The ethics of embedded anthropology


The articles I have assigned all deal with the involvement of anthropologists in the armed forces of the United States and Canada operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US called it the “Human Terrain System”; the Canadian Armed Forces called it “White Situational Awareness Team”. In both cases, it was an effort to integrate anthropologists or cultural ‘coaching’ into the decision structures of troops on the ground. It was hoped that it would make those decisions, and the military personnel who would implement them, more aware of the cultural values of the people they were dealing with. It was also hoped that this awareness or sensitivity would ‘win hearts and minds’ and reduce civilian casualties. But Anthropology in general has long been uncomfortable with its colonial past, where anthropologists came from colonial powers and were ‘embedded’ with colonial administrations. More recently, American anthropology has forbidden such involvements in its ethics code, due to their experiences in the Vietnam War (read if you want to know more). The opposition to this current initiative asserted that it was unethical, and had as much potential to increase harm as reduce it. Making the invaders more culturally sensitive really didn’t make it any less of a, well, invasion. Similar arguments were made about the ethics and objectivity of embedded journalists. The style of the paper will be an argumentative essay. You will be taking a position early and attempting to argue or prove it in the paper. Your task, once again, is to assess the points made in each of the articles, and the data used to support them. You are then to provide your own, reasoned and supported, views on whether the articles argue their positions successfully. Many of the authors are critical of the initiatives, but there is also some supporting material. Quite effective arguments can be made on either side. “An argumentative paper makes a claim about a topic and justifies this claim with specific evidence. The claim could be an opinion, a policy proposal, an evaluation, a cause-and-effect statement, or an interpretation. The goal of the argumentative paper is to convince the audience that the claim is true based on the evidence provided.” See for more information on this and other types of essay. If you feel that this practice was a bad idea, state that up front and explain what you feel are the major problems with it. If you think this was a good idea, state this and explain what you see as the advantages and benefits of the initiative. And if you can’t argue strongly on either side and think it’s some of both, state that and explain why. Remember that you are assessing their arguments to make an argument of your own, and that your argument is the one that interests me the most. Don’t waste my time simply repeating what they said. Decide what position you will take and then concentrate on extracting the points that will support your argument.

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