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Reviewed by:
  • Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgencency
  • Paul L. Doughty
John D. Kelly, Beatrice Jauregui, Sean T. Mitchell and Jeremy Walton, eds., Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgencency. University of Chicago Press, 2010. 383 pp.

This ambitious collection of twenty-two chapters is accompanied by a general introduction with short ones at the beginning of each of its five sections, authored by the editors. The book results from a University of Chicago funded conference and presentations at an American Anthropological Association panel. It is packed with interesting, sometimes obscure information and sure to stimulate discussion.

The editors describe the volume as placing anthropology in the context of the "new stress on the relationship among anthropology, governance, and war" (leading me to ask: Why not peace as well?). The 22 contributors address the ethical problems confronted by anthropologists as they conduct research in the context of modern warfare and international and localized power relations. By so doing, they reflect upon the "world of Pax Americana" and how that translates to this century.

Emphasizing that they received no " funding from the US military, including Minerva funding," the editors note that their contributors [End Page 691] include several who have or are participating in military actions. Their perspectives are set amidst those of other anthropologists and social scientists who discuss cases from differing viewpoints.

Treating this "hot button" issue for anthropology is a tall order of course, if for no other reason than that it centers on topics that have been debated for decades: ethical issues concerning an anthropologist's relationships with those under study, about doing no harm to such persons as a result of the research, about having their informed consent, about the principled nature of anthropological research, and who, if anyone, is served by it outside of the discipline. The issue of anthropological involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, human terrain action research, and participation in promoting American hegemonic agendas by anthropologists are featured in detail, starting with the book's introductory chapter.

The editors cum authors assert, following Max Weber, "political anthropology will be plural. And it will be united by rigorous and comparative attention to empirical detail. Science cannot render political value judgments, but for good is necessary." They consider that competent ethnography is essential for political decision-making and policy. Anthropology is therefore seen as the key in "pursuit of a world safe for differences." But is that what China, the US, Iraq, or any society that desires to be self-determinate, wants? Unfortunately, the goal and value of "difference" is not shared by quite a few xenophobic, ethnocentric nations whose state cultures accept their own particular configuring of the nature and order of things in the world and their role therein as ideal.

A problem lurks in the elevation of ethnography to such a primary status because, as it is described here, it seems to reduce the discipline of anthropology to being a method of discovery, showing an inevitable pathway to truth. Although the authors allow as how anthropology as a science cannot evaluate values, such issues nevertheless, form an undercurrent running through the volume.

The approach here, then, is to stress Anthropology as a methodology—as opposed to a discipline—that is anchored around theoretical concepts and tested understandings about how human cultural and social systems operate. By illustration for example, an online business website extols that: "Ethnography is a versatile tool, fitting many different research needs...ask yourself, what do we need?" Perhaps ethnography will be " the right fit for you" (/ The editors appear to subscribe to the aphorism that " the facts speak for themselves," but do [End Page 692] they speak equally to everyone? Dustin Wax notes in her chapter that "allegiance to a particular political order can shape the ethnographer's observations" and how these data are used. Obviously, one's social and cultural affiliations can produce biased interpretations, as any anthropologist should know from the proverbial "git-go."

There indeed, is the heart of the great and constant dilemma for anthropological ethics, around which all of these papers revolve. The authors, as anthropologists working in widely varying contexts and places, adhere to the value of the classic approach of working...


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pp. 691-694
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