Tag Archives: afghanistan

in the 1960s, rumours surfaced that some anthropologists were being recruited by the CIA in Vietnam. In 1970, Eric Wolf, then chair of the AAA ethics committee, declared that social scientists were being recruited to assist the military in dealing with counterinsurgency in Thailand. “These programs comprise efforts at the manipulation of people on a giant scale and intertwine straightforward anthropological research with overt and covert counter-insurgency activities in such a way as to threaten the future of anthropological research,” he warned. And, according to a new book, Weaponizing Anthropology, by David Price, in recent decades the CIA has been funding social science programmes, and using the analysis for unlikely ends, such as designing policy at the Abu Ghraib detention centre.

This probably only affects a tiny minority of anthropologists. But it has sparked horror. Indeed, the AAA now operates a so-called “rapid response” team to offer ethical advice. This supports anthropologists who want to help, say, aid programmes – but not interrogations. “Advising people on how to extract information from people who don’t want information extracted, that is the antithesis of what the anthropological encounter is supposed to look like,” Hugh Gusterson, a network leader, has observed. But the pressures will not die away soon; not when budgets are being cut, jobs are scarce and governments (and corporations) are desperate to get better information about culture. To put it another way, precisely because anthropologists are good at analysing cultures and power structures, their research is of interest to people in… er… power. It is a bitter irony; even – or especially – in Afghanistan.

Gillian Tett: Interrogation is not a social science – (sadly paywalled for most)

[Cross-posted from the WITNESS Hub Blog.]

I’m moderating a free panel in the NYC PEN World Voices Festival at 6pm on Thursday 30th April – “Quiet Revolutions in Storytelling” – at which we’re going to be discussing new media, storytelling and human rights.  We have three fascinating panellists, and I wanted to introduce you to their work, and to give you an opportunity to pose them your questions (you can submit your questions via the comment field below, or via Twitter to @witnessorg)…

First up, someone you might already have come across online – Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal.  He’s best known for his participatory art piece Domestic Tension (or, as he wanted to call it, Shoot An Iraqi).  Wafaa conceived the piece in the wake of the death of his brother Haji, killed during attacks by US forces in Iraq.  For the piece, Wafaa lived for a month in the FlatFile Galleries in Chicago, under fire from a paintball gun controlled by internet users. Aside from the global interest and controversy that this piece generated, it poses difficult questions about the technology of war and of participation, about gaming and consequences, and about the nature of solidarity in the age of the internet.  Wafaa kept a video diary throughout the month-long project – here’s the entry from day 1:

You can watch the rest of Wafaa’s video diaries from the installation on his YouTube channel, see him talk about the project, and read about his latest exhibition (or if you are in Israel, go and see it before it ends this weekend.)

The second panellist is French graphic novelist Emmanuel Guibert.  Emmanuel’s most recent work is The Photographer, a collaboration with his childhood friend, photographer Didier Lefèvre, about a mission LeFevre undertook in 1986 to photograph the work of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Afghanistan.  There’s an interview with Emmanuel, along with some of the pages from The Photographer, at Newsarama, and more images and background here.  I’ve written before about graphic novels as a uniquely powerful medium for documenting and discussing human rights issues – and I think Emmanuel is going to have some really interesting perspectives on the differences between film, photography and graphic novels.  Another recently-translated work of Emmanuel’s is the biography of US soldier Alan Cope, Alan’s War.  Here’s a succinct and astonishing insight into how he created the artwork for that book:

Our friends over at the VII Photo Gallery in the Dumbo area of Brooklyn, NY, are hosting an exhibition of LeFevre’s photographs together with Emmanuel’s pages from The Photographer (here’s the publisher’s view of the opening night of the exhibit).

The final panelist is Catalan professor of philosophy Josep-Maria Terricabras.  You can’t be a Catalan professor of philosophy and not have thought about human rights, and I’m looking forward to the professor’s reflections on new media and whether it really can foster social revolutions…  Here’s one for the language aficionados among you – Professor Terricabras speaking (in Catalan) about power and participation:

That’s it – remember to add your questions by adding a comment below or tweeting it to @witnessorg

(Unfortunately Kathrin Roeggla, the excellent Austrian playwright who had been due to participate, can no longer make it to NYC.)