Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency: to some, a natural pairing, to others, not so much

This should be interesting.  This weekend the University of Chicago holds a conference titled Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency that will explore

Anthropology’s relationship to the United States’ global projection of its power, while simultaneously mounting an anthropological inquiry into the nature of that power and of the changing world in which it operates.

Don’t mistake this as a chance to discuss revisions to the Counterinsurgency Manual.  On the contrary, 

We seek ethnographic understanding of global responses to recent deployments of the US military, and of US military actions in comparison to other forms of coercion, compellance, and intervention.  Reading US military theorists, we seek to understand the emerging interest in study of culture in the broad context of military responses to US military failures (and opportunities).  We pursue the full implications of the connection now being sought by the US military between culture and insurgency and turn an anthropological lens on the nature of violence and order in the current era.

The presenters are a varied group and, for the most part, will probably do their best at Ivory Tower analysis to talk past each other.  Below the fold are a few of the abstracts that caught my eye for the “1.6” day event (cocktails/keynote Friday night + all day Saturday + half of Sunday).

From Roberto J. González (the same González who wrote against the “militarization of anthropology”) comes “Human Terrain” and Indirect Rule: Theoretical, Practical, and Ethical Concerns.  Abstract:

[“Human Terrain System” program] and “new” counterinsurgency approaches raise a series of questions: What are the origins of the contemporary “human terrain” concept? What are the goals of HTS, and how is its data being used? What models or theories of culture are used by program participants, and why? What are the similarities and differences between such forms and early 20th century anthropological efforts to promote indirect rule in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East? What conflicts of interest or ethical dilemmas might anthropologists face when they are employed by a military occupation force.

John D. Kelly takes the Patriot Fries argument to a whole ‘nother level with The Moral Economy of War: Galula Fetishism and its Consequences for Pax Americana.  This is one paper I do want to read. 

The new joint handbook for counter-insurgency is noted for its cultural and anthropological turn [and] its embrace of the counterinsurgency theory of David Galula] … Galula’s theory was built upon utter failure in practice in Algeria, a fact that motivates a new military generation to call for greater resolve.  …   Anthropology can provide better service to the US and other militaries by clear analysis of the causes and consequences of military interventions, than by building tools for intelligence gathering where boots are already on the ground, especially because they are.

David Price, author of a Counterpunch article attacking the new Counterinsurgency Manual FM3-24 (see John Nagl’s response here), will present Soft Power, Hard Power and the Anthropological “Leveraging” of Cultural “Assets”:
Distilling the Politics and Ethics of Anthropological Counterinsurgency
.  The first four words are right up my alley, I’m curious to read the whole paper.

This paper draws upon specific historical instances of anthropological contributions to insurgency and counterinsurgency campaigns to consider theoretical, political and ethical dimensions of anthropological contributions to counterinsurgency. Distinctions between political and ethical elements of specific uses of counterinsurgency are made to delineate differences between the fundamental ethical problems that arise in any research settings from the political issues raised by using anthropology for specific political ends. …

I argue that using anthropology for manipulation towards ends of conquest and subjugation necessarily raises serious ethical problems regardless of whether these programs are “hard” or “soft” forms of counterinsurgency.

For the rest, including the agenda, go to the conference’s website