Anthropologists of the World, Unite!

Apropos of the recent discussion of anthropology’s use in torture and other military action, I received notice this morning of an effort launched by several anthros (including David Price, Hugh Gusterson, and Catherine Lutz) to encourage the development of an ethical anthropology and to oppose anthro’s participation in counter-insurgency. Here’s the relevant part of the email:

The Department of Defense and allied agencies are mobilizing anthropologists for interventions in the Middle East and beyond. It is likely that larger, more permanent initiatives are in the works.

Over the last several weeks, we have created an ad hoc group, the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, with the objective of promoting an ethical anthropology. Working together, we have drafted a pledge of non-participation in counter-insurgency, which we have organized as a petition (see attachment). We invite you to become a part of this effort by taking the following steps:

  1. Download and print the attached pledge (in .pdf format) [. Ask your colleagues to sign the pledge, and promptly send it to us via regular mail. Our address is Network of Concerned Anthropologists, c/o Dept. of Anthropology, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, MS 3G5, Fairfax, VA 22030 (USA). If it is more convenient, email a .pdf copy of collected signatures and send it to us at
  2. Forward this message to your colleagues, and encourage them to sign.
  3. Join our network by emailing us at Be sure to include your name, title, and affiliation. We will add you to our email list.
  4. Visit our web site at for more information and updates.

Email us at if you would like more information or if you have questions.

Sincerely yours,
Network of Concerned Anthropologists

Catherine Besteman
Andrew Bickford
Greg Feldman
Roberto Gonzalez
Hugh Gusterson
Gustaaf Houtman
Kanhong Lin
Catherine Lutz
David Price
David Vine

51 thoughts on “Anthropologists of the World, Unite!

  1. The idea of the Western Left being responsible for “taking down tyrants and dictators abroad” was misused rather cynically by the neoconservative movement.

    And as for ranting, well, maybe in the US, where “harmony ideology” (see Nader) prevails, ears turn off when people “rant”, it’s not the case in other parts of the world. Active debate, and yes, the expression of emotion about political and socioeconomic issues, is not a bad thing. The fact that it has been pegged as such here in American may account for the political anemia and low tide of public discourse and participatory politics. If we ever saw something in the US Congress approaching the debate during “Question Time” in the UK parliament, it would be bracing and tonic. Being “nice” in politics leads us to Nancy Pelosi (nice face lift she got btw) saying “impeachment is off the table” because they want to play nice with a regime that is actively eating away the rule of law like a stage four cancer. So I will rant and defend anyone’s right to rant.

    More thoughts about the role of the Western Left in liberating the unwashed Arab masses: It’s an idea that can easily become new form of moral colonialism and exacerbate the problems of dependency among human rights organizations in the Arab world,eloquently diagnosed in the pages of Middle East Report by law professor Abdullahi an-Na‘im in 2000:

    ‘What I call dependency is the idea of generating pressures in the
    North to persuade governments in the South to protect the rights of
    their people, because that is not how human rights are protected in
    the North itself. There, human rights are protected by local constitu-
    encies organizing around their own priorities, enlisting political sup-
    port within the own communities, and pressuring the own govern-
    ments, legally and otherwise. . . . The problem is that this approach
    disregards the fact that human rights dependency is possible be-
    cause of other dependencies. . . . Human rights dependency legiti-
    mizes other dependencies and perpetuates dependent relationships.
    . . . The problem is our failure to appropriate the human rights
    paradigm for our own objectives. ‘ (pp. 20–23, 46–47)

    There is a left in the Arab world. There was a lot of opposition to Saddam in Iraq. The US asked Iraqis to rise up against Saddam in 1991, they did and the US turned its back and tens of thousands were slaughtered by Saddam. Then we instituted the sanctions, which devastated the middle classes and made any political organizing against Saddam secondary, or tertiary, to just having food to eat each day and not having any medicines or decent health care or working infrastructure. So, that was a way the Left (Clinton’s administration) tried to take down a dictator.
    To say that what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan is what is important, and addressing the derelictions of democratic duty here at home is beside the point just misses the point I’ve been trying to make in a number of posts here. Frustrating. Makes me want to rant….

  2. According to Lauri King-Irani we have done wrong in the past, so, how dare we do right in the present. Assuming she takes her position in good faith, her position is a perfect example of “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

  3. Dear Ira,

    Yes, maybe I am getting into the “perfect is the enemy of the good” department. We can do right in the present, but not by repaeating the same mistakes or misrepresenting the historical record or by assuming that our perceptions of the Iraqi situation are more valid than those of Iraqis themselves. Anthropologists could and should have a big part to play in ameiiorating the mess we’ve made in Iraq, but it requires a deeper analysis of Iraq as well as the structures within American society and governance that have led to the diastrous situation we find now. And from all I’ve seen and read, embedding anthropologists with the miltary is not the answer. Maybe some of the interesting discussions and interventions on this blog can help delineate a better way. Assuming that one knows what Iraqi “culture” is all about, or assuming that one knows what a democratic society is or looks like or entails, without a deep and critical inquiry into what has happened and why is what I find troubling.

    An Iraqi friend who was tortured by Saddam’s regime and initially excited by the US liberation of Iraq said that “Saddam stuffed our mouths with cotton so we could not speak, then the US came and took the cotton out of our mouths, but then they put it in their own ears.” We have not really heard the Iraqis. We have not really understood what they’ve experienced and we have not, as a whole in the US, done any sort of serious accounting of the way our own arrogance has blinded us, or how insidious racist assumptions about Arabs and Muslims influence the government, media, and even the scholarly community.

    I’ve written a few pieces about this and would be happy to share them off line.



  4. Hello, I hate to bother all of you. I am looking for a piece of information that thus far has eluded my capture. Does anyone know a resource of where I might see the number of anthropologists that graduate each year?


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