In front of the Pentagon (Photo by Maddie Albro ©)


Project Description: 

Taking as its departure point my own active involvement in ongoing professional disciplinary discussions about the role of anthropology in the work of military, security and intelligence organizations during the post-“Petraeus doctrine” era of culture-centric counterinsurgency, this work has evolved into a comparative research project with a focus on military and security agencies. The US military is itself a global and transnational institution with increasing responsibilities other than war in such areas as diplomacy, development, and humanitarian aid, and which involves intimate engagement with culturally distinct civilian populations. As such, the military currently actively pursues cultural knowledge – in training, education, analysis and operations – in part as one cornerstone of expertise in support of mission requirements and military humanitarian efforts. The broad context for this research is what I call the “securityscape,” composed of the overlapping array of institutions, programs, agencies, priorities, funding relationships, networks, and nodes that collectively determine the shape of cultural knowledge production in military, security and intelligence settings.

In particular, this research pursues a comparative analysis of the interdisciplinary social scientific sources for the development of a more robust sociocultural capacity among security institutions: in the development of culture doctrine, in the arenas of training and education, for human terrain analysis, in the merging of qualitative sociocultural with geospatial information, for applications of so-called “culturomics” to develop improved sociocultural modeling and simulation tools, and as part of a new area studies-type capacity that emphasizes the incorporation of civilian sociocultural expertise, among other developments. This project also focuses on instances of rapprochement and/or conflict between the priorities of security and of cultural knowledge producers from the social sciences in this setting, as well as the ways such interdisciplinary engagements about culture inform military cooperation with its diverse counterparts.

An important part of this project includes regular efforts to reach out to policy decision-makers, program builders, and practitioners, to promote public dialogue about the meaning of these efforts, in particular, for the populations and communities subject to such emerging formulations and technologies of cultural security. This includes engaging with: my own discipline of anthropology about its relationship to these developments, but also stakeholders in the security setting about uses and abuses of the social sciences, as well as predicaments for the subjects of security-inspired efforts. Some of this work is found in the co-edited volume, Anthropologists in the Securityscape: Ethics, Practice, and Professional Identity (2011). I am currently working on a second book project, Culture Surge: Producing Social Scientific Knowledge in the Post-9/11 Securityscape (under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press), which explores efforts to increase cultural capacity, knowledge, and training across the military and security agencies, with particular attention to the frontiers of engagement and controversy between the security sector and the academic world.


Relevant Professional Research and Writing:

(w/Dena Plemmons), “Practicing Ethics and Ethical Practice: The Case of Anthropologists and Military HumanitariansHumanity 3 (2): 179-197 (2012)

(w/Hugh Gusterson), “Commentary: ‘Do no harm‘” C4ISR Journal, May: 28-29 (2012)

(co-edited w/George Marcus, Laura McNamara, and Monica Schoch-Spana). Anthropologists in the Securityscape: Ethics, Practice, and Professional Identity. (Left Coast Press, 2011)

“Mining Sentiments: Computational Modeling and the Interpretive Problem of Culture.” In Challenges in Computational Social Modeling and Simulation for National Security Decision-Making, Pp. 83-108. L. McNamara, et al., eds. Defense Threat Reduction Agency Advanced Systems and Concepts Office Report Number ASCO 2011 002. (2011)

“Public Anthropology and Multi-Track Dialoguing in the Securityscape.” In Anthropologists in the Securityscape: Ethics, Practice, and Professional Identity. Robert Albro et al., eds. Pp. 39-56. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press (2011)

Writing Culture Doctrine: Public Anthropology, Military Policy, and World MakingPerspectives on Politics 8 (4): 1087-1093 (2010)

Anthropology and the Military: AFRICOM, Culture, and the Future of Human Terrain AnalysisAnthropology Today 26 (1): 22-24 (2010)

“Global Securityscapes, the Ethnography of Security, and a Critical Anthropology of Security.” Current Anthropology 51 (4): 499-500 (2010)

(primary author), Final Report on the Human Terrain System Proof of Concept Program, AAA’s Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the U.S. Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC). Submitted to Executive Board (October 14, 2009)

Anthropologists and Analysts” CEAUSSIC Blog. (Posted June 8, 2009)

Minerva and Critical Public Engagement” Solicited by the Social Science Research Council for its Minerva Controversy Essay Forum. (Posted November 2008)

(co-authored), Final Report, AAA’s Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the U.S. Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC). Submitted to Executive Board (November 4, 2007)

Anthropology’s Terms of Engagement with SecurityAnthropology News 48 (1): 20-21 (2007)

Does Anthropology Need a Hearing Aid?” Anthropology News 47 (8): 5 (2006)