Anthropologists at War: Ethnographic intelligence and counter-insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan

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This article reconstructs the stages of the creation of the Human Terrain System, the civil-military program born from the interaction between anthropologists, army, military institutions, contractors and political actors of the American administrations with the aim of a better “cultural knowledge of the enemy” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through the analysis of the articles published – mainly in military reviews – by some of the anthropologist and social/human sciences experts who are involved in the program, I intend to illuminate their theoretical assumptions, the conceptions of the applicability of anthropology and social sciences they claim, and the ideological foundations that pushed these figures to claim the necessity of a new approach and relation between civil knowledge, military knowledge and governmental-political urgencies. Why do we invoke the recourse to the so called “ethnographic intelligence” as an instrument for sharpening the counterinsurgency techniques in the post 9/11 geo-political context? Are we dealing with an American specificity? Or are we facing a new, more articulated (and interactive) form of Orientalism?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-227
JournalInternational Political Anthropology Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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