Anthropology & Business

It has been an interesting experience becoming involved with entrepreneurship, business, and learning the do’s and don’ts of this type of environment in contrast to the skills and information I have learned in the social sciences. It seems as if there really are two vastly different types of thinking in these two worlds. I’ve come to realize that it is possible to learn the traits valued within each discipline and to ‘wear’ them when the situation calls for it.

With the study of anthropology, we learn to be trained observers. We also learn to be careful about knee-jerk judgments in order to be sure that we’re seeing the entire picture (or as much of it as possible) and not simply placing our own opinions or values onto the others. The research process focuses on the importance of analyzing the data carefully and being sure not to draw conclusions that are unfounded. In business and entrepreneurship, on the other hand, quick decisions and risk taking are necessary. This field calls for constant innovation and a trial-and-error type approach in order to move the venture along as quickly as possible. More than one entrepreneurship teacher has used the slogan “If you are going to fail, fail fast”, and then move on to the next idea.

Although these two different disciplines seem so very different, and in many ways are, common ground can still be found in some aspects. Anthropologists and business people must both step outside their comfort zones often and must be able to gain strangers’ trust. The anthropologist must gain the trust of his or her informants or research subjects, the business person must gain the trust of his or her customers. The anthropologist steps outside their comfort zone in order to submerse themselves within a completely new environment and culture, and are often confronted with beliefs, practices, or actions that conflict with their own values. The business person steps outside their comfort zone by doing what it takes to make the networking connections necessary for the success of their venture.

Personally I have found it a valuable learning experience becoming so actively involved in another discipline. When I first began last September, I was only able to see the differences between the two disciplines. A much deeper understanding has evolved since I am now able to see the commonalities.

A response to the recent Newsweek article on Human Terrain System.

As a long-standing professional rule, I do not comment on or talk about my direct professional work here on Clients get a bit touchy about the sort of thing. Long-time readers will note that since joining the Human Terrain System project that I no longer write about it. I can (as can any one in the HTS) blog about my work as much as I care to if I wish. But as most of my professional life as been under Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) in the corporate world, not blogging about it is a habit I keep. But in light of the recent Newsweek article and Donna’s recent post, I feel its in bounds to post one of the official responses and as always, people can make up their own minds.  Please note, this letter to the editor was found at the Wired Danger Room Blog, and attributed to the Newsweek letters to the editors.

Dear Editors,

Having long been an admirer of Newsweek, I found your failure to fact check the story by Dan Ephron & Silvia Springs entitled “A gun in one hand, a pen in the other” (21 April issue) completely shocking. One naturally expects more from Newsweek than such sloppy journalism.

Below you will find a list of factual corrections and some more general points about the article.


1) “the idea is to recruit academics whose area expertise and language skills” – Incorrect. In fact, the goal of HTS is to recruit social scientists with the appropriate research skills and methodological approaches. There are very, very few social scientists in the US who have the requisite knowledge of Iraq or Afghanistan, since these countries have been closed to research for many decades. However, if the social scientist on a team is not an Arabic speaker, other members of the team possess the requisite area expertise and language skills.

2) “only three speak Arabic” – Incorrect. Each team in Iraq and Afghanistan has members who speak the local language, although this person is not necessarily the social scientist. As of 14 April, there are 38 HTS personnel in Iraq distributed among 5 teams (slightly higher than normal, since we are in transition and executing some individual Reliefs in Place). 8 of those personnel are Social Scientists. 13 of those personnel speak Arabic,of which 2 are Social Scientists and 11 are Human Terrain Analysts or Research Managers.

3) “Johnson served in Afghanistan on a pilot Human Terrain team last year” – Incorrect. Tom Johnson was never a team member, but merely visited theater for two weeks.

4) Tom Johnson is a “Pashto speaker”, and “spent much of his time there interviewing Afghans in their homes” – Incorrect. According to Tom Johnson, he has no idea where this information came from — “surely not me.”

5) “Omar Altalib was one of only two Iraqi-Americans in the program” – Incorrect. Actually the program currently has about 20 Iraqi Americans.

6) Social scientists earn “$300,000” a year – Overstated. This is true only if hazard pay, overtime, and danger pay are included. The base salary is a low six figures.

7) “Steve Fondacaro………..a retired Special Forces colonel..” – Incorrect. COL Fondacaro (ret’d) has never been in Army Special Forces. His experience as Special Operations Force (SOF) officer was exclusively with 75th Ranger Regiment and higher Headquarters.

8 ) “Fondacaro says overseers had to rush through the start-up phase because Pentagon planners wanted the terrain teams in Iraq quickly” – Incorrect. The requirement to put teams in country was in response to the Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement (JUONS) that came from the units in the war zone. Pentagon planners actually slowed the process down to carefully analyze and validate the need.

9) the contract “was handed to British Aerospace Engineering (BAE) without a bidding process” – Overstated. BAE is the omnibus contractor for TRADOC and for a start-up program, this was a normal process. Once HTS becomes a program of record, the contract will be bid out.

10) “The rest are social scientists or former GIs” – Incorrect. Actually, much of the manpower is made up of US Army reserves.

11) “the anthropologists sent to Iraq…” – Incorrect. Not all of the social scientists on teams are anthropologists.

12) “the relationship between civilian academics and military or ex-military team members was sometimes strained” – Incorrect. The environment in the training program is very different than a year ago, which is the period the quoted sources were familiar with.

13) “40-year-old expert on trash” – Incorrect. Actually, Dr. Griffin is an anthropologist with an interest in food security and economics.


1) The main input to the article came from two individuals who were terminated, and whose knowledge is outdated.

2) The article’s main premise is that the majority of HTS social scientists are not Middle East specialists with fluency in Arabic. Fair enough, but Human Terrain Teams include personnel with language, regional, and local area knowledge in addition to social scientists. The teams are not just the lone social science advisor that the media has tended to focus upon. As teams, they include a variety of individuals uniquely suited to understanding the social, political, economic and cultural aspects of the population in question — both military and civilian.

3) In the article, the significance of research methods was downplayed in favor of language and culture area skills. Certain subfields require formal area studies training, but as whole, social scientists are trained to apply their knowledge of analytical frameworks and research methodologies across different locales, based on the premise that the dynamics of human behavior exhibit certain universal features. This does not mean that social scientists cannot be area experts: many are, given their past research. However, what social scientists bring to the table is a way of looking at the social world, studying it, and analyzing it in a way that is distinct from the way the military approaches these issues.

4) That soldiers on their second- or third- tours possess inestimable knowledge about the area in which they are operating is undeniable. Yet, as currently organized, combat brigades do not possess the organic staff capability or assets to organize this knowledge and look at the broad questions that HTTs are concerned with. While civil affairs soldiers are the closest to such an organic asset, along with information operations, these assets are mission-focused and often lack the manpower to engage in the sort of question-formulation and asking that HTTs can. Nor do these assets always include personnel trained in social scientific analysis. Therefore, it is the job of HTTs to take the knowledge these soldiers have gleaned, to examine the information already being gathered on the ground on a daily basis, engage in original research, and consider this information in terms of broader issues from a different perspective in order to add to the brigade commander’s situational awareness of the social, economic, political, cultural and psychological factors at work in the environment.

5) All this was explained to both Dan Ephron & Silvia Spring, but none of it is reflected in the article.

GEN Wallace, the commander of TRADOC, has written a letter to the editors of Newsweek regarding this article, which I hope you will consider publishing. You may also consider this email as a ‘letter to the editor’ and publish any or all of it.

I hope in the future that Newsweek will hold itself to a higher standard of journalism.

Warm regards,

Montgomery McFate, JD PhD

On the Cover of the Rolling Stone

Well, not really.  Not on the cover, anyway.  And not in Rolling Stone.  But I love that song!

But hey hey, anyone see this? HTS makes it into Newsweek, and I’m intrigued all over again. Seems it’s not being as valuable a program as it could be, at least in part because the social scientists who would be most equipped to help the military in Iraq—think: those who speak relevant languages and/or have spent significant time in the Middle East, or (gasp!) both—are under suspicion from the military, and so are unable to be as effectively embedded in troops as those whose prior research experience is among less relevant groups, like goths in the U.S. The military seems to think that knowing the methodology of anthropology is enough, that content knowledge will come as it’s necessary, and that interpreters can “fill in the gaps.” Now, even those of us who are doing applied work, or short-term work, need to have some background. There is something to be said for ethnographic authority. It is not just about the methodology. It’s about the commitment to a deeper understanding of a place, and Yes, about being in that place long enough to start to Get It.  And even if not all of the social scientists working with HTS start off as experts, you would think that actively driving off those experts who are willing to work within the program was Not a Good Idea.

If this program is to be done (and that’s a whole ‘nother ethical discussion, still hanging over us from the 2007 AAAs), it should at least be done well, should be done so that it is effective, and it doesn’t appear to be, at least, not yet—and I wonder, if ever. With the military’s determination that those with experience in the Middle East are also irrevocably stained with their association with same, and therefore untrustworthy, it’s hard to imagine just how they propose to use anthropology and anthropologist in truly constructive ways in Iraq (or anywhere else).

Marcus Griffin, still in the field (and with his blog under construction), is quoted in the article, as well as Matt Tompkins, who has now returned from Iraq, and whose fiancée, Zenia Helbig, was not only one of the academics whose background in the Middle East made her suspect to the military, but also one of the scholars who addressed the AAA meetings about HTS last fall.

I particularly like this bit at the end:

“Thomas Johnson, an Afghan expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. Johnson served in Afghanistan on a pilot Human Terrain team last year. A Pashto speaker, he spent much of his time there interviewing Afghans in their homes. “If you don’t have a good knowledge of the actual country and language, all the methodology can go for naught,” he says. Johnson was shocked to hear Human Terrain had received a huge funding increase while other military programs face cuts. He says it shows just how much faith Pentagon planners have in the idea that real experts can help America win the war in Iraq. If only someone would make the effort to find them.”

How to Cite in an academic paper

I added a section called about to the site. It also includes an example of how to cite posts from in print papers.

Here is an example of how to cite an entry in an academic paper:

Waters, T. (2008, April 4). The Battle for Kosovo on the Internet.
Retrieved April 11, 2008, from

Just to satisfy all you people that have been rushing to quote us in Scientific American.

What are the most pressing issues for anthropology to work on?

A couple of months ago I spent the evening at CSU Fresno with students and faculty and we had a wonderful wide ranging conversation about anthropology, ethics, war, peace and a few minutes on circumcision just for good measure.

One of the questions we asked ourselves was who is really working on the most pressing issues of the day? Do we really need another study on gender and identity as expressed among pre-schoolers when the ice cap is turning to a slushie? How is anthropology addressing the issues of global warming in a very tactical, practical way? I don’t mean yet another Marxist creed about how global warming is the fault of all us bastards that watch TV and shop in the local market. How can anthropology help policy makers understand why going green is a tough row to hoe for the average consumer, and how we can we make it easier?

What are the other big issues we are dealing with: recession, health care crisis, the public schools, elder care, oh and there is the whole war deal.

But anthropologists need to stop screeching about the evil doers, and actually get into the game.

Look, we can put the issues of the gender identity of pre-schoolers on the back burner for a few years. They don’t want to float away anymore than the rest of us.

The Battle for Kosovo on the Internet

Cees van Dijk is a Dutch free-lance academic living in Kosovo, which declared its independence in February, 2008. He would like to share this commentary about the use of the internet to frame and counter-frame claims about Kosovo’s legitimacy by Serb and Kosovo activists. He finds the argument interesting in the context of the Kosovo that he experiences daily where “Albanians are insulted as Jihadists by Serbians despite the fact that just like in European or North American cities, hardly any women are veiled or wearing a hijab, women roam the streets freely, men, defamed as radical Islamists enjoy a drink once in a while (it has to be noted that Kosovo’s Peja beer brewery is one of the largest ones in the Balkans) and there are no road bombs or kidnappings.” Tony

The Battle for Kosovo on the Internet

by Cees van Dijk

Since the end of the war in Kosovo in 1999, Serbian scholars, politicians, and lay people started to use internet forums to spread hate speech against Kosovo Albanians by claiming that a Jihad is taking place in Kosovo. In order to gain a better understanding about these discourses, I started an internet search and got 735,000 matches for the combined terms ‘Jihad’ and ‘Kosovo’. The examples are startling for someone who lives in the village Krusha e Madhe where one of the biggest massacres was committed by Serbian forces during the war.

For example, the Resonate Media Radar declares in its headline: “Kosovo – Emerging as a Bastion for Radical Islam – Jihad” and posts provocative questions such as “The Taliban yesterday, Kosovo tomorrow? Does America really want a new rogue ‘state’ led by Jihad terrorists and criminals?” Similar articles can be found on numerous other websites like savekosovo, Byzantine Sacred Art blog, Jihad-Watch, Serbian Unity Congress, Serbianna, Political Mavens, Republican Riot, etc. Kosovo Albanian authors, on the other hand, give the impression that these accusations do not concern them. On websites like savekosova, Kosova, Alb-net, Kosovapress, Albania reality check, freekosova, and albiqete.blogspot, no entries may be found with regard to ‘Jihad in Kosovo’.

What are the reasons for claiming that a Jihad is taking place in Kosovo? In order to keep Kosovo under its control, Serbs started a propaganda campaign against Kosovo’s independence supported by Conservative-Republican congressmen and the Serbian Diaspora in the US. Serbian propagandistic discourses in the US are directed at three main groups: Conservative, Christian and Jewish communities. Julia Gorin who is a member of the (pro-Serbian) American Council for Kosovo, addresses the conservative groups by reframing the conflict in a pro-Serbian fashion: “We didn’t just sell the Serbians down the river; we sold ourselves. Hard-won American values (…) have been sold out”.

In order to win the Christian community, the Serbian propaganda machinery denies war crimes committed by Serbian forces by accusing Albanians: ”(…) since 1999 (…) Muslim Albanians have expelled over 200,000 Christian Serbs, destroyed over 150 Churches, [and] instigated a widespread pogrom”. However, the number of expelled Serbs is a crude exaggeration as 180,000 Serbians lived in Kosovo until 1998 and approximately 120,000 Serbs are still living in Kosovo today. Thus, 60,000 Serbs left Kosovo because they had been involved in atrocities during the war and/or out of fear of revenge-attacks by Albanians after the war. Furthermore, authors of such propaganda fail to mention that 5% of the Kosovo Albanians are Catholic and have been victims of atrocities committed by Serbians. For example, on June 21 last year, I visited the grave yard of Meja (a village in Western Kosovo) where over 300 Albanians were massacred on April 27, 1999. I saw that 40% of the tombstones were decorated with Catholic crosses.

In a similarly ethnocentric manner, Serb web-sites address the Jewish community. Although anti-Semitic sentiments are propagated in Serbia-proper (see the Helsinki Report for Human Rights in Serbia, February 2007), Serbs compare their so-called expulsion from Kosovo with the Holocaust experienced by the Jews during the Second World War. Such statements as well as arguments for their righteous claim to Kosovo are even transferred to Jewish websites such as “Israpundit”.. However, it is important to note that Israeli net users don’t tolerate such intrusions easily. On, the contrary one of them states that “If you Serbs (and why do I have the impression that here is the Serbian lobby exploiting place for their public relation) want the help of the Jewish people – just begin fighting against Orthodox idolatry and Russian anti-Semitism.”, and “the Serbian Orthodox Church is anti-Semitic and never supported Israel”.

The means by which the Serbian-lobby is able to propagate their stance are multiple. Firstly, Serbian propagandists use terms like “Islamic terrorists”, “Jihad”, and “al-Qaeda” as they are emotionally laden since 9/11, particularly for an audience in the USA. However, radical interpretations of Islam are hardly what Kosovo Albanians claim for themselves. Instead, the Muslims in Kosovo are prepared to defend their secular Islam. For instance, a university professor told me “Up to now we have only two or three female students wearing the hijab in our faculty of social science. Wahhabists from Saudi Arabia finance their study. If the economical situation worsens, the number of students following Wahhabism may increase. Yet, we keep an eye on them”.

Secondly, Serbian internet propagandists routinely minimize atrocities committed against Kosovo Albanians during the war. The Serbian lobby claims that only about 2,700 Albanians lost their lives during the war despite the fact that the Independent International Commission on Kosovo (2000) estimated the number of killings to be over 10,000 with the vast majority of the victims being Kosovo-Albanians. An additional 863,000 civilians sought or were forced into refuge outside Kosovo and 590,000 were internally displaced. Yet, the aforementioned Serbian lobbyist in the US, Julia Gorin, poses a dubious rhetorical claim that: in 2009 it will be shown that there were no attrocities at all”.

Instead of admitting responsibility, Serbs grant themselves the status of victims and portray their nation as innocent, invulnerable, and sacred. Anyone who raises his voice against Serbian politics is accused of being a “serbophobe” whose only motivation is to spread hatred against Serbian people. Ljubomir Tadic writes: “Now the Serbs are satanized; they are the victims of monstrous lies and accusations. The inflamed Serbophobia is a new, modern form of Nazi racism”. According to him, the declaration of an independent Kosovo is rooted in Serbophobia and, thus, illegitimate. The recognition of Kosovo’s independence by the US in February 2008, is, thus, a blow into the face of the Serbian lobby. Besides being another example for crude Serbophobia, Gorin points out that it may be viewed as uninformed support for radical Islamists: “(…) our government is creating Muslim states in Europe and is about to engage the United States military against European Orthodox Christians who don’t want to live under Muslim rule. When did it become the free world’s business to spread Shari’a law (…)?” These reactions clearly show that instead of trying to close the cleft between themselves and Albanians, Serbs drift further away from the possibility of living peacefully together with Kosovo Albanians. Currently, it seems to be questionable whether they will find arguments for a joint future.


Call For Papers: Epic2008, Submission Deadline April 18th

EPIC2008 logo

This years theme for the 2008 EPIC conference is Being Seen: Paradoxes and Practices of (In)Visibility. Its being held in Copenhagen, Denmark October 15th to 18th. Go to the submissions page for the most up to date information on the different deadlines for Papers, Workshops and Artifacts.

This is the primary conference for people that do applied work in industry, but it attracts a wide variety of people and professions. Besides, if you can get your company to cough up a trip to Denmark, who are you to complain?