationship between society and the military in the United States, writes that our country has been in "a permanent state of war" since the late 1930s but that for many Americans this has not been visible because conflict has been "outsourced to the global south." David Harvey, Talal Asad and colleagues from the CUNY Graduate Center strongly condemn the attacks and then make an impassioned appeal for the United States to refrain from the "intensification of erroneous policies and practices" overseas. William O. Beeman's article focuses on the dangers of engaging bin Laden and his allies in a shortsighted war of revenge. In separate articles, Janet McIntosh and Wade Davis critique the inability or unwillingness of our leaders to come to terms with the role of the United States in creating the conditions that led to the attacks of September 11.

The next section is "On Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Middle East." Robert Canfield's piece emphasizes the complexity of Afghanistan and painstakingly outlines the relationships between the Taliban, mujahedeen, "Arab-Afghans" (including bin Laden), and different ethnic groups within Afghanistan. Ashraf Ghani's contribution examines the complexity of the political situation in Afghanistan and the possible risks of quick military action there by our armed forces. Nazif Shahrani counsels the eventual formation of a new Afghanistan based on the stability of past models: "The international community should encourage the creation of a government that recognizes the crucial role of the local and regional communities in self-governance, as existed in earlier eras in Afghanistan." The next selection is an interview with Zieba Shorish-Shamley at meetings in Brussels, Belgium, in which Afghan women's groups were creating a common set of demands. She emphasizes the need for women to be fairly represented in Afghanistan's new government. David Edwards and Shahmahmood Miakhel stress the importance of enlisting the aid of ordinary Afghans in confronting the Taliban regime. Kamran Asdar Ali focuses on the dilemmas faced by Pakistan following the events of September 11, specifically the tensions faced by its leaders in the face of mounting domestic criticism for cooperation with the United States. Finally, an article based on interviews with Sergei Arutyunov and Ian Chesnov describes how the Russian war on Chechnya has destroyed kinship structures that formed the basis of social life. According to the report, "Chechnya's younger people... are disoriented, and are now looking for new authority figures—a search that in many instances leads them to the radical Wahhabi Islamic sect or leaders of criminal rings."

In the next section, "Examining Militarism and the War on Terror,"' anthropologists explore several pressing issues after September 11. William O. Beeman's commentary challenges the assumptions of U.S. leaders proclaiming anti-terrorist messages by delving into the centuries-old patterns of Western exploitation of societies in the Middle East. David Price notes that the vague definition and use of the word "terrorism" as a catchall phrase has led to its rapid adoption by Russian leaders to describe Chechnya's separatists, by Chinese leaders to describe Uighur separatists, and by others. Consequently, the "war on terror" poses a threat to native peoples and ethnic minorities throughout the world. In separate commentaries, John Burdick and Roberto J. González argue that U.S. bombing raids over Afghanistan—and the resulting civilian casualties—are making future terrorist attacks on the United States more, not less, likely to occur. Dale F. Eickelman's contribution makes a critical point: that new media technologies including video and satellite images, computers, and advanced telecommunications are a part of daily life in the Arab-speaking world. Mahmood Mamdani makes an impassioned plea for U.S. policy makers not to allow the "war on terror" to allow U.S.-African relations to slide back to the Cold War era. The section closes with a Thomas McKenna interview which explores the historical roots of Muslim separatism in the Philippines. The wide-ranging interview touches upon the effects of Spanish and U.S. colonialism on Muslim identity, as well as more recent developments.

The final section, "Academic Freedom and Civil Liberties," analyzes attacks on constitutional guarantees within the United States. Roberto J. González and David Price examine the implications of a document circulated by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni in late 2001, which singles out dozens of academics for allegedly being "short on patriotism," while Hugh Gusterson—the first scholar named in the report—takes issue with the way in which its authors take statements out of context. More importantly, he also describes how this fits a long historical pattern of scapegoating that tends to occur in our country during times of war. Laura Nader's article, published two months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, is about "coercive harmony"—imposed social harmony—and its consequences. The concept's relevance in the post-September 11 period is clear, as many Americans feel pressure to fall into line with the dictates of the Bush administration's policies. She writes: "Coercive harmony can stifle dissent for a while. But if dissent is too tightly bottled up, it will explode... Academics should not be party to establishing an ideology of consensus on our increasingly corporatized campuses. Instead, we have a duty to investigate the dangers of coercive harmony and to expose repression when it poses as consensus."

Taken as a whole, the collection makes a strong case for the relevance of anthropology to the contemporary world, as well as for the strength and vitality of tried and true techniques used by its practitioners.

An Argument for Public Anthropology

Many academics have been trained to think that writing for the public is not worth doing because it is perceived as politically risky. But is there any truth to this assertion? Is anthropology perceived as a subversive activity?

On the surface, these appear to be challenging times for academic freedom. In October 2001, a Washington, D.C.-based group called the American Council of Trustees and Alumni published a report titled Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America. It documented 117 campus incidents as "evidence" of academic anti-Americanism and was distributed to university regents, trustees, and administrators. Of the forty-five scholars cited in the report, five were anthropologists. More anthropologists were included than scholars of any other discipline.

It seems that anthropologists were highly visible on the list because ours is a field that contextualizes and integrates multiple points of view—social, political, economic, and historical—and of course because many of us do this kind of work in foreign countries. What has changed radically is not anthropology but the time in which we are living. Today, some view contextual, historical knowledge about other cultures as subversive, unpatriotic, and possibly un-American!

But fortunately, they appear to be on the margins. The response to the ACTA report was dramatic and critics on the right and the left protested. Lynne Cheney and Joseph Lieberman, who cofounded ACTA in 1995, distanced themselves from the report.

Because of a surge in publicly engaged anthropology since September 11—including participation in campus rallies and teach-ins—it is clear that anthropologists have an important job ahead. Threats and blacklists are a sign that we are following in the footsteps of Boas, Mead, Montagu, and others who spoke up and were harshly criticized for their views by some and lauded by others.

The rewards of participating in a publicly engaged anthropology more than compensate for the challenges. Writing for and speaking with the general public is intellectually challenging, politically satisfying—and exhilarating.

Such work is intellectually challenging because it encourages the translation and distillation of complex ideas into a language that nonspecialists can understand. (Imagine explaining the meaning of cultural relativism or social solidarity or the significance of clans to a person who has never taken an anthropology course or read a book on the topic.) The limitations are severe—the typical op-ed piece is limited to 750 words. This is a focused kind of writing and speaking that takes time, effort, and verbal economy. It promotes the use of appropriate metaphors, logical argumentation, precise timing, and conciseness.

Politically, this work can be satisfying because it connects us to our civic duties and provides a public service: citizen education. By articulating thoughtful, informed perspectives for a wide audience, we are providing interested people with viewpoints that might otherwise go unmentioned, particularly in the current climate of self-censorship on the part of the corporate media and the public at large. We might even think of this work as democratic outreach, or social science in the service of society, or even civic anthropology for the twenty-first century. Perhaps a clearer articulation of the vital role played by citizen-scholars would lead to a new valuation of intellectual work in the public interest and recognition of this work in tenure reviews. In this regard, the U.S. case is almost unique. In most countries of the world, intellectuals are expected to be participants in citizen causes and do so, sometimes at the risk of being jailed—or worse.

Finally, writing and speaking with the general public can be exhilarating and entertaining. Letters or phone calls in response to an oped piece, for example, can be educational and used as tools for reflection. They may lead to connections with community groups, activists, policy makers, or invitations to write and speak publicly. And not least of all, communication with the public dramatically demonstrates to students that anthropology does indeed have a public face and relevance in the contemporary world.

Recently Robert Borofsky asked Norwegian anthropologist Fredrik Barth what steps might be taken to draw more anthropologists into public engagements. He answered: "The image that comes to mind is of American anthropologists, like penguins on the edge of an ice sheet afraid that something in the water will eat them. They stand on the ice and push and push each other until one falls in, and then they see what happens to him. If nothing bad happens, then they might be willing to dive in, too."

The contributors to this collection are jumping into chilly waters. The experience can be startling, refreshing, and exhilarating. Others have taken the plunge as well: the extraordinary and inspiring efforts of Cultural Survival and Living Beyond Culture exemplify a kind of public engagement being carried out by valiant anthropologists whose work is deeply rooted in indigenous and local struggles. As more and more anthropologists and students embark upon such adventures, they are sure to find strength in numbers. We have much to contribute, and even more to gain.



“This book demonstrates that anthropologists have a great deal to contribute to political debate, and that the public spirit of anthropology may be rekindling.”
Mark Pedelty, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities