Studying Military, Security & Intelligence Communities Ethics Casebook by the American Anthropological Association

I don’t know how many of you have been following the machinations of the CEAUSSIC committee of the American Anthropological Association, but over the last several years they’ve been getting together to think through the admittedly thorny problem of the relationship between anthropologists and those involved in military, security and intelligence communities.  As an effort to step away from grand proclamations towards thinking about what actual anthropologists in actual situations do and the decisions they make, the committee is putting together a case book in anthropological ethics.  In fact, they’re looking for contributors:

We need more cases and are actively working our own networks to encourage our colleagues to provide material for the book. Rob Albro and I are spearhending this project. We have contacted friends and colleagues who work in federal agencies, but we are also interested in talking to anthropologists who self-identify as having some involvement in military, intelligence, or other forms of national security work, or who have studied or critiqued some form of national security practice. Rather than define “national security,” we are asking our contributors to tell us what that category means in their work-lives, because we think it is important that anthropologists in national security explain what this sweeping affiliation actually means. The cases must be grounded in real-world experience, even if the details are disguised; but to ensure anonymity, we are working collaboratively with our contributors to make appropriate, case-by-case decisions about publishing the contributor’s identities and disguising identifying details, such as precise places or institutions or names.

We expect to publish this case collection as a set of discussion materials for use in classrooms. We are also talking with other AAA committees involved in ethics to develop mechanisms for expanding and maintaining grounded conversations about ethics, perhaps in the form of an ethics blog, an annual update to the casebook which we hope to be made available online, or regular sessions at the Annual Meetings where we can present and debate particularly provocative or timely cases. We are also open to any creative suggestions about how maximize the relevance of this casebook, as a point of reference in ongoing disciplinary discussion on ethics, disciplinary practice, and security.

via CEAUSSIC: Ethics Casebook « American Anthropological Association.

Now, on the one hand, this seems an exactly appropriate move.  On the other hand, I find interesting the lack of involvement in these discussions (at least so far, as far as I know) by any of us who understand ourselves as working on “the police”.

I’m just thinking on my feet a bit here, but I can come up with a few reasons why this might be:

  1. Demographics.  People who are part of these conversations tend to be already firmly established in the field–it’s unlikely that a junior scholar (which all of us are) gets asked to be a part of such things, and conversely, it’s not really the kind of thing junior scholars are burning to be a part of–careers aren’t exactly made on ethics committees.
  2. Conceptualizing “police” and “security”.  The problem with possibility #1 is that there’s no “old-school” police studiers either (although who that might include, I think, is a good question).  This suggests the much more interesting possibility that the lack of police-studiers has more to do with an as-yet (as far as I can tell)  unremarked contour of the ethical problem itself–an ethical element that distinguishes the types of violence the police use, and/or anthropologists’ relationship to it, versus the military.  I haven’t quite got my finger on what that might be, but I think it might be an interesting place to try to work through the particular stakes of “anthropoliteia”…
  3. No good reason.  Of course, perhaps I’m over-thinking this and one of us should offer to contribute to the casebook



2 thoughts on “Studying Military, Security & Intelligence Communities Ethics Casebook by the American Anthropological Association

  1. Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I am going to re-examine the very brief section on policing in my cultural anthropology textbook (which discusses findings from a 1992 book on Japan by a non-anth) and do some research into what anthropologists are currently writing about policing.

    Last year, I taught a graduate anth seminar in the spring and assigned Sarah Hautzinger’s excellent book: Violence in the City of Women: Police and Batterers in Bahia, Brazil. Berkeley: University of California Press. Highly recommended reading!

    Just now, prompted by your post, I did a quick search in the “Anthropology Plus” database and found several promising-looking articles.

    Your post suggests that the “anthropology of policing” could gain some inspiration/energy from the small but vigorous area of critical military anthropology and perhaps vice versa.

    Like this

  2. Thanks Barbara!

    I agree that Sarah Hautzinger’s book is a nice, if rare, find in the world of “anthropology of policing”. I think the project that you just identified–to try to put together some sense of what “anthropology” and “police” have to do with one another is an important one.

    Another resource for this, perhaps, is our own “snowballing” bibliography of current academic citations (you can find it by clicking on “Cites We Like” towards the bottom of the right hand column on our site). Many of these are not “anthropological” strictly speaking–in that they’re either not ethnographic or not written by anthropologists–but what difference that makes is, I think, part of the question…

    Like this

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