Category: "University / Academia"
A group of anthropologists from Leuwen University, Belgium, has just launched anthropologynet.org, a new website that aims to be a “worldwide community of anthropologists": Anthropologists can register and look for other members sharing the same (or different) topic of research and publish papers. There is also a calendar.
The website is edited partly by Marc Vanlangendonck who has recently launched Omertaa - Open access journal for Applied Anthropology
Two years ago, European students have created MASN - Moving Anthropology Network
Podcasting - publishing mp3-interviews on websites - has become more popular in the social sciences, including anthropology. But as Paul Ayres writes in an article for ALISS Quarterly, the journal of the Association of Librarians and Information professionals in the Social Sciences, content producers have already started to move on to video.
Audio podcasting won’t take over the world, he explains:
Audio as a format has a number of limitations. It can be inefficient, as it takes 10 minutes to listen to a 10 minute audio file, plus time to download it as well. Much of this information could be summed up in a short piece of text that is easier to scan and retain. Plus, some content does not lend itself to being read out loud, such as complex URLs or detailed instructions.
In the Higher Education context, providing only the audio of a lecture leaves out PowerPoint slides, data, charts or diagrams that may illustrate a point and it also limits the presenter to a chalk and talk approach, which excludes problem based learning techniques and active learning strategies, which require interaction in the lecture theatre or classroom.
Information Professionals may find audio only user education assets very limiting. With an increasing number of online services available, screencasts that offer commentary on a video walkthrough of a service, website or database, will give a visual cue and a more meaningful learning experience to students.
So users and content producers have already started to move on to video and it’s clear that audio podcasting won’t take over the world. Awareness of podcasts has only increased marginally in the last 18 months, and some say that it suffers from the “try me” virus effect, where something may be cool or interesting to sample, but not be engaging enough to return to.
Recently, we cound find a portrait of anthropologist Melissa Leach in the Guardian. At the age of 35, Leach became professor of the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University. Now, at 42 and proficient in four African languages, she has been made director of a new global research hub known as the Steps centre (social, technological and environmental pathways to sustainability).
Her research has consistently challenged public policy and the stance taken by government authorities, the Guardian writes:
In the early 1990s, when Leach was a PhD student at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, she went to Guinea in west Africa with Fairhead, then her research partner.
The area was widely assumed to be experiencing a deforestation crisis, and experts held local villagers responsible. Leach, Fairhead and a Guinean researcher discovered - by talking to the villagers, researching the area’s history and “viewing things through an anthropological lens” - that the opposite was true. The forest was in fact growing, because farmers had worked out how to turn savannah into forest.
Leach and her colleagues had shown how experts can reach wildly wrong conclusions if local knowledge and history are not taken into account. Their findings became a book, Misreading the African Landscape, and a film, Second Nature: Building Forests in West Africa’s Savannahs. A decade later, they are still being used to illustrate the power of anthropological methods.
Her new centre opened in June and hopes to develop a new approach to understanding why the gap between the poorest and the richest is growing, and to doing something about it. It promises to question the “assumption that the world is stable, predictable and knowable through a single form of knowledge that assumes one size fits all". “We are about producing scholarly research, and playing a public and intellectual role.”
At the Steps centre, there are 18 academics representing disciplines ranging from anthropology to ecology to medicine. Academic and policy debates, she says to the Guardian, are compartmentalised into areas as agriculture or health. Rarely do the different disciplines manage to speak to one another. “We urgently need new, interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and addressing situations that combine an understanding of social, technological and environmental processes.”
There are already several papers to download at the website of the Steps centre.
And the centre has of course its own blog “The crossing”
Leach has been interviewed by the Guardian before, see Ground rules for research. Technology won’t help developing countries if it is not tailored to local needs and Steps towards better development.
I also found an older paper:
One of the anthropologists who is working for the military has started blogging about his experiences with the U.S. Army. His name is Marcus Griffin, professor at Christopher Newport University, Virginia (USA). He now works at Ft. Hood, Texas, for the time being participating in a simulation of activities that prepares Army personnel "to work effectively in Iraq" as he calls it.
In the beginning, Griffin wasn't sure if he was allowed to blog, but now he knows that he is "free to blog" about his experiences "trying to apply anthropology to a very thorny problem facing the world and the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular". But as a quick look at his blog reveals, it seems that his job is doing some advertising for the US Army.
as m Most anthropologists oppose this kind ofa collaboration with the military.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the deepening connections between anthropologists, military and intelligence agencies. Yesterday, Fort Leavenworth (USA) conducted a roundtable discussion among anthropologists and military veterans who have experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the participants self-described “left-leaning” anthropologist and an associate professor at Kansas University; Bart Dean.
Dean said "the landscape today is beginning to turn for anthropologists’ relations with the military, which reached a low level of trust in the Vietnam War era". “People will criticize me,” Dean said of his participation in the roundtable. “I will be viciously criticized. … But that’s OK. I like controversy.”
Both Dean ad his colleague Felix Moos acknowledged they are in the minority among their peers because they are working with the military. But Dean said anthropologists through World War II had a seat at the table when leaders planned military operations.
The military's new counterinsurgency doctrine, produced last year at Kansas' Fort Leavenworth, hinges on the government getting the consent of the people. By understanding the culture, the military can neutralize insurgents, the doctrine says.
Read more about the round table discussion:
Academics, soldiers team to examine war issues (Lawrence Journal & News, 22.6.07)
Leavenworth turns to anthropologists on Iraq (ap / Army Times, 22.6.07)
U.S. Army leaders turn to anthropologists to help solve war puzzles ap / Herald Tribune, 21.6.07)
Sociologist Lars Laird Eriksen has written an interesting blog post about why academic texts often are so badly written. When academics try to write, it often becomes so full of jargon and it's a turture for the reader. So why is this so?
Here's his list:
1st reason for difficult language: Trying to sneak yourself to academic status.
2nd reason for difficult language: Not knowing exactly what you’re saying and hiding behind grand words.
3rd reason for difficult language: Being on a learning curve - still searching for the right words and images to convey your thoughts clearly. (The nice version of the 2nd reason…)
4th reason for difficult language: Common sense language is not specific enough.
5th reason for difficult language: Common sense language is too politicized.
6th reason for difficult language: Common sense language is what is being analysed.
Number 3 is the interesting one in his opinion:
It conveys to me that when an idea is better understood, it can be expressed more simply. This also explains why cutting-edge research often is difficult to read: No-one has thought these thoughts before, so we are still on the learning curve of making them easier to think and say.
Which reminds me: Sometimes a text is difficult to understand, even if it is written in plain language - it could be because it is saying something new and different, something requires the mind to change direction for a while and think differently.
Reading my earlier post “The dangerous militarisation of anthropology” you might get the impression that this is something that only regards the U.S. But the same thing is happening in Britain. A few weeks ago the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth (ASA) passed a resolution that criticized a huge British research program that recruits anthropologists for “anti-terror” spying activities, and anthropologist Susan Wright (Danish University of Education) called for global coordination on this issue.
Here is ASAs resolution:
The ASA notes with concern the formulations of the recent ESRC/AHRC/FCO funding initiatives (Programmes) on ‘New Security Challenges’. While welcoming the withdrawal of the first proposed Programme, it considers that the revised initiative, particularly as set out in section 3.2. (that the research should inform UK Counter Terrorism policy overseas), is prejudicial to the position of all researchers working abroad, including those who have nothing to do with this Programme”.
This meeting thus proposes as follows:
* that all anthropologists in the UK, and members of the ASA in particular who might have applied for funding under this Programme, consider carefully the position in which they could place themselves, the people with whom they work in the field, and other colleagues. They should also note that research of this kind may well conflict with the ASA’s Code of Ethics,
* that the office-holders and Committee have the confidence of the ASA membership to discuss these issues with colleagues within this and other disciplines, both through networks and professional associations, and decide on what further actions are appropriate.
“This is a major issue that professional associations in the UK and the US need to take a hard line on”, writes Susan Wright in Anthropology Today February 2007:
It’s no use one country’s professional association taking a hard line and another not: it will make it impossibly difficult for politically marginalized people to decide who to work with and who not to if any country’s professional association condones academic enquiry being confused with spying, surveillance or counterinsurgency.
What’s this all about?
In July 2006, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) invited chosen academics to bid for funding under a £1.3-million research initiative entitled ‘Combating terrorism by countering radicalisation’. It is a research program that is based on the premise of a link between Islam, radicalization and terrorism. ‘Radicalization’ is a new buzzword in intelligence circles and was nowhere defined.
The ‘initiative’ was not openly advertised and MI5’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (which in 2003 brought together counter-terrorist expertise from 11 key government departments and agencies, including the police), was understood to have participated in its design. The programme was jointly sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) under the direction of Professor Stuart Croft, the Director of the ESRC’s five-year New Security Challenges Programme (a programme that began in 2003, and sponsors 40 research projects aiming ‘to try to offer fresh insight into the security challenges faced in the post-Cold War and post-9/11 globalized world’).
Under the ‘Combating terrorism programme’ six regions – Europe, Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, North Africa and the Gulf – and five specific countries – Jordan, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Turkey – were chosen for study.
Academics would be asked to ‘scope the growth in influence and membership of extremist Islamist groups in the past 20 years’, ‘indicate where intervention strategies might have a disproportionate influence’, ‘name the key figures (moderate and extreme) and key groups (including charities and proselytising religious groups) influencing the local population’ and ‘understand the use of theological legitimisation for violence’. Among the main topics mentioned were ‘radicalisation drivers and counter- strategies in each of the country studies’ and ‘future trends likely to increase/decrease radicalisation’.
But these plans were suspended soon after the Times Higher Educational Supplement got hold of the story and this spring, a revised version was launched.
Nevertheless, the focus doesn't seem to have changed a lot as we see in these lines in paragraph 3.2:
The FCO’s interest in this initiative stems from the recognition that independent, high-quality research on radicalisation issues can inform UK Counter Terrorism policy overseas. As part of the Prevent strand of that policy in particular, the FCO seeks to use research to increase its knowledge and understanding of the factors associated with radicalisation in those countries and regions identified as high priority. The Prevent strand is concerned with tackling the radicalisation of individuals, both in the UK and elsewhere, which sustains the international terrorist threat.
Proposals with a country or regional focus should address questions arising out of a critical engagement with the conventional wisdom and scholarship on topics of relevance to the initiative.
• Key political, social, cultural and demographic factors that impact upon Muslim populations in the area of study
• The social profile of those who may support or be attracted to violence, in terms of gender, age, class and ethnicity
• Diverse forms of avowedly Islamist mobilisation, both political and non-political, violent and non-violent
• The diversity of Islamic schools, organisations, political parties and social movements and the divisions between such bodies, movements and sects
• Patterns of migration, identity formation, and mobilisation among Muslim diasporic communities and their impact on ‘radicalisation’
The project is not an entirely British affair. According to Jeremy Keenan (Anthropology Today February 2007) it has been designed to meet the needs of its US ally, whose counter-terrorism initiatives have been running into an increasing number of difficulties in several places in the world. The FCO, he writes, had been asked by the Americans to help them in their "counterterrorist efforts" in the Sahara-Sahel. The FCO was now asking the ESRC and AHRC to get British academics involved. Keenan who has done reearch in this area for 30 years in this area has also been asked to advise them.
This ‘second front’, he writes, has played a key role in furthering US interests over the last five years. In particular, it has created the ideological conditions used to justify and legitimize the current militarization of Africa for the purposes of securing US strategic national resources – notably oil. The ‘front’ has also been used by the Pentagon’s controversial Office of Special Plans to ‘cherry-pick’ now largely disproved intelligence to support its invasion of Iraq. It has also helped to keep a more sceptical ‘old Europe’ supportive of the ‘global’ ‘war on terror’.
But as his research has shown, there are no terrorists there. Most, if not all, of the ‘terrorist’ incidents in this region, which justified the launch of the ‘second front’, Keenan writes, were fabricated by US and/or Algerian military intelligence services.
On 15 December 2006 the US Army released a new counterinsurgency manual, FM 3-24. At least one anthropologist played a role in preparing the 282-page document: Montgomery McFate. Anthropological knowledge is even considered as more important than bombs: Military generals call for for "culturally informed occupation" and ‘culture-centric warfare’. But this development undermines and endangers the work of anthropologists and will end up harming the entire discipline, Roberto J. González and David Price write in the June issue of Anthropology Today (not yet published).
The involvement of anthropologists in the preparation of the counterinsurgency manual is according to González the latest development in a trend that has become increasingly evident since 2001: the use of ‘cultural knowledge’ to wage the ‘war on terror’. FM 3-24 generally reads like a manual for indirect colonial rule – though ‘empire’ and ‘imperial’ are taboo words, never used in reference to US power, he writes and is partly inspired by T.E. Lawrence, who in 1917 published the piece ‘Twenty-seven articles’ for Arab Bulletin, the intelligence journal of Great Britain’s Cairo-based Arab Bureau.
Journals such as Military Review (published by the US Army’s Combined Arms Center) and the online Small Wars Journal have featured articles explicitly advocating a more ‘anthropological’ approach to war fighting, and some retired generals have even called for ‘culture-centric warfare’:
Testifying before the US House Armed Services Committee in 2004, Major General Robert Scales argued that ‘during the present “cultural” phase of the war… intimate knowledge of the enemy’s motivation, intent, will, tactical method and cultural environment has proven to be far more important for success than the deployment of smart bombs, unmanned aircraft and expansive bandwidth’ (Scales 2004: 2).
Interest in ‘anthropological’ expertise for battlefield application is increasingly framed in terms of ‘human terrain’, he writes:
For example, a recent article in Military Review explicitly makes the case for the creation of ‘human terrain systems’ (HTS) which are being specifically designed to address cultural awareness shortcomings at the operational and tactical levels by giving brigade commanders an organic capability to help understand and deal with ‘human terrain’ – the social, ethnographic, cultural, economic, and political elements among whom a force is operatin.
‘Human terrain’ studies date back seven years, when retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters published ‘The human terrain of urban operations’ (Peters 2000). Since then others including Kipp et al. (2006) and McConnell, Matson and Clemmer (2007) have cited the need for ‘anthropological’ participation in military operations.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has created a new project called Human Terrain System, and its director is currently recruiting social scientists to joint pilot teams in Iraq and Afghanistan as ‘cultural advisors’.
What are the consequences of anthropologists engaging in counterinsurgency work? It's obvious that it both undermines and endangers the work of anthropologists and the life of their families and informants: It is plausible, Gonzales argues, that ‘once Thai peasants or Somali clansmen learn that some anthropologists are secretly working for the US government, they begin to suspect all other anthropologists. Fieldwork will be a lot more dangerous.
American anthropologists have been surprisingly reluctant to learn their lesson from the past, David Price reminds us in another article in Anthropology Today June 2007. Though largely unexamined, he writes, the extent of covert CIA funding of American-funded social science research during the 1950s and 1960s was extraordinary:
In the mid-1970s the US Senate discovered that a surprisingly large proportion of research grants issued during the escalation of the Vietnam War and other military Cold War incursions were either directly or indirectly funded by the CIA. Without having to account for their actions, these agencies were left free to set covert research agendas, to influence the direction in which scholars took their research, and to appropriate research for covert ends. (...)
Unwitting participation by reputable scholars channelled what appeared as innocuous academic research into covert unethical programmes. Through this practice the CIA helped build up the careers of some academics, influenced social science and behavioural research, and generally attempted to create informal networks they could tap for information to provide input into their covert goals. By their own admission, CIA money-laundering was at its most effective when funds flowed through seemingly innocent private foundations like the Human Ecology Fund.
Given that the ‘war on terror’ once again finds intelligence agencies seeking help from academia, we need to consider and evaluate these past interactions and be mindful that intelligence agencies have at times been silent consumers of our research.
If we do not want to go into history as collaborators with such coercive covert agencies, who may use our research to dominate and exploit the peoples we work with, then we must take decisive action now, identify and expose such programmes wherever we can, and advise our professional associations to recommend our colleagues not touch them.
It was with such concerns in mind that two resolutions were submitted to the AAA at its November 2006 annual meeting, condemning the occupation of Iraq and the use of torture, Gonzales reminds us:
Although academic resolutions are not likely to transform US government policies (much less the practices of contractors to the military) these do articulate a set of values and ethical concerns shared by many anthropologists. They could potentially extend and amplify dialogue among social scientists around issues of torture, collaboration with the military, and the potential abuse of social science in the ‘war on terror’. Anthropologists may well inspire others to confront directly – and resist – the militarization of their disciplines at this critical moment in the history of the social sciences.
Just found the text Roberto J. Gonzalez: We Must Fight the Militarization of Anthropology, previously published in The Chronicle of Higher Education)
Inspired by this post, Space and Culture gives us more details about the military and anthropology, among other things about "Ethnographic Intelligence".
The Small Wars Council has opened a thread in their forum about this issue and one user wrote "maybe someone should write a counterpiece called "The Dangerous Anthropologization of the Military".