11:15:06, by admin   . Categories: Us and Them, fieldwork / methods, ethics

(updated) Embedded anthropology? Anthropologist studies Canadian soldiers in the field

Anthropologist Anne Irwin has spent years in dangerous places with front line troops to observe how soldiers construct their identities as warriors. She wears the same combat uniform and body armour as the troops when she's in the field. At the moment, she is researching how Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan bolster their identities by sharing their battlefield experiences through storytelling with their peers:

The storytelling not only helps forge the individual identity of each soldier, it builds interpersonal relationships that can have a bearing on how well the unit performs on the battlefield.

She says:

"These are tough, hard guys who people think of as being very one-dimensional. I guess what really strikes me is how much they really care for each other. How they can just pick themselves up and keep going."

Irwin isn't really "neutral". She has spent 16 years in the Canadian Forces reserve - not as an academic. She retired as a Military Police officer with the rank of Major.

Irwin's doctoral thesis at the University of Manchester was entitled: The social organization of soldiering: a Canadian infantry company in the field.

>> read the whole story on CNews Canada (TEXT WAS REMOVED read instead: "Scientist studies soldiers 'outside the wire'" (ctv.ca, 27.8.06)

Her paper "Soldiers Do It in the Field" can be downloaded as pdf but as many characters are displayed incorrectly, Googles HTML-version might be a better choice.


This story was also covered by the Livejournal Anthropology Community: "It seems like embedded anthropology to me":

My point is that embedded anthropology would imply certain ethical and methodological problems in ethnography. These aren't just a bunch of guys being studied, they're a bunch of guys committing violent acts for highly-contested political goals.


In a world where journalists and spies are considered one and the same (thanks to even the military's intel coming in directly from CNN in some cases), and with anthropology's shadowy history of being used as cover for spying, how are anthropologists regarded in situations like these in general?

UPDATE 2: Similar problems of embeddedness might have occured in the film "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey" by anthropologist Sam Dunn. He has been metal-fan and headbanger for years. Of course, his background has influenced the way he presented his findings, according to a review in The Japan Times:

The film only partly succeeds in its mission, mostly due to Dunn's dual roles here: an anthropologist, by nature, needs to have a critical distance from the society he puts under the microscope. Dunn, however, displays a missionary's zeal in preaching the glory of metal, and explaining away its bad image. Dunn (...) appears in the film narrating, interviewing his idols, and headbanging with devil-horn fingers.


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1 comment

Comment from: f.x [Visitor]

Is the PhD of Anne Irwin published in a book or can we find it somewhere online?

2011-07-26 @ 12:58

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