• Category Archives Blogs by Donna
  • Well I’m not blogging either, so there.

    Cindy’s not the only one not blogging.  Here are a few things I’m not writing about:

    1)Transparency. Mark wanted me to write about it ages ago, and I’ve thought about it, and don’t know what to say. Part of what troubles me about HTS is the overt lack of transparency (does that make them transparently opaque?), in the name of national security. Is this just a question of degree? Because, really, none of us who do or who have done research among our fellow human beings are completely open books. I have yet to post my undiluted field notes for all and sundry to see. I did, however, file a human subjects protocol, and I wonder if one could look it up at the office at my PhD-granting institution if one wanted to. I like to think that being forced to think bureaucratically (that is, having to file paperwork certifying that you have thought about it) about risk, and harm, and doing thoughtful research, is one of the best ways to try to ensure, as a discipline, that such thoughtful and responsible research is carried out. Sort of like, if you think someone is watching, you might behave better.

    So at what point does the difference in the degree of transparency, between the run-of-the-mill anthropologist (moi), and the HTS practitioner (not-moi), become a difference in kind?

    2)How damn hard it is to write when you are not in graduate school anymore. And have kids. And work a little bit. And want to have time to fart around on the internet, go for walks, and occasionally interact in meaningful ways with spouse, friends, family. No one speaks of this while you are in graduate school! Maybe they did, and I wasn’t listening. This sounds like whining, but I really do have a point: in graduate school, all you have to do is read and write. The whole setup is supposed to facilitate that. So those people who were doing grad school at the same time they had other obligations have a leg-up on those of us slackers who Just Did Grad School. Now, in my ostensibly grown-up life post-graduate school, I’d like to write a bit, and read some intellectual stuff that’s not just what I’m making my students responsible for, but the energy and inclination is not there. I’d have to form an infrastructure from whole cloth. Find writing partners. Schedule time for “writing.” Schedule time for “research.” And carve that time out of the rest of my existence. This sounds like a very sorry-ass-tiny-first-world-problem, I’m sure, but part of what I want to point out is that there is no systemic anything that gives young academics in the non-tenure-track workforce support to write. I suspect the non-tenure track thing might also be key, because there are infrastructures in place to facilitate tenured faculty writing. The rest of us are On Our Own.

    In graduate school, the motivational structure around productivity is external. Outside of graduate school, and in the absence of tenure requirements, the motivational structure needs to be internal. Clearly, I am finding these conditions challenging.

    3) The fact that Barack Obama’s mom was an anthropologist. Ruth Behar has already written movingly about this, so I don’t have to, but I’ve been pondering anthropological thoughts throughout the campaign, and even after the election, and wish that there had been some sort of Anthropologists for the Anthropologist’s Son group around, pushing us as a discipline into some kind of spotlight. Surely, his mother’s passion for anthropology, the one that led her to eventually settle and build a family in Indonesia (among other places), informs the choices that the President-Elect makes/will make about how to move through the world? About his approach to his own racial identity? About his perspective on the role of government in society?

    There’s another blog entry waiting to happen, and clearly it is not coming from me.


  • 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.”


  • Confusing Things

    So it’s midterm time, and also time for me to do my self-check (stolen from my colleague and best pal, Cindy herself):  have the students write down the most interesting, most confusing, and most important things they have learned so far in the class.

    Thus far, we’ve been reading Margaret Mead’s Growing Up in New Guinea.  So a  lot of the confusion involved cross-cousins, tabu, and the intricacies of so-called primitive life in 1920s New Guinea.  But at least two of the students were confused about just why anthropologists do what they do:  “Why did Mead go there at all?  Why did she have to go so far?  Couldn’t she learn that at home?  Why do anthropologists do anthropology, anyway?”

    It’s a fair question, and I’ll try to address it in bits and pieces in classes to come–they are reading my research next, and I hope I make it clear why I do anthropology.  And perhaps we’ve addressed it some in this blog already, but I thought I’d throw it out generally.

    Why anthropology?