# POLITICS /// Weaponizing Anthropology by David Price


Those of my readers who have been following this blog for a little while will probably not miss the similitude of titles -I am not talking about the quality of content here- we are sharing with David Price. In fact, when I discovered that small book (thank you Kareem), it made me think that a series of book should exist in which all arts and (social) sciences should introspect their disciplines to observe and react to their political instrumentalization.
Although there is a small yet important difference between “Weaponizing Anthropology” and “weaponized architecture”. When in the former, the author imply a process of weaponization of his discipline that he describes all along this book, I wanted to express the fact that architecture is inherently weaponized whether one design it as such or not.

David Price, in this brilliant book published by CounterPunch, exposes the various forms of implicit and explicit recruitment the American Army is effectuating within the Anthropological discipline and Academia in general. in its effort to develop what it has been calling “counterinsurgency”. Weaponizing Anthropology is actually a collection of twelve essays written by D.Price since 2005 in an America “in war against terrorism”.
The recurrent subject of his investigation is a program entitled Humain Terrain System created by the US Army to recruit anthropologists in Iraq and Afghanistan with the official purpose to sensitize the command officers to the local population’s culture, customs and habits. Some anthropologists are indeed attracted by the idea to decrease the effect of the American military on the local population. However, according to D.Price, this program, in its structure does include any form of system of thoughts that would be foreign from the army’s own logic. In the best interpretation, it is useless and demagogic; in a worst vision though, anthropologists are transformed into soldiers (some of them have been asked to carry a gun) who are asked to use their knowledge to maximize the army’s power on local populations.

The Human Terrain Systems is not the only “target” of the book. One of the essay, entitled Working For Robots, deals more specifically on the drone war led by both Bush and Obama administration in Iraq, Afghanistan but also illegally in Pakistan. Here are two short excerpts from the chapter Drones and Human Intelligence (see a recent article about drones and our future daily lives) (One might want to replace systematically the word “anthropologist” by “architect”):

 Today, reliance on military robotics and drones in Iraq and Afghanistan progresses at a startling rate. In the span of the past eight years, the robotic presence in these theaters has increased from a state when there were no military robotic units to today’s total of over 12,000 robotic devices in use, with over 5,000 flying drones in use. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) like the Predator, with a flight range of over 2,000 miles, an ability to remain airborne at high elevations for over 24 hours at a time, advanced optical surveillance capabilities with the remote pilots linked by satellite half the world away, can track and kill humans on the ground. Other earthbound robots like the PackBot and Talon detonate landmines or roadside bombs while some like Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System have options of being armed with M-16s and other weapons (Singer 2009).
The impact of this tactical shift has radically changed the U.S. military’s ability to track and control occupied and enemy populations. As P.W. Singer shows in Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, battlefields and occupations are being revolutionized in ways that are quickly progressing beyond strategists’ ability to understand how these increases in remote tracking, controlling and killing are impacting the cultures they are physically dominating. Unsurprisingly, increases in robotic-panoptical monitoring and control have negative consequences for American interests, as mechanical manipulation revels deep divisions between the worlds of machines and humans (Singer 2009). To her credit, a decade and a half ago, [Montgomery] McFate understood how such dynamics would play out, through her “practical” solution to such dilemmas is mired in irresolvable political and ethical problems for the anthropologists that would become the sensors for the machines dominating these battlefields.

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 These war machines need human input. The machines need not so much anthropologists’ eyes and ears (they see and hear better than we will ever will), but they need our spirits –our ability to symbolically and humanly process the human environments these machines dominate. The war-machines are technically efficient but humanly stupid. They can track and control the movement of human bodies, but they cannot understand the webs of cultural meanings of those they physically dominate. They cannot sense their own effectiveness on the lives they control: this is one of the reasons why something like human terrain teams are needed to function as nerves, feeling and reporting the cultural-emotional responses of occupied peoples so that the machines of war can more exactly manipulate and dominate them. It is useful to metaphorically consider themes of The Matrix when considering the ways that humans (anthropologists) are needed to be the interface with and serve the machines of high tech-warfare.


 Price David. Weaponizing Anthropology. CounterPunch 2011