Anthropology, Militarization, and Canadian Responses: CASCA-AES Conference, Vancouver, 13-16 May, 2009

I will be participating in the upcoming joint meeting of the Canadian Anthropology Society-Société Canadienne d’Anthropologie (CASCA) and the American Ethnological Society (AES), held this year at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, 13-16 May. For those who are interested in further discussion and debate concerning the militarization of anthropology, the role of anthropologists in counterinsurgency and intelligence analysis, the Human Terrain System and the Minerva Research Initiative, as well as developing possible Canadian responses, either by forming an independent body or working through CASCA, then you might consider attending the following two sessions if you will be in Vancouver.

Friday, 15 May 2009:
2:00pm to 3:30pm

100. The Use of Culture and Anthropology in Counter-insurgency and Peacekeeping Operations

Organizer(s) / Organisation: Gregory Feldman (U of British Columbia)
Chair / Présidence: Gregory Feldman, U of British Columbia
Room / Pièce: Anthropology and Sociology 207

Culture, Apartheid and War: Case Studies from South Africa and Israel
Richard Lee, U of Toronto

‘To Change Entire Societies’: Counterinsurgency Cults, ‘Nation-building’ and Anthropology
Roberto González, San Jose State U

“Beware of Those Bearing Gifts”: Anthropology and AFRICOM
Catherine Besteman, Colby College

Addressing the Skeptics: Ethnography and Critiquing the Rationale of the Human Terrain System
Gregory Feldman, U of British Columbia

“Useless Anthropology”: Strategies for Dealing with the Militarization of the Academy
Maximilian Forte, Concordia U

Then, the following day, and with the support and participation of at least some on the CASCA Executive Committee, there will be an open discussion to consider possible responses to these forces encroaching on anthropology.

Saturday, 16 May, 2009:
9:00am to 10:30am

111. Open Discussion: Canadian Responses to the Militarization of Anthropology

Organizer(s) / Organisation: Maximilian Forte (Concordia U)
Chair / Présidence: Maximilian Forte, Concordia U
Room / Pièce: Buchanan D 218

Opening Remarks: Maximilian Forte, Concordia U


An article of mine in CASCA’s newsletter, Culture (Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall 2008, pages 6 through 10) titled, “Militarizing Anthropology,” was used to provide some background for the open discussion session above. All are invited, and I will keep my opening remarks to a minimum.

6 thoughts on “Anthropology, Militarization, and Canadian Responses: CASCA-AES Conference, Vancouver, 13-16 May, 2009

  1. Hi Max,

    I had seen these sessions in the lineup and they should be interesting. I wish I could get out there for them, but….. .

    One issue I hope that you will raise is the question of use of disciplinary writings in light of the use of open source material by the military. In and of itself, this is one of the most “tricky” areas, at least when it comes to discussing the ethics of involvement. I would argue, for example, that saying “Oh, we can’t stop them from misusing our material”, complete with hand wringing while publishing goes on as before, is a pretty close analog to the “Guns don’t kill people” line taken by the gun industry in the US.

  2. I’m very confused by your website. Both in the Open Anthropology website and in the the associated blog, you constantly use iconics that appear to advocated violence. The use of a machete next to the “May Day 2009: International Workers’ Day and Montreal’s Festival of Anarchy” has a very clear and specific meaning to anyone who has studied the atrocities in Rwanda or the writings of Che Guevara. The introduction video to your main website is a horrifying montage of guns, edged weapons, and perpetrators of violence.

    But with a post like this, you clearly oppose the profession of violence. Is violence somehow acceptable when practiced by people you like? Are the murders commited by protestor acceptable but murders commited by governments not acceptable?

  3. You are right: I am not a pacifist. I would advocate pacifism where peaceful means appear to be the most productive, credible, and viable means, which in part relies on those in power having at least some good will, some tolerance, and some desire to achieve a resolution. Also, it depends on the particular dispute, cause, or conflict in question: I don’t see how I would advocate violence for the sake of a 2% pay rise, for example.

    Unfortunately, the situation where those in power are willing to listen and try to absorb and reconcile as many conflicts as possible is very rare, and it is becoming ever more rare in the contemporary world when even “liberal democracies” seek to stifle dissent, to regulate opposition, engage in torture, secret detentions, and unprovoked warfare. In such cases, the violence of the oppressed is not murder, any more than the violence of someone being savagely assaulted is not murder but rather legitimate self-defense. However, it really has to be self-defense.

    I think a great deal can be achieved by resistance movements in limiting themselves to the destruction of property, as well as engaging in symbolic acts of violence that come with no death toll — not that I see my job as being to “disarm” those on the losing end of violence, and states in most cases have something approaching a monopoly of the means of mass violence, and they are ready to use it (witness the laws that permit them to do so). Under no circumstances can I see violence against innocent civilians, noncombatants, doctors, or journalists, to list a few, as being justifiable by any party. The resistance movement that will behead a journalist, just because he happens to be American and Jewish, is a resistance movement that essentially screws its own cause.

    So you have to be very careful when suggesting that someone endorses murder, because it is usually far more complicated than that.

    As for the machete, or cutlass: it is also a critical instrument of labour in many countries. To define it as an instrument of violence is to take a kind of sheltered North American view.

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