Ok, for the record, I am not a left leaning anthropologist

I am not a right leaning one either. I feel compelled to mention this due to a bizarre claim made by Hugh Gusterson in an article he wrote for Foreign Policy Magazine. Heres a partial quote related to anthropologists accepting funding from the Pentagon:

“Some will be concerned that the Pentagon will seek to bend their research agenda to its own needs, interfering with their academic freedom. Still others will be nervous that colleagues will shun them. But many will refuse simply on principle: Anthropology is, by many measures, the academy’s most left-leaning discipline, and many people become anthropologists out of a visceral sympathy for the kinds of people who all too often show up as war’s collateral damage. Applying for Pentagon funding is as unthinkable for such people as applying for a Planned Parenthood grant would be for someone at Bob Jones University. One thousand anthropologists have already signed a pledge not to accept Pentagon funding for counterinsurgency work in the Middle East.”

Ok, let’s be clear. I don’t recall any poll or surveys going around inquiring to the political leanings of anthropologists, so I am not sure where the data is coming from that Anthropology is the most left leaning discipline.

Now, would Hugh LIKE it to be the most left leaning “discipline”, it sure looks that way to me. Why is it that the most ardent left leaner’s want to destroy real anthropology for the rest of us? Hugh, you adorable nut-job you. Just go ahead, toss in the towel and tell your students that Anthropology in your view is not an academic dicipline of any kind but a political ideology that can only be talked about by those that pass a special litmus test to ensure they are true believers. If you can agree to that, the rest of us can get on with repairing the damage of post-modernism and try to drag cultural anthropology back into a respected academic and applied subject again. Its supposed to be a real dicipline, not an ideology or (as it has become in recent times) poorly done literary criticism.

Do I think there are more liberals than conservatives in anthropology, sure… but thats a gut feel, not fact. In addition, I have never bothered to ask. I don’t care about someone’s political views. I care about good work. Many people seem to be able to do this without a political agenda.

I really wish the madcap “capitalism is evil, I care about the oppressed, Marxism is the best Idea” nut jobs would kindly get on with putting those ideas into practice in some oppressed community or country. Its pretty easy to make grand statements when you are in a safe air conditioned classroom and office typing. But its the classic applied / academic rift.. some people do the work, other people criticize from a safe, tenured distance enjoying all the privileges that they will never ever take the physical risks or pains to help others attain. Sweet deal for you.

11 thoughts on “Ok, for the record, I am not a left leaning anthropologist

  1. There is a lot of poison between academia and the military. But ignoring each other is not in anyone’s self interest. The military will be the military with or without anthropology’s involvement, and if they do not want to listen to anthropology’s advice, they won’t. But then they will own the catastrophes, not anthropology.

    There are plenty of department’s that can contest anthro’s claim to being the most “left” on campus. English, Ethnic Studies, Sociology, etc., where the Greens may outnumber the Republicans all come readily to mind. There are other bastions of the “right wing” on most campuses, though. Typically they include Business, Economics, Medicine, and some Engineering disciplines. These are the places where the Libertarians may outnumber the Democrats.

    But in general, the university world is to the left and tends toward the Democratic party, while Wall Street and the military tend toward the right and the Republicans. They all tend to live in their own echo chambers, and need to be challenged sometimes. This is why attaching a few anthropologists to the military now and then is not a bad idea. Having some articulate military guys come on campus now and then is a good idea too.

    My own view is that it is always appropriate to question the assumptions and interests behind any political ideology. They all have these biases and assumptions, and I try to do this in class regularly.

  2. “If you’re not a left-leaning anthropologist, you’re doing something wrong.”

    Agreed. I think it’d be quite difficult to be a practicing anthropologist while holding onto the ideals found among the right, at least with sociocultural anthropology. I know that all the professors I work with are hardcore liberals.

  3. Anthropology tends to highlight the problems of the weak and powerless, whether the government is on the right or left. Indeed it is one of the strengths of the discipline. My guess is that if you live in a repressive left wing country, you will be accused of being right wing if you highlight the problems of the weak and powerless. I don’t agree with Mark on everything he wrote, but his point that anthropology does not need to be “right” of “left” is a good one. Good well reasoned anthropology is good well reasoned anthropology. Period. Criticize it on how well it interprets data, not on who the anthropologist voted for.

  4. Actually, there were two well-publicized studies that claimed that Anthropology was the most left-leaning discipline in the US, with Democrats out-numbering Republicans 30 to 1 according one study. (Economics was the most conservative with Dems out-numbering Repubs 3 to 1.) They were referenced in Anthro News (Feb 2005). The studies were published in Academic Questions, the journal of the National Association of Scholars. If you have access to SpringerLink, here’s the 30 to 1 study.

  5. Right, Ted. But Wall Street and the military are one of the more right leaning fields. People tend to believe in what they do, and empathize with those whom they work.

    Anthropologists often spend time with the marginalized, and tend to empathize with them, which means in our society they are “leftists” (but in Soviet Russia they would have been rightists). Wall Street types tend to spend time with each other, and believe that they are doing something pretty useful and interesting, too, and in our society such people tend to be Republican. This is why they support bail-outs of agencies like Fannie Mae and Bear Stearns even though such policies run counter to free market principles.

    One of the disadvantages of a volunteer military is that only people who believe in the pre-existing world view of the military tend to volunteer, and today the people are already there are Repubilcans, even though the manner in which health care, PX privileges, etc., are distributed in the military is usually with respect to need, not “productivity.” In other words, in the military, many of the benefits are socialized across the institution–privates and generals all shop at the same PX, and get the same medical treatment (It is a a bit like France…).

    The irony is that in the US you get a lot of right wing Republicans supporting socialist policies for the military, and bailouts for Wall Street.

    Bottom line: party affiliation does not predict very well which party you support–we are all leftists when it comes to our own group, but rightists when it comes to the other guy. Rather, which party you belong to depends on who you work and associate with.

  6. I see that “I” have already been here…my ping made it here faster than I could.

    I just wanted to offer one little quip: You know you are in the U.S.A. when someone refers to the Democratic Party as “left.” I can’t think of anywhere else in the world where that might fly, except maybe for Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

  7. Doesn’t make a difference I’m more right than left, I just find that I can stir up a Dis.Board in quicker than a few seconds because it happens that more Anthro’s are left. Its good to have students of all political, religious and cultural beliefs that is how anthropology came to be.

  8. further more you will certainly find it more difficult to manage as a right wing anything in college these days…and yes if you lean to the right more than the left you will find most of your professors will dislike your ideas, correct you even when your right and sometimes dock you because you questioned their authority….but in the end I’m not in college for a fancy degree, an honor roll status,and to be the teachers pet.. I’m there to learn…consider yourself a rare gem if you find yourself a right wing anthropologist ;)

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