Culture in Global Affairs

CIGA Seminar Series

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Fall 2006 – Spring 2007

Cultural Anthropology Knowledge and the US Military and Intelligence
April 13, 2007

"Security Sector for Dummies: An Anthropological Assessment of Institutions and Actors"

Brian Selmeski

Brian Selmeski, Centre for Security, Armed Forces and Society, Royal Military College of Canada

For a discipline that prides itself on its attention to ethnographic detail and accuracy, recent anthropological discussions of the security sector have fallen woefully short. This presentation begins to redress said deficit by addressing three inter-related questions:

  1. What is the security sector and what accounts for its newfound interest in cultural — not necessarily anthropological — knowledge?
  2. What institutions make up the security sector and how do they relate with cultural knowledge?
  3. Who are the individual members of the security sector enacting this relationship and what challenges do they face in doing so?

The discussion of these issues, while necessarily preliminary and abbreviated, aims to de-center the role of anthropology (heretofore the principle a topic of disciplinary debate) in this phenomenon, in addition to shedding additional light on (and interest in) the institutions and individuals responsible for ensuring collective security. Ultimately, these objectives should encourage further anthropological studies of them, while assisting anthropologists make more valid and informed decisions regarding both disciplinary and personal engagement with the security sector.


"Thinking Like and Being an Anthropologist: Anthropological Contributions to Intelligence Analysis"

David Abramson

David Abramson, Office of Analysis for Russia and Eurasia, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, US Department of State

There is considerable suspicion and cynicism about the benefits of anthropologists' engagement with intelligence collection and analysis work. This paper seeks to address some of those concerns. For those who are convinced already that there is some benefit, a key question is whether anthropologists should advocate applying concepts such as culture in the practice of intelligence or whether anthropologists should apply their approaches to the study of intelligence work. The author draws on his experience as an intelligence analyst for the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research to argue for both — that the only effective application of anthropological methods in intelligence must be grounded in a solid understanding of the culture of intelligence practice itself.


"Mapping the Strategic Terrain of Culture among Military Planners"

Robert Albro

Robert Albro, Anthropology and International Affairs, The George Washington University

I consider the concept of "cultural terrain" as one among a variety of ways the military is currently formulating approaches to the culture concept to the ends of strategic planning of different sorts. I focus particularly on how military planners tend to go about introducing, defining, and developing such new concepts as cultural terrain, and what this means for how such new concerns become incorporated into already established military doctrine and goals, in this case, as a relatively new addition to the planning about "human terrain." I explore how a concern for the cultural terrain is being incorporated into the so-called "systems approach" to military planning. In so doing, I examine the particular tool of cultural mapping, and offer a brief genealogy of this application, as it has come to the military in recent years. Finally, I suggest what the military's signature approach to such cultural questions means in comparison to anthropology's relationship to the military and to its own kind of cultural expertise.


"Anthropology and the Military: An Exercise in Cross-Cultural Communication"

Clementine Fujimura

Clementine Fujimura, Language and Cultural Studies, United States Naval Academy

The military and its academies have at long last agreed that culture and language studies need to be incorporated in the training and education of military professionals. What is often lost in these new programs is a more complex understanding of the concept of culture. Military training and education facilities are focusing on the obvious, the regional knowledge and superficial, practical language skills. There is a concern that if these programs do not go beyond superficial facts and concepts, more harm than good will be done. A pedagogical approach that studies the deeper meaning of culture and incorporates introspection and self awareness would add perhaps the most important ingredient to a military program of cultural studies, namely, humility.


"Culture and Warfare"

Pauletta Otis

Pauletta Otis, Center for Operational Learning, United States Marine Corps



"The Ethics of Consulting for the Military"

Hugh Gusterson

Hugh Gusterson, Cultural Studies and Sociology, George Mason University

It is important to separate research that violates professional ethics from research that simply excites political disapproval from professional colleagues. Anthropologists tend to be liberal, and thus many disapprove of colleagues who consult for the military. However, it is not unethical for anthropologists to consult for the military unless the anthropologist's work violates professional ethics. The key issue here is the informed consent provision of the American Anthropological Association ethics code. This talk makes the case for a ban on "ethnographic intelligence" and on anthropologists'' participation in torture based on the ethics code of the American Anthropological Association and other professional associations' ethics codes.


"Sources and Methods: Ethical and Ethnographic Challenges of Security Anthropology"

Kerry Fosher

Kerry Fosher, Dartmouth Medical College and the Culture and Language Center's Cultural Competence Project, Air University

Journalists and intelligence agencies use the phrase "sources and methods" as a shortcut to highlight their need to protect the people and means they use to gather information. Anthropologists always have faced similar challenges in balancing informant confidentiality, the desire to keep confidences to maintain research access and build trust, and the desire to report our findings to our colleagues. When anthropologists conduct research on or work with organizations involved in national security, these challenges are complicated by the secrecy and violence inherent in these organizations and the attendant increased demand for academic transparency. This presentation introduces basic information about involvement with the security sector and proposes a means of exploring ethical issues by analyzing different dimensions of engagement.

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