Professor Griffin Goes to Baghdad

Readers interested in ongoing discussion about anthropological knowledge and military operations should follow the blog of Dr. Marcus Griffin, professor of anthropology at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA. Griffin is being deployed to Baghdad under the US Army’s ‘Human Terrain System’ initiative (this .pdf explains the HTS). Griffin’s blog promises to report intermittently on the work he is doing with the Army. Given the heated discussion here at SM and elsewhere on the ethics of this sort of affiliation between the military and a professional anthropologist, I wrote to Professor Griffin asking him to clarify what set of ethical guidelines will govern his research and conduct in Iraq as I was unable to discern this from the HTS document that he links to. He has promised to write about these matters. At the moment, however, he is very much involved in preparations for Baghdad. Here, he describes ‘going native‘ within military culture:

Going “native” in anthropology is a fairly common strategy to gain a better understanding of the people with whom one is working. I am about a month away from deploying to Baghdad as part of the US Army’s new Human Terrain System and have almost gone completely native. How am I doing this?

First, I am working out regularly with Lt. Gato. He is showing me how to develop greater strength and endurance, pushing me to exert myself beyond my own motivation. When I complained about elbow tendonitis, he said, “Good, no pain no gain.” Thanks to him I am gaining greater strength and larger muscles. Second, I cut my hair in a high and tight style and look like a drill sergeant. I know because a woman at the gas station asked me if I was one and was perplexed when I said no but was satisfied when I said I was simply on my way to Iraq. Third, I shot very well with the M9 and M4 last week at the range. I previously paid careful attention to the training one of my team members gave me on his own time and our effort paid off handsomely. Shooting well is important if you are a soldier regardless of whether or not your job requires you to carry a weapon. Fourth, I am trying to learn military language with all the acronyms and idioms otherwise alien to university professor such as myself. I actually know what people are saying now half the time. By going native, I am better able to see social life from the viewpoint of the people I am working with.

36 thoughts on “Professor Griffin Goes to Baghdad

  1. I look forward to reading more of Marcus Griffin’s posts, and will check out his blog. As a former US Marine Corps infantry officer (before I became an anthropologist), I always wanted to go back and do fieldwork with the Marines; one of my former graduate school teachers, Sally Falk Moore, also thought I should take advantage of my past experience and do such work. I suspected, however, that it would be very difficult to really get out in the field with them; from my own training as an officer, we spent quite a bit of time studying what the military considered “public relations” (i.e., avoid saying anything until it’s cleared by the public affairs officer, with numerous warnings what happens to the careers of those who say things that are used by the media to the detriment of the Marine Corps). I also remember working with researchers (Natick Labs), since I was assigned to be the point person with one of them while we were conducting cold weather training – back in the late 1980s, there were a lot of restrictions on what they could do and how they interacted with Marines (the Marines’ biggest concern was staying warm and hydrated in 40 below with wind chill weather, and not talking to civilians!). Perhaps the military has changed its policies on working with researchers – which I think would be a positive step for the military. I’ve long thought that if the wider public could only get to know the individual sailors, soldiers, and marines, their attitude towards the military would change. When I was in NROTC and later active duty service (especially in New England), people would come up to me and spit on my uniform or call me baby killer; but wider social attitudes do seem to have changed! Good luck Marcus Griffin and stay safe!

  2. What exactly is Griffin doing? The information in the linked HTS document makes it sound like he will be studying Iraqi populations, but his bragging about physical training to “go native” makes it sound like the population in which he’s “going native” is the US military. Who is he studying, is it the occupying army or the occupied population?

    Is Griffin doing ethnographic research on Iraqi cultures for the US occupying military forces? The HTS documents makes it sound like this is the case. If so, he should be brought before the AAA ethics tribunal for undermining the core of anthropological ethics. I just read the good posting on getting informed consent when doing fieldwork, how will Griffin do this?

    In Europe we are having an increasingly hard time understanding what happened to American anthropology and we especially do not know how your organizations like the AAA does not see how these uses of anthropology will not harm all anthropologists.

  3. Hilda, I have corresponded with Griffin to ask him just the questions you have asked and he responded by saying that he will be writing about these things on his blog, so we will have to see what he says there.

    Obviously, this merits a great deal of careful attention, and you might have noticed actually that Griffin responded on his blog to an article by Gonzalez published in Anthropology Today, a response on which Gusterson commented, so Griffin is surely aware of these issues.

  4. I’m glad that Strong asked Griffin these questions, but it is disappointing that he evaded straight forward answers to such very basic questions. If he won’t answer them when he’s state side, I don’t expect him to honestly do so when he hits the battlefront.

    Clearly the HTS programs are designed to study enemy (Iraqi) cultures, so if he is going as part of the HTS project, then this is what he is going to be doing. That he won’t publicly answer these easy questions raises serious ethical questions. That he is fussing about his physique and haircut before joining his military employers is telling.

  5. Given the success of last year’s AAA business meeting, I know that a large group of graduate students is planning on bringing a motion to the floor of this year’s meeting denouncing anthropological participation in all military Human Terrain System programs. It would seem that Griffin’s unwillingness to specify what he’ll be doing will help bring support to this measure.

  6. Isn’t this exactly the type of program that Eric Wolf, Marshall Sahlins and others in the AAA attacked back in the Vietnam era?

  7. A family member told me I needed to read what was being written about me so here I am. To answer a few comments:

    I am deploying in a few days and time is very short. I work sixteen hour days and can expect to do so from now on seven days a week until I’m given R&R in six months. That is not an exageration. I am not evading questions about ethics, I simply cannot devote the time to my blog because my blog is not my job, just a way to show my students how I am doing my job away from the classroom. I write in it when I can.

    As for going native, how can I possibly help the Army use fewer bombs and bullets to achieve the operational goal of securing neighborhoods from sectarian, criminal, and political violence if I don’t know anything about Army culture and don’t seem to care about living as they do? Living with the Iraqi population is simply not an option–the last time I checked people get their heads cut off or are shot by a sniper for lingering around. Personally, I think going to Iraq tests the current relevance of anthropology. We’ll see how relevant the discipline is and how well or poorly I perform as an anthropologist. My blog will contain posts about it all. My next entry will be from downrange. Ciao

  8. Nice dodge Dr. Griffin!

    I especially like how you have the time to type about 200 words, yet you don’t have time to answer basic ethics questions, much less answer the direct question of just whom you are ‘going native’ to study (the occupiers, or the occupied). Nice dodge indeed.

    Do I detect a similar God Complex running through the writings of Montgomery McFate, Marcus Griffin, David Kilkullin et al., where the perceived rush to save the world sets aside time to think or write about ethics? The egotism of thinking the fate and relevance of all of anthropology rests with you and your service to Bush and Cheney’s war is stunning.

  9. I must admit that my previous comment on the post about Griffin was made before I read the HTS document. Now that I’ve read it, I now understand that the main point about his research is not really the US military but Iraqis (I misunderstood his going native was in reference to the US military, where the natives were soldiers). That said, Griffin seems a overly gung-ho about things (whether it be how he closes his post pointed to by strong, “freedom is not free” or even his comment about going downrange). Because of his affiliation with the military, his data will be problematic (similar to the problem with Evans-Pritchard and other colonial-connected anthropologists). But one thing that I would hope is that more information, more data will help our military make better decisions (such as possibly recognizing the problem of our presence sparking more violence within an Iraqi civil war that we created).
    That said, I think having more of an understanding of the contemporary situation in Iraq is better than less information; if our decision-makers had a better understanding of the situation, then maybe we wouldn’t have gotten into this mess. And I think we as anthropologists do need to get dirty – we are not less culpable by staying on the sidelines, decrying our purity or ethics. We are not even less culpable by pointing to Bush/Cheney for starting the war; I did not vote for them, but as a citizen I share the responsibility for what my representatives in government do. That said, the potential for misuse of information is also clear.
    My Quaker anthropologist and vehemently anti-war spouse and I just had a discussion over this issue — I felt my own argument tending towards the “guns don’t kill people ” kind of argument (one which I disagree with, so my insides are turning). I wish that my misreading of Griffin’s project was true, that he was studying the occupiers. I don’t, however, think that studying the occupied is necessarily evil or unethical – it would all depend on what happens, how reliable the data is and how the information is used. I wish Griffin sounded less gung-ho as well. But I still hope that he stays safe.

  10. Without a doubt it is overly simplistic and ideological to argue that the only thing screwy in Iraq is the Americans. I’m not even sure that we can lay all blame at their feet. The invasion may have been a catalyst for this mess, and the ill advised decisions by the US and its allies may have exacerbated it, and indeed the US and its allies may be culpable for war crimes committed, but it is worse than irresponsible to ignore the role that Iraqis and their neighbors have played in perpetrating and perpetuating the criminal violence engulfing Iraq.

    Without relieving the US of its responsibility, we must resist our tendency to only see what is politically convenient for us. The failure in Iraq is politically convenient; But it is inconvenient, and insults our discipline’s historical imperatives, to admit publicly and without qualification that those who have suffered the injustices and consequences of Western colonialism are also capable and guilty of being perpetrators of injustice and misery, and that despite our apprehensions, hesitations, and sympathies, we may personally feel that moral and ethical imperatives compel us to take stands regarding our involvement, collective and personal, in Iraq which may neither be popular here among our colleagues nor with those in the Middle East. Moreover, to behave *in practice* as if only “Westerners” can be culpable for such wrong-doing (or that they are always ultimately to blame) is not only to whitewash history but to alienate our fellow human beings into “the Other”, to deprive them of full agency, to fall once again into the progressive trap of paternalism.

    But most importantly, we must recognize that the complexity of the world we live in makes all judgment suspect, and that it is often too easy to equivocate, procrastinate, and, simply look away. Do our research. Grade papers. Complain about the fundies and the war…

    But some take a stand, and I would call them brave, even if I disagree with the stand they take. Not going to Iraq can be a stand. But nobody is compelling anthropologists to go. And so it is all too easy to appear principled and stay…comfortable.

    That said, I wish Griffin well, giving him the benefit of my doubt, but with a kind of warning: We’ll be watching, so be good. We’ll be critical, so should you. Learn for us, so that we can learn from you. Show us that your decision was a good one and we may honor you. Show us that it was not good, and some may pity you, some may forgive you, but more likely most will despise you. And you’d deserve all three.

  11. reading uiolliioo’s comments reminds me of a paper I heard at the aaa this year that attacked postmodernist trends as weakening anthropology’s ability to develop political critiques, i’d disagreed with the author at the time, but am starting to wonder about the basic premise. i’m not even sure what point uiolliioo is trying to make, but in the end it appears that uiolliioo doesn’t mind if griffin uses ethnography to help the americans interfeer in the outcome of a civil war they instigated. this is a very aggressive political stance and would seem to fly in the face of everything i learned about anthropological research ethics.

  12. uiolliioo makes points that are not particularly pertinent to the present thread. My principle question for now is simply: Does Griffin, in conducting research about Iraq under the auspices of the US Army, think that AAA guidelines (or Christopher Newport Univ. IRB guidelines for that matter) apply to him or not? I see this as a specific, concrete, empirical instance in which to examine and assess the arguments that have been swirling around McFate & Co. He is definitely writing a bit about research ethics. The question is, I guess, did he have to fill out one of these:

    Will the soldiers or Iraqis he works with participate in consent procedures? I am trying to imagine the whole scene and it gets thorny given the command structure of the army. Though his ambition is apparently abundant, it is so far really unclear what he is doing exactly.

  13. Fuji writes:

    [O]ne thing that I would hope is that more information, more data will help our military make better decisions (such as possibly recognizing the problem of our presence sparking more violence within an Iraqi civil war that we created).
    That said, I think having more of an understanding of the contemporary situation in Iraq is better than less information; if our decision-makers had a better understanding of the situation, then maybe we wouldn’t have gotten into this mess.

    This is the standard fallback argument, of course — if we had more information, we’d do better. Do *what* better, I don’t know…

    Here’s the thing: we had *plenty* of information all along and we *still* took every bad step we could come up with in Iraq. Has anyone seen the video floating around of Cheney in 1994 saying what a horrible idea it would be to invade Baghdad and overthrow Hussein’s government? How it would destabilize the entire region? Does he sound, in 1994, like a man who is lacking bsic information?

    As I’ve said before, I called the clusterf*** we’re in now before the invasion even started — with no specific information about the nature of Iraqi society or the political situation there other than what could be gleaned from the mainstream media. I’m not a genius or anything (well, maybe I am, but not because of that) — my voice was just one in a massive chorus of voices that described, more or less accurately, what would happen. While schmucks like Ignatieff hem and haw about the academic mindset (“tenure made me do it!”), most of us don’t have to because we weren’t such idiots to think this would be a cakewalk — and we figured that out *without* on-the-ground anthropological data.

    I’ve said this before, too, but since I’m here i might as well add that if the Army really needed more information, they might start by a) reading the public anthropological record, and b) turning to local Iraqi anthropologists and other social scientists who without a doubt have a deeper and more sympathetic view of their people than an embedded anthropologist like Griffin can even hope to achieve. An army-affiliated social scientist cannot help but receive severely limited information in the first place; I’d bet the army, and Dr. Griffin, knows this. However, putting anthros in the field under the auspices of the military *does* accord the military control over how whatever information is generated is used and distributed, essentially shaping the production of knowledge to meet policy needs. It certainly isn’t going to be subjected to the scrutiny of other anthros who may offer a different interpretation, or question the validity of the methods, or counter the data, or offer a comparative perspective, or do anything else we might claim as anthropology at work.

    As for the constantly recurring insistence that anthropologists “need to get their hands dirty”, give me a break! First of all, doesn’t this smack just a tad too much of the masculinist anti-academic bullshit we critique in virtually every other domain? More importantly (and I repeat myself again, I know, I know) anthropologists are the one academic discipline where getting your hands dirty is part and parcel of the damn methodology! I’ve personally known anthros who have woken up to the sound of bullets zinging off their walls, who have walked though military checkpoints with refugee, who have lived in the displaced persons camps of Colombia, who have had guns held to their heads for associating with the wrong crowds, etc. Even lazy old me has walked into a building under armed occupation. The refusal to sign away any vestige of academic autonomy to feed select information to the military and watch it twisted and warped to fit policy objectives is hardly a refusal to “get our hands dirty” — as I said before, talk to the anthropologists, including the Iraqi ones, who continued research during the peak of Hussein’s power and later, during the sanction years, about getting their damn hands dirty!

  14. As an English professor, I can not comment on anthropological method. However, I surely understand deep scrutiny, both academic and ethical. Clearly, Griffin’s chosen path merits and requires such scrutiny. Indeed, I’m sure he is counting on it.

    However, what perplexes me is the ad-hominem attributions free-flowing throughout this blog. Is Griffin “fussing,” “bragging,” “suffering a God complex”? Surely these easy and laden phrases do nothing but muddy the analytic water.

    Marcus, take care. I look forward to the fruits of your explorations.


    Rebecca Wheeler
    Department of English
    Christopher Newport University

  15. professor wheeler, i might add that as an english professor you also cannot comment on anthropological ethics and field research practices, which are the primary focus of comments here. however, as a member of griffin’s teaching institution you easily can make inquiries to see if griffin filed this paperwork with your university:

  16. HI- as an undergrad in anthropology this site has been a wonderful informal tool for engaging anthropological topics outside of my classroom. As I soldier on and find my own way/understandings of anthropology while establishing my own views, I am struck by what seems to me to be so clearly wrong on so many levels: working within the military as it illegaly occupies another peoples in its larger endeavours of imperialist aspirations. Perhaps my imagination is limited, but I am incapable of fathoming anything that might be contribute to a better “understanding” of anyone’s situation that would be of use or of substantial benefit to those whose lives are most impacted by the genocidal illegal-criminal actions of Bush, Rumsfield, Cheney et al. Especially, with anthropology’s poor reputation for its involvement in imperialism, do we need more anthros out there working for… who? As Oneman points out, there are so, so, so MANY knowledgable people out there and already there. I wonder to what extent people such as Griffin expect to find by going “native” (a term that makes me queasy in any context. I might merely be an undergrad and less informed at this stage in my education, but these projects deeply concern me. I hope to see less people going to Iraq with the military and more staying “here” to protest anyone going “there”. Stop it.

  17. I assume Vandergraff agrees that as an anthropologist Vandergraff cannot comment on military ethics and field research practices.

    Totalitarianism comes in many guises Vandergraff.

  18. Oneman is probably right, in that whatever information is generated by Griffin and HTS will largely stay with the military; I’m sure some of it will be used by Griffin in whatever he decides to publish later on. And I’m sure that there was enough “information” out there that was disregarded or discounted for political reasons – or poor decision-making. Nonetheless, maybe it’s a bit hopeful on my part, that if the executive branch truly understood the quagmire they were creating, that perhaps they would have made different decisions. I myself never rose beyond first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, but I knew enough that if we’re going to be in a war (as we were/are in Afghanistan), it’s not a good idea to start another war. The on-the-ground commanders (General Patraeus and below) may be swayed into doing what many of us feel is the right decision (getting out) or following courses of actions that are less damaging to Iraqi’s because of the observations of someone within their own command.
    And Oneman is right; anthro methodology means getting hands dirty, such as his own example or others who have been in dangerous situations. But it takes all kinds of getting dirty – including those who feel that they would like to do fieldwork for the military. It is clear that there will be problems with his establishing rapport, his positionality with respect to Iraqi’s — but does that make it unethical or his work necessarily invalid? Ruth Benedict’s Chrysanthemum and the Sword is surely problematic, but unethical or invalid?
    In the past, I argued with a colleague that I thought his entry into a fieldsite was problematic; she wanted to do research on a big company (say Walmart), and so she applied for a job there for fieldwork (like Barbara Ehrenreich’s approach) so that she could get in. Through omission, she avoided her PhD educational background. Now I’m sure that she would not have been able to do the work if she had said, I’m an anthropologist and would like to study your company’s labor practices. At the time, I thought this was unethical, even if it was (from my point of view, and I would guess from many other anthropologists’ as well) morally right. But now I’m not so sure, “ends justify the means” – so who knows what HTS will result in?

  19. Her work at Walmart would be good ethical investigative journalism, but not good ethical anthropology.

    Griffin and other american military anthropologists are not going to be able to establish the kinds of rapport with communities that anthropologists usually strive for. But it seems to me that this also implies that these anthropologists cannot be betraying the trust of such communities because no such relationship of trust was ever established. It simply does not seem likely to me that Griffin is going to be able to get Iraqis to tell them their secrets, nor infiltrate any secret cabals.

    That said, if an anthropologist wanted to actively intervene in Iraq, the anthropologist is faced with only a few possible courses of action. Stay at home and continue to vocally express their opinions. Go to Iraq in an independent capacity. Join any of the few remaining independent humanitarian organizations operating in Iraq. Join the US in some capacity. Join the Iraqi government. Join a Sunni or Iraqi militia or terrorist organization.

    The first doesn’t accomplish much. The second may be very dangerous and you may end up spending all your time avoiding being kidnapped, blown up, shot, or decapitated. Joining some humanitarian organization might be a good idea. Should be investigated. Joining the US will likely lose you your professional reputation. Run risk of being used for not-good purposes. Possibility of making real difference. Joining the Iraqi government in some capacity…how would you do that? Joining any of the partisan groups, political parties, insurgent group, or terrorist group is not an inviting prospect, even if you were insane enough to seriously contemplate it- probably immoral in most cases, with high probability for being used for not-good purposes, and an almost certainty of being tried, justifiably, for treason by the US government.

    So, I would like this conversation to re-steer itself away from its pre-occupation with ethical policing and debilitating critique, and talk about what should be done, what can be done, in short, a plan. The Republicans don’t have a plan. The Democrats don’t have a plan. Anthropologists should step up and say, excuse me Mr. President, Madame Pelosi, WE HAVE A PLAN.

    but i don’t think we have one, will have one, or will even try to have one. instead, we want to make sure our bedsheets are clean.

  20. Griffin plans on studying Baghdad neighborhoods and the interaction between Coalition Forces and Iraqi citizens. It seems he is immersing himself in army culture and working from that perspective. As a student, I wonder how he might obtain multiple perspectives arriving as a military figure? How much depth could his ethnography reach/obtain/achieve?

    I’m also interested in the comparison of anth ethics between working with the military and doing a study of wal-mart. In considering both the difficulty of studying corporations, institutions (and the like) as well as the importance of studying such powerfully affecting entities (especially those, which cause and reinforce so much injustice and suffering)I wonder what ethics apply to inhuman machiniations. Wal-mart is certainly more than a building of cheap goods; it is, of course, the breathing structure of our capitalist ideal where humans work, exchange, recreate, and socialize. However, I wonder where ethics end in terms of the corporation, which is legally an individual with rights and, perhaps, a claim to ethical considerations. On the other hand, I could be persuaded to see wal-mart (and other corp./inst.) as machine of inhuman design; a structure given meaning and power, which dehumanizes, colonizes and, even commoditizes those who both work and shop there. It is certainly a machine of great colonizing power over towns, individuals all over the world. I guess, as a student, I am asking some of you proffessionals what does a young anthropologist do to access and make such modern (right word?) phenomona tangible and vulnerable to those who (all of us?) seek not just to understand, but to resist and imagine a less invasive reality?

  21. that is.. is a fundamentally inhuman subject (if you can be persuaded to see it that way) that seeks to make humans into commodities- inhumans entitled to ethical considerations?

    While a community, a family and a person are all entitled to such ethical considerations, I question Wal-Marts entitelments? Are there any arguments out there similar to this or along these lines?

  22. Professor Wheeler, thanks for your comment. I suspect that the remarks about Griffin are based on what he has so far written on his blog. Have you read it?

    Rather than assess the ultimate morality of working with the military, I prefer to think about specific cases and their institutional contexts. As oneman and others have noted before here at SM, there is no way to ‘control’ anthropology. However, actual professional _anthropologists_ must adhere to some professional standards. This is both because human subjects need to be protected and because our conduct reflects on the profession/discipline as a whole and therefore affects future research. To my mind, this is what makes the question of the ethical comportment of those working under the auspices of the US Army’s HTS, or similar operational contexts, especially important. The bureaucratic regulation of ethics has come under scrutiny in lots of places, including here at SM (see earlier posts by Lederman, Golub, and others). This is a productive discussion.

    Pace uiolliioo, who seems to suggest that anthropologists should not be concerned about the professional standards of their discipline if they are not also ready to announce a solution to the world’s problems overall, then, this is not simply a matter of piety.

    I do want to take note here of what I see as a general de-politicization of ‘the military’ that seems to occur in these discussions. ‘The military’ is just a bureaucracy like any other, and it has its own ethics and so on. A _political_ question about state violence gets transformed into a _technical_ question about operational management. Through this discursive trick, ‘the military’ itself as an institution gets backgrounded and naturalized. I prefer a certain Eisenhowerianism. What needs understanding is not tactics per se, but the whole militaristic social field. In order to tamp down violence, then, I am thinking that the country we need to be studying is not really Iraq: it’s the U.S.!

  23. On Wal-Mart: Wal-Mart is not a person, however the law is framed, and does not get ethical consideration. If you could somehow get Wal-Mart, the corporation, to sign a consent form, I’ll rethink that position. HOWEVER, Wal-Mart — not being a person and all — is going to make for a pretty boring informant; it just sits there, hulking and silent. I would think that any ethnography of Wal-Mart as an institution would probably involve talking to and otherwise working with it’s *employees*, who *are* entitled to consideration in things like informed consent. The general rule in my estimation is that people should be aware that they are taking part in a research project and that they should be informed as to the nature of that project — unless there is no other way to gather important information. I think of anthropologists working with non-literate peoples who would not understand the concept of social scientific research and are told that we simply want to “tell their story” to the people back home, or the medical researcher who has to maintain some sort of control group and can’t say “this isn’t real medicine, you’re the control” — surely we’ve had enough discussion here at SM of what constitutes informed consent to know that it’s a fraught concept that acts as a guide and not a clear one at that. I don’t find anything wrong with Ehrenreich’s approach overall — she is pretty careful with private information, and she gathers an insider’s view of the lower stretches of Wal-Mart employment that is important. On the other hand, the anthro who went udecover as a frosh in her own school (_My Freshman Year_, I forget the author’s name)? That I have problems with, ranging from her choice of schools — doing research in place where she has power over her subjects’ futures — to the fact that there are dozens of ways similar information could be gathered, like asking her department’s junior faculty “what’s school like today?”

  24. Oneman: If it helps, she had decided to get the job at Walmart in order to keep studying the people from a Latin American country where she worked – she in essence followed them from the village to the US. Her co-workers knew about the research project, especially when she also returned with them to their hometowns in Latin America. And I have obviously tried to obfuscate the scenario, so as not to reveal the person and subject – so don’t wait for that ethnography on Walmart! Yes, Wal-Mart is not a person, but the people who hired her and supervise her as workers are people. Am I reading you right, in that since the employers have the power, and the employees do not, the employees are the only ones who are entitled to informed consent? Again, my initial take on this was that it was not ethical, but that after much thinking am not so sure that it isn’t right.
    Cathy Small was the anthropologist who went undercover as a first-year (she wrote it under a pseudonym, and I don’t remember that; I also did not read the book, only the NYT article so can’t comment on it). Asking junior faculty wouldn’t reveal as much as actually living in the dorms. I’m not technically junior faculty anymore, but I am pretty involved with undergrads (since I coach a lax team) – it’s one thing to hear students mention adderall abuse, especially during crunch times, and it’s another to see how widespread it is on campus. If Small had told the other first-years, oh, I’m really a university professor, and just want to get the inside-scoop on your lives, I’m sure she wouldn’t have gotten too far. Again, like the example I described, and Griffin’s case, I am not sure about the ethics here (if she didn’t ask about sex, drugs, and illegal activities, and kept secured data, I’m thinking that she could have passed a human subjects review board).
    In my classes, I make my majors get IRB permission; for intro, we read the AAA ethics, but since the class is bigger (30, don’t want to overwhelm our HSRB), I write a class IRB and make sure that they stay within the parameters of our IRB. I think I’ll use the SM archives the next time I have to teach this, to accompany the AAA ethics statement.

  25. if you read the aaa’s ethical statement you will see that there is no political distinction between the political goals of ethnographers. from the research description given here, it sounds as if the walmart ethnographer was conducting unethical research in ways similar to military anthropologists going native with enemy populations. both of these types of unethical ethnography are wrong and should be brought to the aaa’s ethics board. joshua’s “ends justify the means” path of essentializing walmart as a nonhuman entity does not hold water and can be used on any cultural formation.

    uiolliioo: i take no totalitarian position (read professor wheeler’s post to see her own claims of nonexpertise on which i based my statement. if she wishes to correct my statement and claim expertise in anthropological ethics i will accept her claim). i also claim no expertise on military ethics, but note that whatever military ethics may be, they do not supplant anthropological ethics when anthropologists work for the military. i do agree with you that american anthropology does not have a plan, but without a plan all we will do is aid the military and cia as they carry out their plans of conquest. why should we do that?

  26. Strong: Pace uiolliioo, who seems to suggest that anthropologists should not be concerned about the professional standards of their discipline if they are not also ready to announce a solution to the world’s problems overall, then, this is not simply a matter of piety.

    I think this is an unfair characterization of what I actually said. I do think anthropologists should be concerned with the professional standards of their discipline. But the professional standards anthropologists have set up aren’t Moses’ law. The actual harm that Griffin or another American anthropologist can do in Iraq does not seem to be under discussion. Given the circumstances of his being in Iraq, what is the potential for harm, what is the potential for good?

    Most importantly, and again you mis-characterize what I said, I think it is less productive to spend so much time bitching about Griffin and other anthropologists who have decided to *do* something, and instead spend that time *doing* something themselves. But I don’t see that. I don’t see it on the Left, and I don’t see it in Anthropology, and I’m upset about it.

  27. I do actually believe the ends justify the means- I am merely exploring the possibilities of ethical flexibilities when it comes to highly defensive institution that possibly hide behind a wall of ethics discourse. Absolutely, I feel infoormed consent and transparency are vital to social research; my comment is more of an exploration of ethical flexibility when it comes such places. I would not feel right about studying wal-mart (which would include its employees without their knowledge.

    I am wonder what strategies are out there for crossing barriers and gaining access into institutions and corporations (IMF? World Bank? CIA? Wal-Mart? military?; how can we study those who quite possibly manufacture so much hardship, rather than constantly studying those who sustain the hardship?

  28. bq. So, I would like this conversation to re-steer itself away from its pre-occupation with ethical policing and debilitating critique, and talk about what should be done, what can be done, in short, a plan. The Republicans don’t have a plan. The Democrats don’t have a plan. Anthropologists should step up and say, excuse me Mr. President, Madame Pelosi, WE HAVE A PLAN.

    bq. but i don’t think we have one, will have one, or will even try to have one. instead, we want to make sure our bedsheets are clean.

    I was referring to those statements.

  29. Yesterday’s international editions of the Wall Street Journal had article on Griffin and the Human Terain systems. The Journals description held familiar to the 1930s and 1940s German Institut fur Deutsche Ostarbeit, which did like studies of enemies. I had not heard of these American program, and caming to savageminds to read more, but everythings I reading here agrees with my empression reading the Wall Street article: that it was really writen by someone in the Pentagon for all of its efforts to ignore the important question’s raised by anthropologists here. It am a Pentagon press release.

    But perhaps most interesting is that when I was used search engines to search these Human Terain program, I founded this article from a month ago:
    Read the comments by readers at pages bottom about Griffins misunderstandings of ‘going natives’ and you will see that his post here about no time to answer these questions is at best half true. These is not new questions to him. Why must he not answer? Is he under orders from his officer to not answering, or does he know the answer and will not say? No answers to these questions are not acceptable.

  30. Thank you Kurt. Readers can link to the WSJ article here:
    (Right now anyway, not sure if the article will end up behind a subscriber wall.) I agree with your characterization here. McFate et al are “lone voice(s) in the wildnerness” according to the WSJ and McFate is quoted simply mocking the principled and complex positions of anthropologists addressing US military operations and militarism. It is still strange to note how much focus Dr. Griffin’s hair cut gets and only reinforces my present perception that this is all about professors play-acting as soldiers.

    As Oneman has so passionately argued here and elsewhere, there is no lack of relevant social science on Iraq, Iran, the middle east, etc. The problem is that US political powers that be systematically ignore it, or else they mock it (McFate pictures anthros with signs that say, ‘You suck’). See for example this blog item:
    Which mocks anthropologist W O Beeman’s suggestion that the US conduct diplomacy, well, diplomatically!

    Stay tuned. SavageMinds hopes to continue creating a forum for discussing this issue.

  31. Fuji asks:

    Am I reading you right, in that since the employers have the power, and the employees do not, the employees are the only ones who are entitled to informed consent?

    I’m not sure how you got that from what I wrote, but in any cas, no that’s not what I’m saying. Employers are people; Wal-Mart isn’t. People, not abstract entities, deserve informed consent consideration.

    That consideration doesn’t mean that their informed consent is an absolute requirement, though — it’s ethics, not God’s Law. I can’t imagine a Wal-Mart executive consenting to research — ethnographic or journalstic, whichever — by someone not explicitly sympathetic to Wal-Mart’s aims. And the conditions of working life in a big corporation like Wal-Mart are definitely worth studying, so there’s a quagmire. I think here we anthros can, in fact, learn something from the journalists, or rather their editors and publishers, who double-check their sources before publication. Perhaps some sort of “after-the-fact” consent is called for? Ehrenreich did, in fact, tell her co-workers what she was doing, after she left her jobs; I assume (or would like to believe) that she would have taken seriously any major objections to her publishing her work. Corporations raise an interesting issue, though, in that there are many people who might be affected by one’s research whom one never has any personal interaction with — what sort of consideration do we owe them?

    Moving up the corporate ladder — say, studying at a Wl-Mart corporate office — intensifies these concerns, and since we anthros don’t have much experience with that, there aren’t a lot of guideposts along the way to help deal with them. Working with direct consent means tying ourselves into exactly the kind of bind that Griffin has put himself into — never knowing what information has been withheld or filtered in an attempt to shape our observations, and offering control of our results to parties for whom anthropological insight is not a guiding priority. I’d venture to say it would be illegal for a publicly-held corporation to knowingly admit a researcher into their ranks who was not explicitly for the goals of the corporation — how would the work of an upper-management Ehrenreich increase shareholder value? Can we simply accept that the law forbids us from doing some kinds of research?

    Of course, all this leads to the issue of protecting our subjects. If my research would harm Wal-Mart’s bottom line, am I justified in publishing it? If Griffin’s work would harm the political careers of member of the current administration or of the military’s leading figures, is he ethically required to sit on his results? If he sees himself as studying both the military and the Iraqis the military interfaces with, are his hands not doubly tied? What can he ethically say about anything? Is there a line he can walk that harms no one — and is it anthropologically valid to walk that line?

  32. One should not forget that the anthropologist also must consider the feelings of the anthropologist. Self harm is no justice neither!

  33. You Poindexters with all your hand wringing have no impact on what we will and will not do with ethnography in the long war. Keep crying all you want, it doesn’t really matter, we have moved far beyond your limited understanding of culture. Human Terrain is here and it isn’t going to go away and you can’t control what we do with it. If anthropology departments don’t want to train us, we can train ourselves. Believe me, we already are. You all pretend to believe in academic freedom, but when you find programs trying to shape the world in ways you don’t like you invent new “ethics” to limit the academic freedom of those you oppose. We are the future of ethnography, recording and tracking cultural values with tools that make your listing of fieldwork equipment look like children’s toys. But what you all miss is that our mission is peace, and we serve the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Our mission is not occupation, it is freedom. You make me laugh, spending so much time worrying about “ethics” sitting in your cozy homes and offices; get out in the field and you will see that this is war, and you have no say about what we will use.

  34. Im not sure if its even worth responding to such a post; one seemingly written by a person clearly indoctrinated and passionate about the kinds of “peace” and “freedom” American foreign policy attempts to cram into spaces where it just doesn’t jive. It is very difficult to achieve any notion of peace, although, peace and freedom of any sort are not the politcal objectives, as we all know) by killing and, likewise, freedom by imprisoning.

    However, Doc, eloquently calls into question the impact of anthropology and, although s/he grossly underestimiates it, I think this a vital criticism. I am interested in finding creative ways of engaging the wider public more directly. Outside of my university, little is know about anthropology and what potetential it has. With the other posts regarding free access to journals taken together with the issues discussed in this post, it seems there is a need for students and professionals to develop strategies for reaching out to communitites.

    Are there some people here have tried? Ideas? I am both troubled by this problem and, simultaneously, excited about the potential anthropology has in making an impact.

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