Discussion: pros and cons of research cooperation between academia and military/security organisations

This month’s reading and discussion circle of our Arctic Anthropology team is open to all interested participants! Given the relevance of the topic for the entire academia, we explicitly welcome scholars and students also from other research groups and academic fields than ours. We will discuss the pros and cons of research cooperation between academia and military/security organisations.

TIME: 22 August 2019, 12:00 (noon), Helsinki time (UTC+2)

PLACE: Arctic Centre, Borealis room, 2nd floor, Pohjoisranta 4, Rovaniemi, Finland.

Chapter to read: Rubinstein, Robert A. 2011. “Ethics, Engagement and Experience: Anthropological Excursions in Culture and the National Security State.” In Dangerous Liaisons: Anthropologists and the National Security State, edited by Laura A. McNamara and Robert A. Rubinstein, 145–66. Santa Fe, N.M.: School for Advanced Research Press.

A short introduction to the topic: Rubinstein (2011, 145) observed that “security agencies and organizations are expending considerable efforts and resources to figure out how to […] bring anthropologists and other social scientists to work with them.” This includes not only direct employment but also funding of and access to publications and conferences (Ferguson 2013). A recent example is a common workshop held in Rovaniemi in Spring 2019 about security issues, to which Arctic Centre (University of Lapland) and NATO experts were invited and which was fully funded by the latter.

The traditionally left-wing preponderance in anthropology tends to strong ethical reservations, up to complete denial, towards any forms of academic cooperation with military and other security organisations, due to concerns about misappropriation. We should, however, also admit that denial and outrage often goes hand in hand with generalisations about the military “in a totalizing fashion that our discipline would never sanction were they to be applied to other peoples” (Rubinstein 2013, 121). Also in our discipline there are voices advocating a responsible cooperation in order to contribute to better-informed decisions within military structures. After all, a pragmatic discussion acknowledging the presence of the military as an immutable fact boils down to one question: does bringing knowledge about societies into the military rather increase or reduce harm inflicted to people.

As overt and covert interest of military and security organisations in our work as social scientists is potentially everywhere, we will discuss in this session a chapter that tries to offer a balanced discussion, without slipping into sweeping generalisations and negative stereotypes about “the military”. The goal is to discuss according opportunities and dangers of cooperation.

Further readings for those interested in the topic:

Chamayou, Grégoire. 2015. Drone Theory. New York: Penguin.

Ferguson, R. Brian. 2013. “Full Spectrum: The Military Invasion of Anthropology.” In Virtual War and Magical Death: Technologies and Imaginaries for Terror and Killing, edited by Neil L. Whitehead and Sverker Finnström, 85–110. Durham; London: Duke University Press.

Rubinstein, Robert A. 2013. “Master Narratives, Retrospective Attribution, and Ritual Pollution in Anthropology’s Engagements With the Military.” In Practicing Military Anthropology: Beyond Expectations and Traditional Boundaries, edited by Robert A. Rubinstein, Kerry B. Fosher, and Clementine K. Fujimura, 119–30. Sterling, Virginia: Kumarian Press.

Price, David H. 2016. Cold War Anthropology: The CIA, the Pentagon, and the Growth of Dual Use Anthropology. Durham; London: Duke University Press.

Ssorin-Chaikov, Nikolai. 2018. “Hybrid Peace: Ethnographies of War.” Annual Review of Anthropology 47 (1): 251–62. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-anthro-102317-050139.

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