News: Militarizing the Social Sciences and Humanities in Canada

Posted on 5 June 2009 by

As has been anticipated in previous posts over the past year, the drafting of social science and humanities research for the purpose of Canadian counterinsurgency has finally surfaced in a public call to researchers (not necessarily restricted to Afghanistan either, since the early release of Canada’s counterinsurgency manual also directed its attention at Haiti, where Canadian Forces formed part of the occupying power after the coup against the democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide, as well as against Mohawk groups in Canada). “Several academics” in Canada, among others, “who have been intimately involved with the war in Afghanistan” spent time with a journalist for Maclean’s Magazine (their identities were concealed), called for better counterinsurgency operations. Any pretense that Canadian Armed Forces are in Afghanistan for the purpose of peacekeeping and development has long been shattered, turned more into motifs that form part of the propaganda repertoire of counterinsurgency.

A message has been circulated on at least one academic list that we know of for certain, and it involves the Canadian Armed Forces issuing a call for social science research to aid in counterinsurgency (COIN) — not “peacekeeping”, since the language used draws from the COIN lexicon and, more importantly, the aim is to overcome “adversaries”. Counterinsurgency has indeed achieved greater interest in Canadian public discussions, since the early release of the Canadian Counterinsurgency Manual (download here; also of interest is its accompanying document on “information operations” — download here). (More news reports and commentaries on the Canadian Counterinsurgency Manual: Jon Elmer, “Canada’s Counterinsurgency Strategy;” Colin Freeze, “In-flight reading: “Canada’s counter-insurgency manual;” Colin Freeze, “Know thy military: The Canadian Forces reading list;” and, 194 entries in Canadian National Defence journals on counterinsurgency.)

This appears to be a smaller-scale Canadian substitute to the U.S. Minerva Research Initiative, and perhaps one means for preparing for the entry of Minerva. In a time of reduced state funding for the social sciences and humanities, and the increased drive by universities to supplement their operating budgets by pushing academics to seek more external grants, one can expect that at least a few researchers will take the bait.

No consideration is given to the fact that when social scientists are perceived to be agents of the deadliest arm of the state, with clear goals of domination and subordination, the future of social research is jeopardized by mistrust and antagonism toward academics. In addition, if researchers are seen as instruments of a militarist state, their own lives are ultimately placed in jeopardy, as well the reputation of their respective disciplines and their universities. Doing no harm is a fundamental principle of Canadian research, and the weaponizing of research runs counter to that — so that some fights will have to occur at the level of university ethics review boards, at the level of academic associations, and in the national media.


Category: Research and Development (R&D)
Region of Delivery: Ontario
Region of Opportunity: [blank]
Agreement Type: NONE
Tender Type: Letter of Interest (LOI)
Estimated Value : [blank]
Solicitation Method: [blank]

* blanks are in the original*

Notice Description

Trade Agreement: NONE
Tendering Procedures: [blank]
Attachment: None
Competitive Procurement Strategy: N/A – P&A/LOI Only
Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement: No
Nature of Requirements: [blank]
Request for Letters of Interest

On the Possibility of Investigating

“The Impact of Narratives and Poetry on Identity”

The Canadian Forces needs to be able to carry out more effective influence operations to win the hearts and minds of its adversary populations to be successful in current and future conflicts. Significant scientific and technological breakthroughs in the fields of influence and persuasion research are needed to achieve a predictive theory of influence operations that would allow decision makers to evaluate the consequences of their influence operations to plan such operations.

One of the key axioms of much of social science is that people’s behavior (including that of our adversaries) is not random. Social scientists believe that people’s actions are motivated by their goals, beliefs, and desires among other factors. Social psychologists argue that people’s beliefs about themselves (their self concept) are especially crucial to explaining their behavior (Tajfel & Turner 1986). People’s self concepts include their understanding of multiple groups they belong to (their “social identity”) as well as their knowledge of themselves (their “personal identity”). Which of a person’s various social identities is salient at any given time depends on the social context and a person’s mental state. Once a group identity becomes salient, the person is more likely to engage in behavior stereotypical to that group.

While compared to their beliefs about other people and the world, people’s beliefs about themselves appear relatively more stable over time; people’s identities are not static but evolve throughout their lives. Although some people may undergo dramatic changes in their core beliefs, similar to St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, (especially at crucial phase change points in their lives such as puberty), most changes to people’s beliefs are more subtle and may be a result of a cumulative process involving small changes happening in response to information received over a long period of time. We believe that it is crucial to understand both these types of processes. Furthermore, we need to understand how these changes happen as a response to various types of informational messages including narrative and poetic information.

Even though traditionally influenced researchers have paid more attention to persuasive arguments at the cost of narrative and poetic information, it can be argued that much of the information we receive everyday is in narrative form (Cin et al. 2004). This includes events we observe firsthand in our daily lives and process as connected sequences of events, the stories that we hear from others about what happened to them or to others, newspaper, radio and television stories of actual events that happened or are predicted to happen in the future, commercial advertisements, rumors passed through the word of mouth, and literary works which contain elements of narratives and poetry, theatrical performances, movies, soap operas, and funny YouTube videos. Understanding precise processes responsible for changes in people’s identities in response to the narrative and poetic information is crucial to developing a predictive theory of social influence that will be useful to the Canadian Forces since identity conflicts are thought to underlie many of the current and future conflicts around the globe. Some social psychologists have even argued that violent response by insurgents may be a coping response to perceived threats to their social identity (Wohl & Branscombe 2009; Taylor 2002). In a series of studies, Wohl and Branscombe found that when a group of people feel that their group’s existence is under threat, they feel collective angst. Collective angst in turn prompts people to engage in or support actions that attempt to harm those who threaten their group’s future. This underscores the importance of understanding interactions between narrative information and identity.

This Letter of Interest (LOI) seeks feedback from researchers and industry in expressing their thoughts and abilities in researching improved models of how narrative and poetic information affects identities of a population.

DRDC Toronto is interested in learning of theoretical work involving mathematical and/or computer modeling of the information transmission processes, as well as experimental work with human subjects to better understand the socio-cognitive processes involved. In particular, we are interested in work that aims to investigate the role of varying a number of independent variables on the identity of the receiver of information. These include the personality attributes of the receiver, the relationship between the messenger who communicates the information to the receiver, and the personality attributes of the messenger, the personality attributes of the claimed original source of the message and the relationship of the source to the receiver, the type of the message and the medium through which the message is conveyed.

1. Receiver (R): Is the receiver a high or a low identifying member of the group GR? What is the status of the receiver within GR? Does the receiver have a well or ill formed personal and social identity? Does the receiver have a high or low self-esteem?

2. Messenger (M): What are R’s perceptions of M’s identification with GM, of M’s status within GM, of M’s social status in GM, and of M’s self esteem? Does R perceive that GM = GR, if not, what is the relationship between GR and GM? Does one have higher social status than another?

3. Original Source (O): What are R’s perceptions of O’s identification with GO, of O’s status within GO, of O’s social status in GO, and of O’s self esteem? Does R perceive that GM = GR, if not, what is the relationship between GR and GM? Does one have higher social status than another?

4. Medium: What is the medium through which the message is conveyed (word of mouth, broadcast message)?

5. Message Type: Is the message a fictional narrative? A poem? A series of logical arguments? Is it conformant with R’s existing beliefs about R’s identity or contradictory with R’s beliefs about its identity?

Responses to this invitation should be submitted, as a Letter of Interest (LOI) on or before 9 June 2009 to the following:

Scientific Authority

Dr Afzal Upal
Defence Scientist
Acting Group Leader Influence and Effects
Adversarial Intent Section
Defence R&D Canada – Toronto
1133 Sheppard Avenue West
P.O. Box 2000
Toronto, ON
M3M 3B9
Telephone: (416) 635-2000, extension 3222
Fax: (416) 635-2184

[MF: For more on Afzal Upal, see his website, noting his ties to the U.S. defense industry and military-related research institutes, and his blog for LSE's International Cognition and Culture Institute.]


1- Cin, S., Zanna, M. & Fong, G. (2004) Narrative persuasion and overcoming resistance, In Resistance and Persuasion, Knowles & Linn (Eds), Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

2- Tajfel, H. & Turner, J. C. (1986). The social identity theory of inter-group behavior. In S. Worchel & L. W. Austin (Eds.), Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Chigago [sic]: Nelson-Hall.

3- Taylor, D.M. (2002). The quest for identity: From ethnic minorities to Generation X. New York: Praeger Publications.

4- Wohl, M. & Branscombe, N. (2009) Group threat, collective angst, and ingroup forgiveness for the war in Iraq, Political Psychology, 30(2), 193-217.

Delivery Date: 31/07/2009

The Crown retains the right to negotiate with suppliers on any procurement.

Documents may be submitted in either official language of Canada.

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Previous posts of relevance:

Canadian Responses to the Militarization and Securitization of Anthropology: Report #2 from the CASCA-AES Conference in Vancouver

National Security Research and the Geopolitical Context of Knowledge Production

Henry A. Giroux: “Against the Militarized Academy”

Minerva and the Terrorism Industry: “The rule of experts as a means to covert imperial rule”