The AAA, HTS, and the anthropological noosphere

I am very gratified to see “the AAA has taken a stance on HTS”:, and that it has taken the stance that it has. Even more to the point, I am glad to see that it has taken this stance in the way it has, which includes a blog on which people can discuss this issue. I think both the stance and the blog signal a couple of things about the AAA that deserve mention:

  1. The AAA statement is extremely ‘narrowly written’ — it takes a position only on a) this conflict and b) the ‘thin’ consensus on ethics that exists within the AAA, which is focused particularly on human subjects. This begs many bigger questions about participation in the war, which I think is a good idea on their part since they are not germane to the AAA’s decision at the moment.

  2. The way to go forward is probably to start ‘thickening’ this initial statement and build off of it.

  3. The statement clearly (in my humble opinion) shows the influence of SM and the anthropological noosphere more generally on the AAA exec board and every reader, commenter and Mind should be proud to see that this is really a case of our community forming a ‘civil sphere’ that can inform AAA decision making.

  4. I am blown away by the quality of the comments on the AAA blog, as well as the fact that they are published by professors writing in their own name. This is the first time I have seen the anthropology professoriate as a professoriate. I hope that the AAA blog become a major site in the anthropological noosphere.

  5. The site clearly (in my humble opinion) shows the influence of SM and the anthropological noosphere more generally on the AAA exec board and every reader, commenter and Mind should be proud to see that this is really a case of our community forming a ‘civil sphere’ that can inform AAA decision making. Apparently “calling Dan Segal incompetent”:/2007/09/26/governance-transparency-and-sacred-bundles/#comment-121643 accomplished something! It is so rewarding to see that after literally years of effort the AAA is catching up with its members and, indeed, its peer organizations in this regard.

  6. The anthropological noosphere has really blossomed lately. We have not only the AAA site, but the good folks at “Culture Matters”: and “Material World”: — and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

  7. All of this makes me wonder about the future of SM — part of me is a bit apprehensive at the blog being decentered, but most of me is breathing a sigh of relief that we will soon be obsoleted by our betters and allowed to get back to writing curmudgeonly articles about the pleasures of reading Durkheim very, very slowly. If 2006 (or perhaps the 2006-2007 school year) was ‘the year of open access’ perhaps 2007-2007 will be the year that anthropology as a a discipline gets online. I’m certainly optimistic based on what I’ve seen so far.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

11 thoughts on “The AAA, HTS, and the anthropological noosphere

  1. A letter sent by the AAA to section “webmasters” implies that a new AAA website will be launched soon with blogging features. Hopefully this will lead to a wild proliferation of anthropology blogs. But it is clearly not ready yet, since the AAA chose blogspot to host their own official blog.

  2. My reaction to this is the polar opposite of Rex.

    After two full years of deliberation, the Ad Hoc Commission “came to a consensus position: we neither oppose engagement nor endorse positions that rule it out a priori.” They published this conclusion in the November copy of Anthropology News, which was up on Anthrosource for roughly 10 hours before the Executive Committee decided publicize their “advance statement” ruling out engagement in the HTS a priori (if not literally a priori, at least prior to any “systematic study” of what they have taken their position against). I am very curious about the relationship between the Ad Hoc Commission and the Executive Committee, as their statements seem to reflect diametrically opposed interpretations of the proper role of a scholarly organization. The Ad Hoc Commission states “Our ultimate goal is to prompt and inform discussion about engagement so that anthropologists can potentially mine its opportunities and avoid its pitfalls.” By contrast, the Executive Board Statement states baldly that “the HTS project [is] unacceptable.” There is an actual conflict of principle here; there is no “thin” space in which these two positions peacefully coexist. The AAA is either an space of conversation or it is a disciplinary agency. It looks to me like the Executive Committee has decided to use its executive privileges to overrule the conclusions of the Ad Hoc Commission so as to ensure that the AAA operates a disciplinary agency for keeping its membership from working with the American military (not in theory, of course; only in actual practice).

    History will be the judge of whether the institutional decision of American anthropologists not to assist their government in stabilizing the disaster it created in Iraq resulted in more or less harm to the community of human beings. In the mean time, untenured anthropologists whose perceptions of reality diverge from the party line have been served notice that the time has come to keep your mouth shut and your ass covered.

  3. Well ok. To be fair I feel like I often harsh on the AAA so I was trying to be upbeat in this entry in order to be more ‘balanced’, so I suppose at some level I sympathize with Prudence’s criticism of me. But after that we do disagree — mostly on ‘efficacy’ issues.

    I don’t think the AAA has the ability to have much effect on individual’s careers if those individuals have a strong institutional base. Prudence’s own description of the apparent conflict between the Ad Hoc Committee and the Executive Board reinforces this — as does the disagreement on the AAA website, which demonstrates that agreement as to even thin details of ethical fieldwork may end up being up for grabs. I think the either/or dichotomy that Prudence tries to stuff the AAA into — “conversation” OR “disciplinary agency” seems bizarre to me.

  4. Aw, shucks, Rex, thanks for the shout-out to Culture Matters! But as for Savage Minds “being decentered” or being “obsoleted by our betters”: no way. You all at SM are, and surely will remain, the single most important go-to anthro cybersource. I tell every class I teach to read SM!

  5. Prudence jumps the gun in assuming that coming “to a consensus position: [that one] neither oppose engagement nor endorse positions that rule it out a priori,” is the same thing as saying that all forms of military engagement are approved. Human Terrain is a disaster and one can be in favor of some forms of engagement (classroom engagements, briefings etc.) and condemn something as unethical as Human Terrain.

  6. As one of the Culture Matters bloggers, I join L.L. in thanking you for honouring us. I am curious whether you borrowed “noosphere” from Vernadskii deliberately, or did it come your way from some other source? It’s not a term I encounter frequently.

  7. As a member of the Ad Hoc Commission, I just wanted to quickly clarify what the relationship between the EB of the AAA and the Ad Hoc Commission has been: 1. The Commission was indeed created at the request of the EB, 2. It has functioned for one year (not two), 3. The initial mandate was specifically focused on the status of CIA ads and the PRISP program, even as the soon-to-be-forthcoming report takes a broader perspective, 4. HTS was not a part of the original mandate of the Commission, if Commission members have talked about it, followed the mounting attention to it, looked into it, and developed a position about it, 5. The Report is not meant to address HTS per se, but the wider implications of engagement with military, security, and intelligence communities over the long haul (not just the Iraq and Afghanistan wars), 6. The EB’s statement on HTS was developed in consultation with the Ad Hoc Commission, but expresses its own executive privilege, 7. There is no inherent conflict between the EB’s statement and the work of the Commission, given that the efforts of the Commission have mostly been given over to nuancing a frame of reference within which the discipline might have a productive conversation about these issues, including when engagement might be defensible and when it might not be, given ethical limits and obligations. The Commission’s position is that we cannot rule out engagement a priori but nor are all forms of engagement indiscriminately acceptable. Fundamentally, we hope that the Report productively contributes to our own discipline’s efforts to clarify these matters, but also to avoid jumping to unnecessary conclusions about what it means to work in or with these sectors. We’ll see how the conversation goes. I can say, however, that SM has been a part — if indirectly — of our own conversations on the Commission, from Laura McNamara’s guest appearance here to folks like me who have paid close attention to much of the good work and analysis SM has been providing on these and related topics. Very helpful.

  8. Yeah it wasn’t obvious to me that the claims of the Ad Hoc Committee and the Exec Board were at odds with one another.

    As for ‘noosphere’ — this is an old bay area coutnerculture/geek term. I always imagined the genealogy was Robert Anton Wilson/Loompanics -> FOSS Geeks/Cyberpunk -> Web 2.0 punditry. I guess Vernadskii has somehow been snuck into my brain by accident.

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