All posts by Dustin (Oneman)

Audio from “Anthropology and Counterinsurgency” Conference at U of Chicago Now Available

where i learned Anthropology

Image by monsieur paradis via Flickr

The University of Chicago has posted some of the audio from the “Anthropology and Counterinsurgency” conference held there last spring (2008). Some of the speakers are not included, whether because they opted out or there were copyright issues or what, I don’t know. But among the speakers included are:

  • David Price’s great plenary keynote, “Soft Power, Hard Power and the Anthropological “Leveraging” of Cultural “Assets”: Distilling the Theory, Politics and Ethics of Anthropological Counterinsurgency”
  • Jeremy Walton’s discussion of Turkish pulp fiction and action flicks, “Inclement Storms, Hungry Wolves: Consuming the War on Terror in Contemporary Turkey”
  • Hugh Gusterson on the Pentagon’s penchant for simplistic, technologized solutions to human problems – with a discussion of the Phrase-a-lator, a handheld device that translates spoken Arabic to English (apparently the fish-in0the-ear scenario isn’t panning out) – in “The Cultural Turn in the War on Terror
  • Roberto Gonzalez on the theoretical implications of the concept of Human Terrain, “’Human Terrain’ and Indirect Rule: Theoretical, Practical, and Ethical Concerns
  • My own historical contextualization of the failures of anthropological counterinsurgency and the incompatabilities between anthropology and military action, “The Uses of Anthropology in the Insurgent Age”
  • And lots more great stuff!

The full-length papers will be collected in the University of Chicago Press’ forthcoming book Anthropology and Counterinsurgency, due out in February 2010 (to the best of my knowledge).

The more recent conference “Reconsidering American Power” was also recorded, and I hope that audio will be available from that quicker than the year it took to get audio up from last year’s conference. I’ll let you know when that’s available.

Letters from the Front

Just some quick pointers to various military-related materials around the Web.

1147444_bleak_iFirst, Roberto Gonzalez sent me this link to a BBC Radio 4 show on the embedding of anthropologists in military units in Iraq and Afghanistan. The show features Gonzalez, Michael Gilsenan, Hugh Gusterson, Montgomery McFate, Marcus Griffin, and others. Listen quickly, as it appears to only be posted until the end of April.

Next up, Laura Nader speaks about her recent book (with Ugo Mattei) Plunder: When the Rule of Law is Illegal. Any opportunity to hear Nader bring her tremendous mind to bear on the issues that define our lives is not to be missed!

Finally, from the Wired Danger Room comes this odd report about the military’s efforts to reproduce anthropological analysis using computer modeling. Now, I’ve been pretty dismissive of the military’s ability to grapple with the implications of anthropology – there is, I firmly believe (and find borne out over and over in the historical record) a fundamental disconnect between the logic of military action and the logic of anthropological practice. But even I’m a little shocked (and a little amused…) by the justification given for looking into the use of computerized behavioral modeling:

More intriguing about this proposal, however, is the reasoning for why virtual anthros may be better than the real thing: “Today in DoD, this analysis is conducted by anthropological experts, known to carry their own bias, which often leads to faulty recommendations and inaccurate behavioral forecasting.”

Let me know how that works out for ya, guys.

Reconsidering American Power conference at University of Chicago, April 23-25

The University of Chicago’s Workshop on Science, Technology, Society & the State is hosting a follow-up to last year’s “Anthropology and Counterinsurgency” conference next week. Entitled “Reconsidering American Power“, the conference aims to expand beyond questions related to the militarization of anthropology to consider more generally the relation between the social sciences and the American state.

I’ll be presenting a paper during Friday’s panel session, “Uses and Abuses of Social Sciences: Disciplines of and for What?” Entitled “Are We Ready Yet for Action Anthropology?”, my paper is intended to counter arguments that anthropologists’ refusal to cooperate with military and intelligence efforts like HTS, PRISP, and the Minerva Consortium necessarily condemns anthropology to irrelevance. My hope is that by examining the model of action anthropology, which has gained little traction in academic anthropology in the 50 years since Sol Tax and his students proposed it, a way of meaningfully engaging contemporary issues might emerge that avoids the troubling issues raised by direct subordination to military and intelligence agencies.

Other participants include David Price, Catherine Lutz, Hugh Gusterson, Jeff Bennett, Robert Vitalis, Matthew Sparke, Sean Mitchell, Kevin Caffrey, Amahl Bishara, Rochelle Davis, Roberto Gonzalez, Keith Brown, Chris Nelson, and a variety of U of Chicago folks from anthropology and the other social sciences, including honorary Savage Mindster Marshall Sahlins. (Note: I’m listed as “editor” of Savage Minds, a title I neither asked for nor knew was being ascribed to me! I’m also listed as an “independent researcher”, despite my 6 years affiliation with the College of Southern Nevada…)

On a related note, the paper I presented last year will be out early 2010 from University of Chicago Press in a collected volume of essays from the conference. (Can we talk some time about academic publishers demanding all copyrights? For free?) As far as I know, the book will be titled following the conference, that is Anthropology and Counterinsurgency. Look for it in an academic bookstore near you!

What Is This Thing Called "Edupunk"?

A new sensation is sweeping the nation. English adjuncts with mohawks are rockin’ their classrooms, web 2.0-style! Scrappy science teachers are banging together online learning systems in their garages! Gothic literature professors are turning to Wikipedia for inspiration! It’s a new day…

OK, maybe it’s not that exciting. What’s really happening is that professors and teachers are getting fed up with the limitations and corporate-overlordness of commercial learning software like Blackboard and WebCampus — and in a web 2.0 world, there are plenty of options for the fed up. With a click of the mouse and a sweep of the browser, it’s easy as Pi to cobble together your own online learning system — one with far more to offer both students and faculty than the tools schools are laying out big bucks for.

The Chronicle brought the… movement? news? thingy? … to mainstream attention, but their contribution is just a fillip on the work of professors and teachers all over the nation who have been thinking long and hard about how to bring learning to the web — and in doing so, to their students.

Let me say right here, for the record, I don’t buy all this “digital generation” nonsense. We’ve got a way to go before that happens. When I no longer have to teach my students how to Google unfamiliar terms or how to add an attachment to an email, then I might well believe that they are comfortably native in the online world; for now, the most I can say is that what I see as an important set of tools, they seem to see as a big box of toys, toys they’re happy to play with as long as it’s the same toy everyone else has.

But that doesn’t mean the Internet isn’t important — in fact, I think it makes it more incumbent on us, as educators, to show the amazing power of the Internet for more than just gossiping about your friends and breaking up with your lovers.

So What IS It?!

OK, edupunk. Basically, what you’ve got is a nascent movement by educators inspired by the DIY-ness of punk music (and fashion, design, writing, etc.) to step outside the walled garden provided by their institutions. Some are turning to wikis, others to blogging, still others to user-generated content, Google maps, and all manner of mashups. The occasionally savage Michael Wesch is a good example, though I don’t know if he considers himself “edupunk” — but it’s nt particularly punk to worry about labels, so who cares?

Edupunk is also a political statement. Scratch that — it’s a collection of political statements, and sometimes isn’t a political statement at all. Stephen Downes sums it up nicely:

Edupunk, it seems, takes old-school Progressive educational tactics–hands-on learning that starts with the learner’s interests–and makes them relevant to today’s digital age, sometimes by forgoing digital technologies entirely.

My own entry into edupunk (though I didn’t think of it as such at the time, and if you don’t count Savage Minds, which seems animated by the same principles even if it’s not explicitly an instructional tool) came about last summer when I decided to implement blogging in my “Gender, Race, and Class” course. For years, I’d been requiring a weekly response paper, an ungraded assignment that asked students to record their thoughts on the readings. This has been by far my most successful assignment — I could easily forego tests and essays, if not for the fact that a class of ungraded assignments probably wouldn’t give much incentive to master the material. But it galled me that the conversation these papers represented was just between each individual student and myself. I wanted their fellow students to benefit from their wide range of experience, thinking, and opinion.

So what’s a professor to do? As any patient IT department employee will tell you, “WebCampus (or Blackboard) offers a variety of interactive features including bulletin boards to facilitate virtual conversations in the blah blah blah. ” I’m sure they offer a really swell product, but a) the commercial classroom management systems offer a standard that students will never use again after their graduation, and b) they exist behind the university’s paywall. If my students have something to say, they might as well be saying it to the world, not just to the students in their class whose registration bill is current.

As far as I’m concerned, teaching students to engage with the world around them is crucial, both morally and pedagogically. (And, you’ll say, “politically”. So be it.) WebCampus and Blackboard don’t offer that; they offer a way to standardize education and, by extension, students.

So I built a blog. On Drupal, if you must know. And I required students to post their responses for the world to see, and to comment on each other’s posts. That second requirement is, of course, my hat-tip to totalitarianist authority; I knew that organic conversation was unlikely to develop — because they’re not “digital natives”!

That summer session went great, and the blog played a big role in that. In the fall, I tried again, this time with two classes, one blog. It didn’t work as well. I couldn’t stay on top of it, posts got shorter and shorter and less and less thoughtful, interaction was forced, there were too many students talking at once. I’ll need to rethink it before I try again — but it was definitely worth the effort.

What’s the point?

A lot of professors are fed up. They’re fed up with the commodification of education, they’re fed up with being straight-jacketed in their teaching because the school paid good money for an expensive system and they’d damn well better use it, they’re fed up by the increasing emphasis on education as workplace training instead of citizen (or even human) training, and they’re fed up with the apparent inability of administrators to do anything with a positive educational effect.

And, frankly, we’re fed up with failing. No matter what grade you teach, whether that’s 3rd grade or upper-division uni, you’re getting classes, semester after semester, that are unprepared for grade-appropriate education. It’s a tough thing to decide how many of your students you’re never going to reach; a lot of us will try anything in the hopes that we can reduce that number to zero. Blogging, twittering, mashing up data, wiki-ing, and other web-enabled activities allow us to offer the kind of hands-on work that we know can have an effect — much more, anyway, than assigning a multiple-choice quiz through Blackboard!

I’m only skimming the surface here. bavatuesdays is doing a good job of keeping up to date on edupunk’s emergence (the link is to all posts tagged “edupunk”; pay special attention to The Glass Bees); a new Wikipedia entry will likely evolve as more is known about this newly discovered “tribe” of educators; and Leslie Madsen-Brooks offers a good overview of the meanings attached to “edupunk” so far at Blogher.

Website for “Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency” Conference Now Live

The website for the University of Chicago’s “Anthropology and Global Counter-Insurgency” conference is now available at You can read abstracts for each of the three panels and for the individual presentations. Notice that I’ve somehow been given the last word…

Update (4/18): I’ve just heard from the conference organizers that Honorary Savage Mind-at-Large Marshall Sahlins will be chairing the last session (my session). He was an early invite, but it had looked like he wasn’t going to make it to the conference.

Camelot Revisited: The Department of Defense’s New Plan for Academia

In a recent speech before the Association of American Universities, Defense Secretary Robert Gates described his ideas for a new military-academic partnership. The “Minerva Consortium”, as he calls his vision, would offer funding and research assistance for researchers across academia, in order to build up the military’s understanding of the world the operate in and create a pool of experts the military can draw on.

At first blush, it seems Gates — a former university president — has learned some of the lessons of the past that led to the meltdown of the Cold War military-academic partnership in the Vietnam years. Most notably, he has come down against secret research, and claims to encourage critical responses to Department of Defense programs and practices.

“Let me be clear that the key principle of all components of the Minerva Consortia will be complete openness and rigid adherence to academic freedom and integrity. There will be no room for ’sensitive but unclassified,’ or other such restrictions in this project,” Gates said. “We are interested in furthering our knowledge of these issues and in soliciting diverse points of view — regardless of whether those views are critical of the department’s efforts. Too many mistakes have been made over the years because our government and military did not understand — or even seek to understand — the countries or cultures we were dealing with.”

University presidents are, of course, thrilled at the prospect, dreaming of university coffers flush with DoD funds once again. But academic researchers, particularly anthropologists, should be very nervous about Gates’ plans. This kind of direct involvement in the funding and direction of academic research, even without the veil of secrecy that military-academic partnerships have often had in the past, threatens to powerfully influence the shape of our discipline — even for people who reject military funding.

Continue reading

A Special Offer and a Note About Blogging

Everyone’s arguing lately about Savage Minds — it’s “civil society” or lack thereof, its institutional position in the field of anthropology, it’s Euro-Americano-centrism, and so on. What’s missing, I think, is that while Savage Minds is a “place”, a “publication” of sorts, with some cohesiveness, it’s also a somewhat random collection of individual anthropologists bound together by no shared theoretical orientation, area specialization, political stance, or academic genealogy. I think it’s clear that we don’t always agree — in fact, we’ve disagreed quite sharply at times. More to the point, we not only blog about different stuff but we blog for different reasons.

For me, Savage Minds has always been a place to “mess around”, anthropologically speaking. A place to try out new ideas and thin hypotheses, a wall to throw stuff onto in order to see what sticks. A place where I could try my hand at the kind of argument Yehudi Cohen makes in Disappearance of the Incest Taboo (that’s an AnthroSource link, for those with access) and string together some ideas about the end of marriage, or muse about the moral underpinnings of anthropology. A place to incubate arguments and positions — and to receive feedback from my peers both inside and outside of the field.

It’s been invaluable to have this kind of forum, away from the main channel of academic thought — the journals and academic presses that are our disciplinary mainstream, even if many of them have lower readerships than Savage Minds. So valuable, in fact, that I felt it absolutely necessary to include Savage Minds in my “Acknowledgements” when I published Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War. Here’s what I wrote:

Over the years, two online communities have proven invaluable as both a source of new ideas and a place to rehearse my own fevered anthropological imaginings. To the members of ANTHRO-L (especially Ron Kephart, John McCreery, Richard Senghas, Jacob Lee, Richard Wilsnack, Anj Petto, Ray Scupin, Robert Lawless, Wade Tarzia, Lynn Manners, Martin Cohen, Bruce Josephson, Richley Crapo, Tom Kavanagh, Scott MacEachern, Mike Pavlik, Thomas Riley, and Phil Young) and my fellow Savage Minds, (Alex Golub, Kerim Friedman, Chris Kelty, Nancy LeClerc, Kathleen Lowery, Tak Watanabe, and newbies Thomas Erikson, Maia Green, and Thomas Strong) I offer both my gratitude and respect.

In the end, I’m not sure I could have written Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War without having had this forum to develop those ideas. The other Minds and the many people who comment here not only helped me to refine my thoughts on anthropology and its role(s) in society, but to rethink myself as an anthropologist.

By way of gratitude, then, I asked my publishers if I could offer at least a little something back to this community which has offered me so much. They responded enthusiastically, providing me with a discount code to offer Savage Minds readers. So here’s the deal:

  1. Order Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War from U Mich Press.
  2. At checkout, enter the coupon code: WAX08UMP
  3. Enjoy a 20% savings!

With the coupon code, the US price is $26.00 instead of the usual $32.50. As far as I know, this offer is not limited to US buyers, but I’m pretty sure the price of international shipping will eat up any savings over buying the book at full price locally. The coupon code expires on May 30, 2008.

For more information about the book, check out the review by Penny Howard at the Socialist Review. More reviews and information about the book will be posted at my personal site on the book page as it becomes available.

And if you’re not interested, for whatever reason (maybe your mother was cruel to you as a child?), that’s cool, too — I offer you as a member of the Savage Minds community my thanks.

But really, buy the book. Buy the book or I shall plug at you a second time! Tphptptptptp!

Anthropology and Global Counter-Insurgency Conference in Chicago, April 25-27

I’ve been invited to speak at a conference hosted by the University of Chicago later this month on the topic of “Anthropology and Global Counter-Insurgency”. Other speakers will include David Price and Hugh Gusterson, who are doing yeoman’s work on the issue. Despite the fact that my introduction to Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War discusses issues related to counter-insurgency at some length, it is because of my work here at Savage Minds that I’ve been invited to speak. Take that, traditional publishing models!

Here’s the skinny on the conference, from the organizers: Continue reading

The Road to Published: The Making of an Edited Volume (Part II)

If you haven’t already, read these first: Part I – In which I manage to get a publishing contract

Part Ia: Writing a Prospectus – In which I detail how I wrote my prospectus

You’d think that selling a publisher on your book idea would be the hard part.  Once you have a contract in hand, the rest should be easy, right? After all, in my case, the contributors had already presented their work, so they already had at least a draft to work from — all that’s left is for each person to clean up their draft, maybe expand a piece here and there, and tidy up their references.  Right?


Wrong.  You’ve heard the expression “herding cats” before, right? Well, I decided that getting an edited volume put together was a lot like herding glaciers.

What I’m saying is, it goes a bit slowly.

Part of the problem is the academic schedule.  Most academics are bound to a semester-by-semester schedule that a] changes frequently, and b] puts us through periods of intense work interspersed with periods of intense inactivity. During the school session, for all our good intentions, non-teaching projects tend to fall by the wayside.  Some academics are lucky: they have tenure, 1- or 2- class per semester teaching loads, and committee work they’ve learned how to blow off.  Those are not the kind of academics one would expect to find contributing to an edited volume by an unknown grad student.

Continue reading

The Road to Published: The Making of an Edited Volume (Part Ia — Writing a Prospectus)

I was going to save this for Part II, but when I looked back at my prospectus I decided that a deeper exegesis of what I had done might be useful — I know I floundered quite a bit figuring out what a prospectus should look like, what its tone should be, and so on. So here’s a blow-by-blow look at the prospectus I sent to Pluto Books. I’m not saying this is the best proposal ever, or that I didn’t make mistakes, or that I wouldn’t do things differently today — just that this one worked, for whatever that’s worth.

I talked before about the need for a prospectus that really sells your book proposal. As academics, we’re used to writing proposals that highlight ideas, theories, methods — none of which is all that useful in a prospectus. Although an editor is (hopefully) going to be interested in what a book says, that interest has to be subsidiary to what kind of interest the book will generate and how many copies they can sell. Every publisher has a minimum number they need to sell to break even on a book — your prospectus has to convince them that they’ll sell more than whatever that number is.

Here’s the prospectus I sent to Pluto Books in 2005, modified somewhat to remove personal information. Continue reading

The Road to Published: The Making of an Edited Volume (Part I)

book cover small A few people said they’d like to hear about the process of getting my forthcoming edited volume, Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War: The Influence of Foundations, McCarthyism and the CIA published. The road has been a long one, almost exactly five years from inception to (planned) publication, so I decided to take a few posts and describe in as much detail as I can recall how I’ve managed this.

This is not intended to be “an expert’s guide to getting published” — in fact, it is presented more as a non-expert’s guide. I’ve had to learn most of this as I went along, and I’m hoping that knowing how I managed to get the project completed might help others like me — first-time academic authors — to navigate the system just a little bit more easily.
Continue reading

New Research on Death Rates of Overweight People

A report published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association and reported on by the NY Times adds weight to my “thin hypothesis” of well over a year ago: death rates for overweight people in 2004 were lower — 100,000 lower — than for “normal” people.

Linking, for the first time, causes of death to specific weights, they report that overweight people have a lower death rate because they are much less likely to die from a grab bag of diseases that includes Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, infections and lung disease. And that lower risk is not counteracted by increased risks of dying from any other disease, including cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

As a consequence, the group from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute reports, there were more than 100,000 fewer deaths among the overweight in 2004, the most recent year for which data were available, than would have expected if those people had been of normal weight.

One expert, a Dr. JoAnn Manson from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, comments critically that “Health extends far beyond mortality rates… [The public needs to look at] the big picture in terms of health outcomes.” However, that’s what Health at Any Size advocates ave been advocating for year, rather than the simple-minded focus on BMI sorting people into “overweight” and “underweight” categories and automatically assuming these were “unhealthy” — and that the “normals” were “healthier”.

This new report gnaws at the seams of this construction, calling into question the meaning of normalcy and healthiness; although Dr. Manson and her “fat is bad” family are correct that some people experience quality of life issues (another huge construction), many don’t other than people — including doctors — pointing at them and yelling “fat bad, skinny good, you ugly and lazy and nasty”! Meanwhile, I think most people would rather not die this year, and would consider dying to be a sign of poor health (and something that also has some quality of life issues…).

AAA Executive Board Resolution on HTS

I didn’t see that anyone had posted this yet, and though people might be interested in the AAA Executive Board’s resolution against the involvement of anthropology in HTS. From the conclusion:

In the context of a war that is widely recognized as a denial of human rights and based on faulty intelligence and undemocratic principles, the Executive Board sees the HTS project as a problematic application of anthropological expertise, most specifically on ethical grounds. We have grave concerns about the involvement of anthropological knowledge and skill in the HTS project. The Executive Board views the HTS project as an unacceptable application of anthropological expertise.

The Executive Board affirms that anthropology can and in fact is obliged to help improve U.S. government policies through the widest possible circulation of anthropological understanding in the public sphere, so as to contribute to a transparent and informed development and implementation of U.S. policy by robustly democratic processes of fact-finding, debate, dialogue, and deliberation. It is in this way, the Executive Board affirms, that anthropology can legitimately and effectively help guide U.S. policy to serve the humane causes of global peace and social justice.

Update: This seems to be the official link.

Pluto Press and U. of Michigan Retain Business Ties

I’ve been somewhat absently following the story of U. of Michigan Press’ reconsideration of its relationship with UK-based Pluto Press, since my forthcoming book Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War is being released on Pluto Press and the loss of an American distributor would limit its availability in the country that it most directly deals with.  So it’s with some relief that I see that Michigan has decided to continue its relationship with Pluto Press. 

The issue was set off by Continue reading

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