Misrepresentation: Prostituting “Open Anthropology” to the Military

Open to the Military

For those following the current conflict between the Open Anthropology Project (OAP) and the Open Anthropology Cooperative (OAC), outlined in these three posts (1, 2, 3) and the extensive commentary that follows them, readers will know that one of the key actors in this has been Keith Hart, who established the OAC and remains in control of its administration and policy. Noticed repeatedly by some readers in addition to myself, including at least one in the Moving Anthropology Student Network (which has actively followed debates about anthropologists supporting the military in the “war on terror”), is Keith Hart’s own positions on the use of his network, the OAC, by the members of the U.S. military in particular and their supporting academics.

While MASN has actively followed the biggest public debate of current anthropology, Keith Hart’s The Memory Bank returns the following result when searching for “human terrain system”: “Not Found. Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.” The broader term, “military” also does not bring up results pertaining to the debate around the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS), nor will you find a single mention of Montgomery McFate, the anthropology Ph.D. at the top of HTS, anywhere on Hart’s blog.

So when Keith Hart, in a discussion on “What is Open Anthropology?” on the OAC, writes, “Feelings run high on this issue and I know which side I am on,” some of us wanted to know: what side does he stand on, especially since he has essentially done what Johannes Fabian has done so far, and that is to effectively say: “no comment.”

Hart says, “There is a vigorous debate about the use of anthropology by the military and David Price hosts an active discussion group here on that topic.” David Price happens to be in the OAC because, to my regret, I invited him there, as well as Hugh Gusterson.

In a remarkably pointed display of his intent, Hart writes: “Max Forte was part of the founding group of OAC, but subsequently left in response to disagreement over the theory and practice of ‘open anthropology’. His site is one of the most prominent in our field. There is obviously room for argument about what ‘open anthropology’ is. How could it be otherwise?”

While Hart acknowledges the disagreement, and my leaving, Abimbola writing on behalf of the OAC seems to struggle with this recognition: now, it is that they were to derive their mission statement from the one to be found here, and Abimbola disingenuously adds, “We are not aware when this offer was rescinded or other conditions put on it” which suggests a lingering desire to link (my comment continues here). Let’s be clear: they have no intention of deriving anything meaningful from the purpose of the OAP, only in claiming the field — Hart calls it “our field” — and making it seem like an extension of “open anthropology,” which as a project gave rise to a phrase with a specific meaning that only came into currency thanks to this site. And no, it’s not all about “open access.”

The part of Hart’s intervention that I want the reader to focus on is this:

Recently there was some concern when a serving soldier in the US army joined the OAC. This was controversial in view of the advanced political argument in which Forte, Price and Marshall Sahlins (reprising his active role in contesting the Vietnam war) have taken the lead. We quickly decided that we would not exclude anyone on grounds of status alone, preferring to control anti-social behaviour when it occurs. We therefore advocate a network for the practice of open anthropology that, on the religious analogy, would be a broad church, not a sect.

First, note that my name appears in the list of critics, first even (even though I have done nowhere near the legwork of the other two). This tells us at what Hart is aiming. Second, ostensibly oblivious to concerns about being used for recruitment or propaganda purposes, Hart strikes an unusual note of tolerance — Hart has been, and continues to be, intolerant only with respect to those to the left of him politically in the network. Third, and this should read as a warning to radical critics, no “anti-social behaviour” will be tolerated, now that the military is part of the social. In fact, as we have seen over the last few days, ugly behaviour has been abundantly tolerated when aimed in ways that Hart finds pleasure with, thus presumably not anti- his social. Fourth, Hart then states that “the practice of open anthropology” is one akin to a “broad church, not a sect.” Leaving aside the dubious distinction between church and sect, Hart’s view is of a liberal democratic commons that is explicitly rejected on this blog.

You are welcome

Having never criticized the military, having never criticized the work of anthropologists in counterinsurgency, Hart is more than just a tolerant host to Eric R. Price and Don Smith of the HTS (who is also a co-author of “The Human Terrain System: A CORDS for the 21st Century“). He is a very welcoming host, when he writes to Price:

Welcome to the OAC! A former student, old friend and regular participant in my online ventures for 15 years is Charles Kirke, also a member here. He is a serving colonel in the British army and has recently published a book bringing his military experience and social anthropology together.

(Note #1: Price was also warned by Salzman about any lingering leftist anthropologists remaining in the OAC: “anthropologists tend to take a leftist view of the world, with all that that entails, including negative attitudes toward the military but not necessary toward their adversaries.” As I have argued countless times, I do not view the Taleban as my “adversaries”: neither I, nor the country I live in, was ever attacked by them. Rather, the reverse is true.)

(Note #2: Among Kirke’s specializations are: “working in electronic warfare, surveillance technologies, and human factors.”)

It is a curious fact that when Kirke joined the OAC, on the same day I did, right at its inception, that this “old friend” got no welcome from Hart, when virtually everyone else was personally and warmly welcomed by him. Perhaps the time was not right for playing his hand.

Anyone who has had any experience in the debate between anthropologists and the military will tell you that these are very insidious individuals. Not a single conference, not a single panel at a conference, that addresses them goes without their participation. Not even when the panel takes place in Canada do they fail to send someone from Fort Leavenworth (as noted here). These three persons in the OAC — Kirke, Price, and Smith — have also inserted themselves in some of the key groups and discussions of concern: what is open anthropology, resisting the militarization of anthropology, and the anthropology of Afghanistan.

What Open Anthropology is, and what it is not for

I said in my first post about this conflict that if Hart had deliberately planned this, I could not envision a slicker heist. After all, this was the same Keith Hart who, in response to my post about “Single-Cell Resistance” (no broad church there), heaped warm praises and flattery. He quickly acquired it for himself, devoting a post to it on his blog. Yet, there is this one sentence in that post of mine concerning the leaders of some resistance movements: “it is sometimes the higher ups who are the ones to worry about most.” I also wrote: “and once you get the notion into your mind that the leader of the movement may be a collaborator, you can almost never again work in an organized movement.” Silly me, forgetting my own words for a moment.

The very first sentence in my project description, to which I adhere as have my collaborators, reads: “OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY in its most basic sense is a project of decolonization…”. Really, you cannot miss it, it is the first sentence. I have also written about the project’s “pronounced anti-imperialist orientation” (link). I have gone out on a limb to put this into public practice. The current slanderous ire of milbloggers, who would like to see me fired, and three death threats so far this year, might also be enough to suggest that. (Also, show me another anthropology blogger who gets a veiled threat in writing on his blog from a Lt. Colonel in the Pentagon.)

One might begin to understand, if one has read and tried to follow, why I might be just a little defensive when it comes to having my project, the putative link to my project, and the identity of the project, sold out to my actual adversaries, from so-called “fellow” anthropologists. The problem with the title of this blog is not the word “Open;” it’s the word “Anthropology.”

What Open Anthropology is still about — like it or not I am still here and won’t let you ignore that fact — in the shortest summary ever:

(a) transcending disciplinary boundaries
(b) working outside of the walls of institutionalism and professionalism
(c) bringing anthropology out into public engagement
(d) bringing knowledge of alternative anthropologies, by non-anthropologists, back into the academy
(e) engaging in open source ethnography — collaboration, commentary, using materials freely available online and intended for public consumption. My partnerships with Guanaguanare, Leslie-Ann Brown, and Roi Kwabena have been examples of some of these aspects. My more recent collaborations with John Stanton and Jamil Hanifi, are other examples.

While I now think that the leading mistake has been to feature the word “anthropology” in the title, and to associate in various ways with anthropology bloggers, there is one thing that remains to be repeated:

Neither Keith Hart nor the OAC speak for this project, do not represent it and the people involved with it, and should not mislead anyone into thinking there is any kind of link whatsoever.

Cease and Desist

Please, I ask those commenting on this subject to take the time to inform themselves, ask questions (of themselves as well), and not immediately jump in and say this is all a debate about a “name” (in actuality, they mean “words,” but they have not thought of the difference), not about who owns “open” (no one does), or a pissing contest over “property.”

I have certainly made mistakes in this whole affair, I even noted some of them above. However, I mostly do not agree that I have made the specific mistakes that some think I have made, which are their perceptions based on putting words in my mouth. Yes, anthropologists do that, with remarkable ease and frequency it turns out.

The debate is about fraud, about misrepresentation, about political honesty and political responsibilities. Currently, members of the OAC are being duped into thinking that they are about to vote on a name, in a statement that first talks about linking to a project. They should be asked if they want to link to this project. If not, they would not want its identifying label. It’s simple — don’t confuse people who are too lazy to ask questions and investigate further.

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20 thoughts on “Misrepresentation: Prostituting “Open Anthropology” to the Military

  1. […] Misrepresentation: Prostituting “Open Anthropology” to the Military « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY openanthropology.wordpress.com/2009/08/31/misrepresentation-prostituting-open-anthropology-to-the-military – view page – cached #OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY RSS Feed OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY » Misrepresentation: Prostituting “Open Anthropology” to the Military Comments Feed OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY Introducing the beginnings of the Open Anthropology Project Response: The OAC’s Name — From the page […]

  2. “It’s simple – don’t confuse people who are too lazy to ask questions and investigate further.”

    ???…But mijo, as has been demonstrated throughout history, the people who are too lazy to ask questions and investigate further are there to constitute the slime upon which Cocker’s scunts proceed. Ignominious, though it may be, it remains the part that they are destined to play in this circus.

    I do think that it is good that you courageously brought all of this out into the open and that you have presented all the facts known to you so that there is an intact archived record. The public record, as you noted in an earlier post, was mangled by a certain overworked Delete key.

    For the moment, I’d say rest this case here and wish for each man an end and a legacy as illustrious as his true motives.

    You, my friend, will wheel and come again…Sans humanité!

  3. Hi Max! I really like your site as I can tell that you are serious about the subject. Concerning its name, now that you “think that the leading mistake has been to feature the word ‘anthropology’ in the title, and to associate in various ways with anthropology bloggers”, why don’t you change the name of your project instead? Thank you again for your words.

  4. Hello Max,
    I won’t say anything about the comment above besides cautioning you about accepting such advice.
    Personally speaking I think that this post is the one that was needed. You don’t really need to say more. You buried them and you carefully engraved a fine tombstone for them too. It doesn’t matter what they do now. IMHO this is over.
    See my next email Max and thanks again for this highly illuminating effort.

    PS – great song!

  5. Max,

    Insidious, eh? I haven’t been to a conference since I attended the Southern Anthropolocial Society’s convention in 1988 to present a teacher’s paper on square dancing and feminism in the South, but somehow, because I am a member of the Armed Forces, I am some insidious threat? To what? Good order and discipline perhaps? Sounds just like the stupid arguments the military makes about LGBT members doesn’t it?

    For someone so enlightened, you’re pretty quick to lump me right into your biased perceptions of a group. Would that be the same as me assuming that if you were a Muslim that you’d be a terrorist too? Pretty ethnocentric (in a way) to assume that because I’ve served in the military that I somehow a dumb brute and you are much more righteous than I.

    Let me make something clear. You don’t know anything about me, about my political views, my philosophical views, and certainly about my motivations for signing up on the OAC site, so don’t go painting me as something I’m not. If you’d like to discuss that, fine, but for now, you are the one who’s misrepresentin’ here, when it comes to who I am and my purpose for inquiry.


    Eric R. Price

  6. I agree with you, Donald. It is inevitable that Harpies (they who snatch) will befoul whatever they touch. I am confident though that Forte will come up with a solution ALL BY HIMSELF, just as he came up with the concept “Open Anthropology” ALL BY HIMSELF. This has been shockingly illuminating.
    G. Murray

  7. I have the impression from the continuing torrent of accusations and insults on OAC now particularly from one ignoble Michael Fischer that in addition to their lack of self-respect and honesty they fully intend to pile public condemnation and opprobrium on their selves. At any time that I have seen insults on this site, they were insults being returned – insults provoked by their insults because their first instinct was to go mean and personal. But this continues. Rarely have I seen such brazenly twisted mentalities among anthropologists in one place like OAC. They are deeply embarrassing to anyone who would call oneself ‘anthropologist’ and I can fully sympathize with your need for distance. I recant absolutely nothing about my earlier promise to build files on those persons and I thank them for unwisely sharing so much about what they really are as persons.

  8. I looked on OAC and I don’t think David Price and Hugh Gusterson have logged on in months, but I am suprised that no one has made more of how bizzar it is that David Price’s son Eric was recruited by Montgomery McFate to join HTS.

  9. Sometimes I wish you were a little less open Max. I just read through your posts on the Ayala trial (I know, I’m behind the times), and some of that back-and-forth commentary gave me a headache. Two murders took place. One murderer was murdered. The other got no jail time, 5 years probation. My homeless, bipolar, alcoholic, ex-lawyer uncle got 5 years probation for not paying child support, at a time when his children were already grown.

    I’m still not sure, though, that Eric should be shunned simply because he served in the military. Could you elaborate?

  10. Thank you everyone for the comments. Stacie, your last question connects with a lot written on this blog, my answer to you is not a simple, “no, he should not be shunned.” Price is way off the mark, and he seems to think he just finished reading a post about himself. Elsewhere he says he suffered “insults” here — a bit of hyperbole never hurt the drama. Funny thing is, now that he has a place in the OAC…why is he here? It must be that insidious thing.

    The reason why I wanted to post right now, at the end of the day, is just to indicate that I am not saying anything more about the OAC, simply because I have said everything that needed to be said, and I am not going to keep the whole thing spinning for days and weeks. They might want to, and that’s their choice. I don’t care about their decisions, their vote, whatever, they’ll do what they want, and if they do the wrong thing then these posts will still be here to hang around their necks. This blog is now getting back to its scheduled work.

    Those of you who were new visitors, we have each other’s e-mail addresses now, and we can continue to converse via e-mail. Those who need to say something, now or in the future, you can always contact me at:

    (that’s if you can stomach writing to someone who actually bought the domain name, lol, a little jab at the property-fixated who misunderstood this debate from Day 1)

    Thanks again.

  11. I was compelled to reopen comments on this post.

    First, I had to confirm with David Price if any part of what “Qwerty Bob” above said was true, regarding his relation to Eric Price. David got back to me, saying it was cracking him up with laughter. Eric Price is not David Price’s son. David’s two sons are both teens, and apparently not of interest to Montgomery McFate.

    Second, Eric Price himself wanted to continue the discussion, and he can now.

  12. This is a section of the email I sent to Stacie last night in response to her questions, with some parts added, others deleted:

    (a) It’s about the right to choose one’s company; if some feel that just because someone is in the military they should not be shunned, I ask why they should be embraced and involved, or why should anyone else for that matter? What are your boundaries? How do you form partnerships?

    (b) I strongly oppose state military institutions as such, and would love to see them wiped off the face of human history — it’s an ideal, but once you think that way you can’t just do an about face and welcome people who chose to enlist voluntarily as a career option, especially if their intentions remain unknown, and if they have not taken up a path like Iraq Veterans Against the War.

    (c) Within anthropology, and specifically American anthropology, there are already too many ties that bind academics with military institutions; the latter are starting on a path of monopolizing and accruing everything to themselves. I want to see an autonomous zone. And I have a relatively autonomous zone right here, the problem was with the OAC’s original pretense that it would be somehow a partner of this site.

    (d) In Price’s case, we don’t actually know what he may or may not be doing in the network, because network email is private. Anyway, this is now the business of the OAC. My mentioning Price was simply to show Hart’s reaction to Price, and more importantly, the details that Hart shared in the process about his own partners. Do you know the phrase, “Keep your friends close, and keep your enemies closer”? Once the enemy left the network, Hart could feel free to announce his long standing friendship with Kirke.

    Lastly for now, “keep your friends close, and keep your enemies closer” may also be the thinking that informs some military people who join a network. Certainly, having someone who specializes in web warfare and electronic surveillance, in an electronic network, should…maybe raise an eyebrow or two? No?

    There is also the insistent fetishistic obsession in American culture with the military, the military uniform, “service” (in the military). To see every single corner occupied by people sharing photos of their military service, being praised for their service, getting special attention for it, simply reinforces the militarization of thought, practice, customs.

    Those are my concerns.

  13. Thanks for alerting me to this. Indeed, I can confirm that the above comments are just a joke, as far as I know I’m not related to Eric R. Price and don’t know anything about him or his work (though I am tempted to claim classic monster movie actor Vincent Price and star of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Jonathan Pryce as my sons even though they are older than me).

  14. Max,

    Thanks for reopening the comments and allowing me to share with the group what I shared with you. I wanted to just clarify a couple of things regarding my post and your response.

    The reason I came back to your site was to try and understand what the naming controversy at OAC was all about – to hear your side, so to speak. That seemed like the fair thing to do. Sorry if that took you by surprise.

    Yes, I am well aware that the post was not about me. The point of my posting was essentially that whatever your beef with Keith Hart and OAC, I don’t want to be used as a bludgeon in your conflict with them – especially if the way to do that is by labeling me according to the larger group to which I belong. If you say that I shouldn’t be shunned, then why criticize the fact that he welcomed me? I am not here to represent the military or government and I’m not here to spy. I am only at OAP or OAC because I’m trying to deepen my understanding so that I can share that understanding with my students on down the road as we try to get them to think critically. Many of the young officers in my school now will be the senior leaders of the Army in 15 – 20 years. How we shape them now will have a tremendous impact on how they view the world, advise policy-makers, and resolve the conflicts into which they are thrust.

    Just as an aside, I’ve never worked with HTS and didn’t really know anything about them (other than they were forming) until my recent return from Iraq. When I was doing some research a few weeks back, I stumbled across the ‘Concerned Anthropologists’ letter, and fired off a note to Hugh Gusterson that was more terse than I would intend given my further reading on HTS overall. I’ve read the concerns posted here, as well as comments and articles from David Price and Hugh Gusterson. Overall, I can say now that I agree with many of the concerns about the program, especially with regard to collection in the field. I will tell you though that the requests from the field for this type of capability come from an honest desire by leaders in the field to better understand the environment (the so-called human terrain) so that we can reduce mistakes, complete our mission, and get out. I cannot vouch for the government’s intentions in Iraq, but I can tell you that most in the military just want to reach a conclusion that allows us to leave soonest but without having the country collapse after we’re gone (otherwise, what was the point of our being there?). I’m not arguing for HTS (or the war for that matter). I’m only telling you that the intentions of those in the field who seek such a capability are noble (even if they might be wrong-headed and founded on old imperialistic, ethnocentric beliefs).

    When I read the postings here, I feel agitated, but I also feel educated, especially after reflecting on the comments for a while. I don’t agree with everything said here, but I certainly agree to your right to say it and I am happy to have my notions challenged. How else do we learn and grow?

    Thanks again for opening the comments and allowing me to respond. I suspect that I know what the general attitude is towards the military by many who visit here (and again, maybe not – maybe I am the one generalizing now). I’d only offer that 1) the military is not a monolithic organization whose every member is exactly the same as all others, and 2) the military is an instrument of policy – we each have to do our best to implement policy in ways consistent with our ethics and morals



    P.S. I was also confused about the supposed relationship between David Price and I. I thought perhaps I had missed some sort of inside joke.

  15. Eric,

    I know Max do not want that story to spin forever, but as the subject is slightly changing (at least in appearance), I’d like to offer the following, and please do not take it as personal attack, these are arguments :

    “2) the military is an instrument of policy”

    I’d rather say the military is an instrument of people in power, with deep connexion to the arm industry, whose first concern is not “policy”, if you see what I mean.

    “we each have to do our best to implement policy in ways consistent with our ethics and morals”

    Then, given that you seem to be well informed, why did you accept to “serve” in Irak, while you should have known that war was illegal and illegitimate ?


  16. Frenchguy,
    Excellent question. If you will indulge me for a moment, I’ll comment on Max’s note to Stacie first, which may shed some light on my answer to you.

    (a) It’s about the right to choose one’s company… – I could not agree more, Max. I am certainly willing to leave if you don’t want me here (in fact I did, and only came back because of the OAC naming discussion). I can’t tell you why Keith welcomed me to the OAC other than perhaps because a diversity of opinion/experience might add to the quality of the conversation – certainly not the case in all instances, given the trolling I’ve seen on many different sites, but I do think that diversity enlivens the discourse.

    (b) I strongly oppose state military institutions as such… – That is indeed an ideal, and though I would prefer that we had no need for armies and navies, humanity hasn’t shown any sign of being ready for that. In fact, that seems to be the price of societal growth beyond the tribe as competition and conflict remain. I, on the other hand, easily embrace those who enlist voluntarily, probably because I project upon them my same ideals of duty and service. I joined a peacetime Army in 1981 wanting to be prepared to defend my country and thought then (and think now) that a career intended to be in the service of others is an honorable thing. I still respect those that don’t want to be in the military and those who believe there should be no military and no war as those are ideals to aspire to.

    Lastly for now, “keep your friends close, and keep your enemies closer” may also be the thinking that informs some military people who join a network… – probably true in some cases, although my guess is that goes both ways. I can only say for myself that I am delving back into anthropology to learn

    There is also the insistent fetishistic obsession in American culture with the military… – probably true, given that less than 1/10 of 1 percent actually serves in the military. However, when you take into account the extended military family (vets, family members, etc.) the number gets quite a bit larger. I think much of this is from that very vocal group, and that it is most likely a temporary phenomenon of the current conflict. Further, most in the military aren’t looking for that praise and are embarrassed when it happens. It sounds like a great area for study.

    As to Frenchguy, nothing personal taken in your question.

    I’d rather say the military is an instrument of people in power… – I’m not sure we differ here. When I say policy, I understand it to be a reflection of the people who are in power, and therefore suffers from the same biases and other limitations of thought, influences, etc.

    Then, given that you seem to be well informed, why did you accept to “serve” in Irak, while you should have known that war was illegal and illegitimate? – Straight to the heart of the matter. If I have to give the simple answer, it’s duty/honor. You don’t enjoy a lengthy career in peace and then jump ship when conflict comes (and perhaps that would be Max’s argument for not voluntarily joining in the first place) – your mates are relying on you. While that may not be a satisfactory answer, it is a cultural norm for those of us in the military, and any judgment of that choice has to be taken in the context of that culture (sub-culture, or whatever).

    The real answer however, is much more complex. I think that questions of legitimacy and legality were highly debatable at the time. What I saw in terms of intelligence indicated a real threat. Serving as a division planner when we left for Iraq in the spring of ’04, much of my work was on finding ways to “fix” many of the problems created by the war in the first place – reconstituting the Iraqi Army (IA), providing pensions to those not called back to service, and working governance from the ground up – i.e. starting at the community level and working toward a national government. I’m not saying that the Army can fix things – only that we tried our best having been given the responsibility to do it. Despite arguments about the war, international law is pretty clear that once you break it – you pay for it (i.e. once you occupy a country, the onus is on you to stabilize it before you walk away). So there was a larger obligation to go and try to do that. Whether or not you can stabilize it is another matter. Can our presence stabilize or only de-stabilize?

    All that said, I’ve been back a second time, serving as an advisor to an IA Brigade in Mosul, again focused on trying to help Iraqis get back to some state of normalcy.

    Throughout my two tours, I have developed some great relationships with many Iraqis, and I keep in contact with them even now. As interesting as our debate is here about the war, the same debate continues there as well. There are many who feel that they are better off because we came, many who simply resent that we stayed, and many who wish we had never come.

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