Practicing Ethics and Ethical Practice: Anthropologists and Military Humanitarians

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In recent years the discipline of anthropology has given considerable attention to making sense of outreach by the U.S. military to assist with the “softer” side of its current global missions, which includes many humanitarian features. Significant disciplinary ambivalence and subsequent discussion about this invitation have focused attention on the ethical implications of working in or for secretive security agencies.1 These agencies have been taken to represent values antithetical to the anthropological project.

However, for this essay we point to the irreducibility of both secrecy and transparency in ethnographic work with counterparts “in the field.”2 We focus, in particular, on the social embeddedness of the work of anthropology as a characteristic shared with humanitarian intervention. We also develop an account of disciplinary practice and sources of knowledge as fundamentally collaborative with counterparts. In fact, these collaborative relations are constitutive of anthropological projects. For these reasons, we highlight a disciplinary ethics not as representing any “core values” but as necessarily in close proximity to disciplinary practice, and as regularly provoking new dilemmas. As such, emergent military humanitarian work should not be placed between ethical brackets as a special case of “state secrecy” but instead be understood as posing constructive dilemmas about new tensions between transparency and secrecy as these relate to emerging horizons and future applications of disciplinary practice.


Ethics and Human Subjects

When it entered office, President Barack Obama’s administration emphasized a “new era of responsibility.”3 At the same time, and in an unprecedented development, MBAs at business schools instituted an oath upon graduation to pursue a higher standard of social responsibility, as opposed to their own “narrow ambitions.”4 These are but two cases of a public turn to the language of ethics, which stands out against a backdrop of spectacular recent ethics crises, such as Abu Ghraib, the financial meltdown, the BP oil spill, and Wikileaks. These crises involved such diverse actors as the U.S. military, the National Institutes of Health, UNESCO, the Vatican, and corporations such as Enron. Commitments to increased transparency in government and more ethical professional conduct in war, business, or religion point to the extent to which the discourse of ethics has become a primary contemporary mode of public reasoning about social responsibility, and this includes the sciences.5

In recent years, government and watchdog groups have increased their public scrutiny of the ethics of science and the ethical conduct of scientists.6 Part of the turn to the ethical language of social responsibility has been the ascent in public discourse of the “rhetoric of transparency,” with transparency viewed as an “unassailable good” in answer to a host of perceived social and political challenges.7 In the past three years, multiple professional social scientific associations in the United States—representing psychology, geography, linguistics, anthropology, and economics—have all revised their disciplinary ethics codes or begun to draft one. In most cases this process was kick-started in response to perceived ethical lacunae, lack of oversight, and transparency, in association with more extensive applications of the social sciences in the interest of national security since 9/11.

Particular anxiety has accompanied emerging ethical borderlands resulting from new arrangements between researchers and research subjects. These borderlands have often arisen in relation to applications of novel techniques or technologies for research. New problems of privacy, surveillance, and sovereignty posed by the use of geographic information system (GIS) technologies spurred ethical discussion among geographers about their appropriate use; and ethical conversations among bioethicists were stirred by the implications of new nanotechnologies for privacy and social equity; likewise new data-mining computational tools have provoked active conversation among computer scientists about the status of online personal information, anonymization of data, and privacy.8 With the prodigious growth of post-9/11 “top-secret America,” the application of ethics to privacy is being reconsidered and reconfigured, in connection with the evolving relationship of privacy to personhood in deepening contexts of security. These ongoing discussions, in other words, are transforming conceptions of privacy even as they are reconfirming its ethical importance.9

Ethical borderlands also arise in circumstances of the application of established disciplinary methods in new contexts. This has been the case for anthropology. As part of a conversation provoked by U. S. military uses of anthropology in Iraq and Afghanistan, since the mid-2000s ethics has become a primary discourse of public reasoning about the morality, boundaries, and the very identity of professional practice.10 Having already modified its Code of Ethics in 2009, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) is nevertheless in the middle of a more comprehensive reassessment and revision of its code.11 In part this revision is an expression of continued disciplinary concern about the ways that anthropology has become more engaged by the work of military, intelligence, and security agencies than prior to 9/11.

Discussion across the social sciences has focused on the ethical ambiguities and implications of research and creative work with human beings as their subjects.12 And many of the concerns animating the AAA’s most recent ethics conversation were first articulated in a short 2005 article provocatively titled “Spies in Our Midst,” which sounded the alarm over the growing recruitment of anthropologists into the U.S. security sector.13 Of central concern to the writers is the unethical lack of transparency of “secret and clandestine” research. As opposed to privacy, what is mostly at issue among anthropologists is what constitutes the necessary ethical extent of transparency as it informs their research relationships, where secrecy is taken to be corrosive to these relationships and to the very identity of anthropology as a profession.

As a disciplinary anxiety of long standing, the ethics of secret research has trained attention upon the well-being of counterparts “in the field,” that is, the people identified as “informants” by previous generations, with whom the parameters and possibilities of research are negotiated, and who best correspond to human subjects in other scenarios of scientific work. In its rearticulation of this anxiety, “Spies in Our Midst” relies upon a fraught comparison between ethnographic research and espionage: both are conducted “in the field,” among distinct populations, and where data is gathered from people for other purposes. In this comparison the writers invite between ethnography and espionage, the difference between the two significantly depends upon the relative extent of transparency or secrecy with research counterparts.

Given its focus on the social relationships constitutive of the possibilities for research, anthropology’s ongoing ethical dialogue is a particularly instructive window for the understanding of science as a kind of social practice. As the Ethics Task Force of the AAA has emphasized, “Anthropology is an inherently social enterprise,” and so research is always a question of collaboration.14 Anthropology’s signature method of ethnography requires protracted and continuous negotiation with diverse counterparts in the field over an extended period of time that is often measured in years. These relationships compose the very possibilities for anthropological field research and knowledge production, and they are far from uniform or predictable.

The problem of how best to understand these research relationships lies at the heart of anthropology’s discussion of ethics. But we question the defense of disciplinary integrity and identity, reminiscent at times of the culture wars, that has accompanied the discipline’s recent ethical soul searching. And we consider the case of new military applications of anthropology in conflict zones as a means to critically examine anthropology’s public ethical reasoning about human subjects as part of applied humanitarian projects.


Is This About “Core Values”?

If the disciplinary history of anthropology is any indicator, its ethics talk is typically reactive, arising in response to controversial events (e.g., wars) or issues of public import in which anthropologists come to be implicated.15 Ethics debates are also often about the circumstances of anthropological training, credentialing, research, and disciplinary identity. Ethics is thus an expression of self-policing. As the anthropologist George Marcus has put it, ethical debates aspire to a disciplinary “reflexive and self-critical function.”16 Perhaps. Yet semi-regular disciplinary controversies over ethics also display a lack of consensus over its identity, research methods, topical concerns, modes, and locations of practice.

For this reason, ethics controversies present opportunities to reflect upon whether anthropology’s repeatedly modified Code of Ethics provides clearly applicable rules of conduct for the diversity of present and future anthropological work and, as such, can serve as a basic statement of “who we are.” Put another way, it remains an open question whether disciplinary practice is usefully circumscribed by ethics when treated as a set of self-evident and transhistorical principles. The short answer, we suggest, is: they cannot. And, we argue, this answer is both disciplinarily and ethically desirable.

Ethics is often presented as a set of principles commensurate with the historical trajectory of the discipline. A prohibition against “secret and clandestine” research, the requirement of informed consent, the necessity of sharing results freely and publicly—all are promoted by advocates as expressions of the “core values” of anthropology. As such, ethics has been used at once to define and to defend perceived disciplinary boundaries, with the goal of restoring disciplinary “matter out of place,” to jury-rig Mary Douglas’s well-known analysis of symbolic impurities for present purposes.17

In the words of one ethicist and close observer of anthropology’s disciplinary paroxysms, this state of affairs too easily devolves into a “litany of shame,” characterized by mudslinging and calls for censure.18 Used this way, ethics becomes an “othering” frame used against one or another of what the Sandia anthropologist Laura McNamara has called the “many parallel universes of anthropological practice.”19 Mobilized to such ends, it is possible that ethics could come to underwrite a disciplinary roots movement of sorts, enlisted in a push to restore a “real” or “pure” anthropology by means of legalistic and prescriptive clarity. Such solutions are offered to counter what Gerald Berreman—referring in an earlier moment to anthropology’s entrance into corporate research—described as a “a laissez-faire ethic of free enterprise research in place of the tradition of humane scholarship,” or to counter—as has more recently been described for anthropology’s engagement with the military—a growing “regulatory black hole.”20

However, ethics discussions moving out from definitions of core values or the identification of long-standing disciplinary norms perhaps purposely tend to ignore a persistent fact about anthropology: its perpetual lack of such a consensus. In her 2000 distinguished lecture at the annual meeting of the AAA, then outgoing AAA president Laura Nader characterized anthropology as an “outrageous science,” given its disrespect for boundaries.21 She meant this as a virtue. More recently, John Comaroff has described anthropology as a distinctly heterodox and “undisciplined discipline” best given over to the “critical estrangement,” or deconstruction, of its own ur-concepts.22

Anthropology historically encompasses an incredible variety of work sites, projects, methods, tools, epistemologies, as well as interdisciplinary partnerships. Clyde Kluckhohn’s mid-twentieth-century quip about anthropology as an “intellectual poaching license” comes to mind. So too does Clifford Geertz’s discussion of anthropology as genre-blurring. As such, Geertz suggested a stance of skepticism toward most received ideas of what anthropologists “ought or ought not to be doing.”23 Likewise, Paul Rabinow has more recently argued that the problem of any “anthropology of the contemporary” is a matter of sustaining inquiry into what’s going on while not deducing it beforehand.24 These observations all view professional disciplinary identity not as settled but as provisional, plural, and historically contingent—a conclusion with consequences for how ethics might best inform professional conduct.

Anthropology regularly debates the extent of its own unitariness. This includes navigating the tension introduced by guild-like articulations of ethics too invested in boundary-maintenance at the expense of the typically boundary-crossing social processes of ethnographic knowledge production. In recent decades, for example, the discipline of anthropology has been engaged in a slow and uneven retreat from the holistic culture concept, as represented by E. B. Tyler’s classic and professionally formative late nineteenth-century notion of culture as a “complex whole.”25 Yet, in its self-policing discussions of ethics, the discipline appears selectively to take for granted an unproblematic disciplinary identity as a well-defined and stable moral order in need of retrenchment.

In fact, such persistent reference to disciplinary “core values” as part of ethics discussions explicitly treats social scientific practice as a kind of cultural practice, but apparently with the same holism critiqued and dismissed in still prevalent if simplistic billiard ball accounts of culture as a “total way of life.”26 In this mode ethical discussion is out of sync with critically engaged knowledge production. It ignores anthropology’s now well-established critique of the culture concept as too unitary, too integrated, evenly distributed, codified, and reified, in ways that too easily distort, exoticize, essentialize, and as a result potentially disempower the people with whom anthropologists negotiate their ethnographic possibilities. Anthropology’s ethics talk apparently has not caught up with the effort to “write against culture,” when deployed for such totalizing and othering ends.27

When considering the right ethical balance for anthropology, particularly as it navigates the implications of military humanitarianism and other humanitarian ventures, inspiration can be taken from kindred discussions in the thriving anthropology of human rights, which are little concerned with pronouncing the human rights model correct or incorrect. As illustrated in the work of Sally Merry and others, “human rights” are presented as at once a set of broad, flexible, and fragmented concepts about social justice, available for multiple interpretations and used in locally diverse ways, in her words “in the vernacular.”28 Just as Merry and others prioritize the question of what difference human rights make in practice (rather than in principle) when constructing social justice claims, ethical conversation cannot be extracted from the local circumstances of anthropological knowledge production, as researchers pursue a variety of goals in particular contexts and in conversation with diverse counterparts.


Beware the Audit Culture

As anthropology is a social science historically notable for its lack of any single comprehensive definition both for its signature concept (culture) and method (ethnography), otherwise pervasive ethical paradigms such as bioethics provide poor models for the governing of anthropologists’ conduct while working with human subjects. The socially constitutive nature of anthropological field work is not legible in the terms of controlled environments typical of medical research. Social environments are often presented as nonplaces and subjects given no role in the active construction of research results, while science is presented as a sometimes problematic intervention into society, requiring oversight, but not in itself an essentially social activity. The anthropologist Rena Lederman has emphasized the tensions between ethnography and standard defined-in-advance and replicable hypothesis-testing protocols. Instead of a “purified relation between knower and known,” when understood from the bioethical point of view ethnography appears to be “socially contaminated.”29 This can make navigating the process of ethics approval with institutional review boards (IRBs) challenging.

As Maureen Fitzgerald has made the point, ethnographers are rarely aware in detail of the specific parameters of informed consent prior to undertaking research.30 To ensure a successful IRB outcome, researchers are often obliged to engage in a variety of ethical impression management.31 They strive to present their research process as overly bounded and as defined by discretely identifiable data for collection, which tends to promote “safe” research. In the process, the identities of counterparts in research are often marginalized to that of the controlled experimental subject, while the enabling social contexts of ethnography are actively suppressed, now as a largely inert background context.

In other words, IRB-type ethical frames for human subjects tend to delegitimize key hallmarks of ethnographic work: the serendipitously productive open-endedness of participant observation, as it evolves in relation to unexpected developments in the field, as contingent upon the social relations composing ethnographic research. One source of this problem is “the expectation that anthropological work be scientific, objective, and neutral rather than humanistic and personal.”32 IRBs tend to divert attention from the ongoing negotiation of informed consent, the ethnographer’s embeddedness in different social contexts, and expectations among counterparts, as these critically determine the shape of knowledge. The institutionalization of ethics in formal processes of accountability can privilege a version of the scientific process that tends to discount the ongoing “dialogical” sources of ethnographic knowledge.33

Rather than apply standard procedures for informed consent, it is routine for ethnographers to develop these standards with research subjects in the course of work. Janine Wedel described exactly this when explaining her attribution strategy for interviewing U.S. political operators as an evolving engagement increasingly resembling that of journalism. Given her counterparts’ familiarity in dealing with reporters, “on the record” or “on background” made greater sense to this particular community of human subjects than did any standard recommendation we might find in the pages of textbooks on anthropological methods.34Journalistic conventions, then, helped to enable Wedel’s negotiated access to these inside-the-beltway power elites. This is a good example of an ethical engagement closely wedded to the contingencies of ongoing research practice.

One consequence of this is that in the effort to comply with prevailing IRB processes that insist on the stable integrity of a bioethics-type standard, institutional “deceptions” are required to successfully square the hard-to-predict vagaries associated with participant observation research. The packaging of research for IRB assessment to meet the requirements of prior accountability based on preexistent research designs assuming informed consent obligate ethnographers to clean up any potential signs of social contamination as part of their method in ways designed to increase the resemblance of ethnography to the controlled settings of more traditional research. In the current IRB environment, deception and ethics, we might say, go hand-in-hand with ethnography. This institutional opacity to oversight is one way in which a relative lack of transparency tends to characterize ethnographic practice.

Peter Pels has even suggested that ethics codes are a kind of “folk epistemology of professionalism” for the social sciences, which can obscure the fact that the work of ethnography involves a moral “duplexity,” or duplicity, where a fundamental condition for ethnographic knowledge production dedicated to cultural difference is the negotiation of double standards.35 Pels views ethnographic knowledge as a negotiation, at any given historical juncture, of competing claims to moral value, to truth value, and to political expediency, sometimes reconciled only uneasily or not at all.

This dilemma suggests where it might be best to locate ethics with respect to disciplinary practice, in the process liberating it from any forced exercise legislating uniformity in the circumstances—the particularities—of what constitutes such work. As part of any prescriptive, community-building and discipline-bounding exercise, ethics tends to insist upon clear and unambiguous language to draw categorical lines in the sand to include or preclude [fill in the blank]. But the recent work of the AAA’s Ethics Task Force has sought to avoid this temptation, encouraging a view of ethics as adaptively flexible enough to adjust to a “wide range of contexts of anthropological practice” in nonanticipatory ways.36

If it can be tempting to try to anticipate and to fill in all the blanks, ethical dialogue is perhaps better conceived not as a struggle over the soul of anthropology in order to patrol the boundaries of disciplinary identity but instead as an active discussion about the potential for “family resemblances” and differences between well-established and emergent forms of disciplinary practice. Rather than a dedication to the defense of a “core” disciplinary identity, this amounts to more of a dialogue given to examining the overlapping similarities and differences, and to encouraging more active traffic along a continuum of potential family resemblances, with counterparts, in various environments and contexts, involving varied topical concerns.37 A prohibition against “secret” research, in this mode, makes little sense until more comparatively located within the distinct terms of different situations of research practice. Lynn Meskell and Pels have advocated for this more “practical ethical engagement.”38


Ethnography as Engaged Social Enterprise

What is meant by the “human subject” of anthropological research depends on notably different kinds of social investments and alignments among anthropologists and their counterparts in these projects. These relationships are not static. In recent decades, the terms of relationships with ethnographic counterparts have steadily shifted toward the expectation of their greater participation in determining the purposes, outcomes, and significance of research projects, in contrast to a conception of “human subject” upon whom research is performed or from whom information is unilaterally extracted.39 This shift toward an unprecedented level of consultative collaboration, as the basis of research relationships between ethnographers and communities, has changed the perception of the responsibilities of ethnographers to the people with whom they work, along with the very meaning and purpose of anthropological knowledge production.40

In their recent survey of the kinds of increasingly engaged forms of ethnographic collaboration, Low and Merry note that anthropologists “do not necessarily agree about what constitutes engagement.”41 In fact, “engaged anthropology” is a relatively new term—certainly still contested—but which tends to incorporate a call to greater civic responsibility, including explicitly as “citizens.”42 For ethnographers, an engaged perspective is often equated with politically framed projects of social justice carried out with research counterparts and communities. The research goal is combined with an imperative to “speak truth to power.”43The researcher as “advocate” or as “activist,” often also subsumed under the rubric of engagement, includes such roles as providing testimony, acting as an expert witness, translator, or broker, as part of the work of representing community interests to powerful public or private institutions in and out of government. But engagement, understood in such terms, certainly does not exhaust the range of possible relationships with counterparts.

Engaged ethnographic practice has been alternately compared and contrasted with so-called public anthropology.44 If public anthropology also shares characteristics with earlier disciplinary trends, such as Sol Tax’s “action anthropology,” it is often distinguished by efforts to generate and use anthropological knowledge as part of extradisciplinary “public dialogue,” to engage the “public sector” (or policymaking), or as dedicated to the “public good.” A challenge for practitioners of public anthropology is to identify what sort of “public” they might mean, where research popu-dlations are at once encompassed within larger publics but not neatly coextensive with them. Ethical conduct for an ethnographer toward a given population, in this case, would depend on where its members are understood to be located, as part of, but not the same as, any larger public.

Public and engaged research goals are not neatly or sharply differentiated from more established investments in “applied” anthropology and the newer discussions of “practicing” anthropology.45 Often counterposed to “basic research” as an “academic” goal, applied anthropology refers to putting the discipline to use, sometimes on behalf of communities but also corporations, in a more problem-solving mode.46 Applied anthropologists have a relationship to research populations determined in large part by the fact that they typically conduct research for others and do not maintain proprietary ownership over the research data they generate. This is certainly the case with ethnographers working on behalf of the U.S. military.47

While the differences between these roles—as paired with research—are blurred, ethnographers have drawn these distinctions in different ways. For some, advocacy might be mere representation, while activism includes a more explicit commitment to “human liberation.”48 For others, anthropologists have a duty to act to alleviate situations of suffering, even when some participants in their research might object.49 Nancy Scheper-Hughes has controversially exploited the “transgressive uses” of what she has labeled a “militant anthropology.”50 Her politically engaged research has enlisted ethnography in the effort to expose the secrets of illegal traffickers in human organs. And to expose these community secrets, she herself conducted research undercover while not disclosing her purpose to her criminal research subjects.51 Such politically engaged anthropology, therefore, has promoted secrecy as an integral part of certain research agendas.

As we have been emphasizing, anthropology is currently engaged with itself in a regular discussion about proliferating kinds of research trajectories and alignments with research counterparts and communities. Disciplinary research relationships are at once more variable, more often contested than previously, and framed within a broader variety of collaborative agendas with counterparts. We have only very provisionally and briefly touched ground with what is a much more nuanced set of arguments and investments in order to emphasize the extent to which disciplinary discussions about the relative extent of secrecy or transparency in research collaborations proceed from multiple locations “in the field” and respond to a wide variety of practical, if contested, exigencies. And these accounts do not neatly converge; they often raise very different questions, but they encourage an ongoing and active discussion of their ethics.


Secret and Clandestine

Ethical discussions of the problems of secret research understandably decry its lack of openness as essentially contrary to “the interests of studied populations.”52 At the same time they also tend to assume a naive account of secrecy. As David Price has made the case, “Secrecy always carries the danger of transmuting ethnographers into spies.”53 But secrecy in ethnography is not always coextensive with “state secrecy,” where it might be assumed that concealed national “interests” compete in zero-sum fashion against less powerful interests, like those of the people with whom anthropologists work. And as the intersection of military efforts with humanitarian work continues to evolve, if amid controversy, emerging and associated sites of practice pose new ethnographic dilemmas for making ethical sense of the relations of privacy to secrecy to transparency.54

Considerations of secrecy versus openness often emphasize their incompatibility, but alongside impoverished accounts of the ethnographic relationship, presented as if straightforward, and as featuring an upfront, ongoing, and transparent dialogue with counterparts to negotiate clear obligations and expectations, which directly contribute to defining the meaning, the goals, and the outcomes of research in stable ways.55 In other words, if with some exceptions, the well-being of counterparts is assumed to co-vary with the increased transparency of the relationships maintained with ethnographic researchers.

But we question the special connection drawn between secrecy and research in contexts of security (or the equation of anthropologist as spy operative there) to bring into better focus the residual clandestinity of more typically uncontroversial research practice. The AAA’s Ethics Task Force has certainly qualified a commitment to “fully” informed consent, noting that consent is better conceived as an “ongoing dialogue and negotiation,” that there are usually “unintended consequences” to all ethnographic fieldwork, and that there are cases in which “limited dissemination” of results makes sense.56 A blanket normative commitment to transparency in ethical terms fits uneasily with the long-standing indeterminacies of anthropological fieldwork and the social relationships that underwrite it. Highlighting how such clandestinity is built into ethnography, and can even be ethnographically enabling, brings into better view the potential and limits for anthropological practice within the security sector.

When considering disciplinary meanings of secrecy and transparency, Rena Lederman’s revealing comparison of the cross-disciplinary legibility of “research” as a kind of knowledge-producing activity is helpful.57 Lederman shows how one disciplinary context may consider a given activity to be “research,” while another might not. She explores variances in disciplinary meanings of apparently standard ethical terms such as informed consent, and with respect to such commonplace ethnographic activities as conducting an interview. And if the ethics of interviewing are central to how we negotiate relationships with research subjects in the field, Lederman convincingly demonstrates that practices of interviewing and associated ethical concerns vary significantly from one social science discipline to another.

As Lederman notes, sociology grants a limited role to deception toward human subjects, since “covert research is sometimes necessary for gaining access to secretive behavior.”58 For psychologists conducting blind or double-blind experiments, what human subjects know beforehand about the goals of research might fundamentally compromise the validity of research outcomes. Deception is, in fact, part of the research design. Full prior disclosure is not an option. Psychologists, therefore, commonly conduct in-depth exit interviews with their subjects. Lederman’s work is helpful because it brings into view the variability of the research landscape across disciplines with respect to the relationship between informed consent, interviewing, and deception. She shows how this relationship does not simply resolve itself into anything resembling a consensus about the appropriate ethical stance toward secrecy.

Anthropology has nevertheless maintained an abiding relationship with deceptions and complicities of various sizes and shapes. Gary Fine’s “Ten Lies of Ethnography” illuminatingly explores the underside or backstage of fieldwork. As Fine tells us, “Illusions are essential to maintain an occupational reputation,” in ways both trivial and not trivial. Ethnographers cannot, he suggests, be “honest brokers,” with nothing to hide and with everything to share.59Most ethnographic writing is largely accepted on faith. And interpretations are developed largely in private. Field notes are still jealously guarded and conventionally not publicly circulated. In fact, Roger Sanjek has attempted to expose the “secret life of field notes.”60 But in contexts of anthropological work with communities, corporations, and state entities, “field-note privacy” remains a question of active discussion, if in different ways.61

At the same time, anthropological ethics has recognized limits to transparency, as when seeking to preserve the anonymity of victims to protect them from reprisal while documenting wartime atrocities.62 Ethnographers have also recognized a role for more outright deception while working with human subjects who operate in spaces of criminality or illegality to nuance or to humanize their predicaments.63 Anthropologists are also privy to knowledge not always meant for everyone in a community, such as “sacred knowledge.” As Robert Rubinstein notes, ethnographers regularly confront “societies with their own conceptions of power, of what should and should not be revealed to outsiders.”64 And for Rubinstein at least, there is little difference between this “sacred” knowledge and the kind of “secrets” often associated with security institutions in the United States.

In short, the “open circulation of knowledge” encounters limits in the discipline’s public sphere. If withholding specific research goals from subjects or from publics does occur, this is different from keeping one’s project altogether under wraps, either from other researchers or from subjects.65 As Fine points out, “We ethnographers cannot help to lie, but in lying reveal truths.”66 He encourages greater consideration of the sources of ethnographic efficacy in deception, as this is a basic part of relationships with counterparts in the field.

It seems clear that anthropology’s established ethical commitments to openness and to transparency cannot be taken for granted. Rather, what they mean necessarily changes with the changing contexts of research. As Fine, Scheper-Hughes, and Rubinstein make clear—if from different starting points—”complete transparency” is descriptively inaccurate when applied to the relationships constitutive of ethnography. As new possibilities for research open up, and as varieties of relationships with counterparts continue to be debated and to enable new sorts of collaborative projects, the challenge is not one of confronting a choice between secrecy and transparency. It is instead one of working through the irreducible tension between the two, as they are both present in any research relationship and as they pose different dilemmas for work anthropologists might be doing.67


Anthropologists and Military Humanitarians

Ethical anxiety among anthropologists has been directed primarily at efforts to leverage the discipline as part of a new “military humanitarianism.”68 As with the example of the controversial Human Terrain System (HTS) program, this includes the incorporation of disciplinary methods (e.g., rapid ethnographic appraisal techniques), concepts (e. g., the culture concept), and practitioners into typically military-led “non-kinetic” efforts to limit violence; promote stability, reconstruction, or human rights; coordinate responses to humanitarian crises; or encourage development and diplomacy in theaters of conflict.69 In the military’s pursuit of broader goals of counterinsurgency, civilians, already subjects of a military occupation, are now also made the subjects of research for the military’s effort to increase its cultural knowledge of conflict zones. And anthropologists continue to consider implications of so-called military anthropology.70 As the U.S. military hypes its “3–D” approach to “defense, diplomacy, development” in regional combatant commands, humanitarian collaboration with the military will present anthropology with changing sets of relationships to negotiate.71 These relationships will include new fault lines of secrecy and openness with the colleagues, counterparts, populations, and publics involved.

As an object lesson in the often problematic invitation to military cooperation, the deeply flawed Human Terrain System program illustrates well the perils of anthropology at the service of military humanitarian efforts. The AAA’s report on HTS points out the dilemmas of this program, as well as the potentially “dangerous liaisons” created when working in proximity to the goals of security.72 HTS, as a program, resists identification either as a research, advising, or intelligence capacity. Members of Human Terrain Teams are unable to retain reliable control over their own data once collected. There is no programmatic effort to protect counterparts or the confidentiality of informants. Military objectives too often appear to drive objectives of data collection, where “raw data” could also conceivably be utilized for more tactical functions. Human subjects—the sources of data—are typically treated not as active agents but as parts of the topography of the conflict zone, of the “terrain.”

In other words, the basic purpose of HTS remains unclear. Human Terrain Team collectors enjoy little control over the terms of their relationships with civilian research subjects, and the subjects have even less. Their work is significantly compartmentalized. And the data they collect circulates in ways that potentially increase the exposure of their civilian counterparts to unwanted cultural targeting or worse. This cumulative set of concerns makes it hard to distinguish the ethnographic component of HTS from the strategic “soft power” goals of the encompassing counterinsurgency project.

Even so, the frontiers between ethnography and contexts of security are far from stable. There are signs that the intelligence community (IC) is actively critiquing its own practice in ways not incommensurate with anthropology’s critiques of secrecy. Both anthropology and the IC are, in ways perhaps unexpectedly parallel, exploring new open-source solutions to data management and circulation of results.73 A recent and well-received report confronting the inadequacies of approaches to intelligence gathering in the Afghan theater reads like an anthropological critique of so-called cultural intelligence. The report criticizes the counterproductive “secretiveness of the intelligence community,” while stressing the need for new “information brokers,” unclassified versions of all reports, shared digital networks available to all partners, and much better use of the “vast and underappreciated” body of unclassified information.74 This trend could create possible spaces of future cooperation with anthropologists, who might be able to identify ethical forms of practice in conjunction with these new spaces of relatively well-defined transparency.

Meanwhile, in recent decades the research populations of anthropologists have exhibited a heightened interest in their collective privacy and in securing their “cultural property.” As the anthropologist Michael Brown has shown, groups that have long received ethnographic attention, like Hopi or Zuni in North America, are now often “fanatically committed to secrecy.”75 New tribal cultural protection offices regularly seek to control the circulation of sacred knowledge, now viewed as proprietary and rigorously compartmentalized among specialists. Brown compares tribal efforts to protect their own cultural privacy “from unwanted scrutiny” to the security strategies of “top-secret government agencies.”76 And new collective investments in cultural property and privacy have begun to shape international legal efforts to develop a cultural right to privacy.77

And so, while the intelligence community appears to be struggling toward more open-source and transparent relationships with data collection, communities of study that have a long relationship to anthropology are becoming more closed and secretive. This is not to suggest that the discipline should embrace intelligence work. But in these security contexts the dynamism of the relationships between privacy, secrecy, and transparency is apparent. These relationships are the enabling sources of possibility for ethnography in future contexts of security, and they involve navigating a moveable set of tensions among claims to cultural property, collective privacy, reforms of state secrecy, and other kinds of determinative factors shaping the terms of transparency for research collaboration.

There are relevant differences to be drawn between military-driven humanitarian and soft power strategic objectives, on the one hand, and logistical cooperation with the military as part of a humanitarian response, on the other. Understanding such differences includes not treating the case of “state secrecy” for the U.S. security apparatus as special, provoking an exceptional disciplinary ethical response. Both transparency and secrecy are irreducible dimensions of any collaborative relationships with research counterparts, including for applied humanitarian work.



In this essay our suggestion has been that deceptions of various sorts continue to characterize ethnographic practice. And as we have also emphasized, access to ethical concerns—and public debate—about secrecy is in fact facilitated through the historically contingent terms of disciplinary practice, presently engaged by the agencies, institutions, and legal frameworks of “security.” Security is a contemporary dilemma of practice that is becoming hard to avoid, and anthropology’s ethics continues to sort out the dilemmas it provokes.

Anthropology’s arguments about military humanitarian objectives have helped to clarify the particular challenges posed by secrecy in the securityscape. If the comparison between ethnographer and spy is misleading, nevertheless key ethical questions are now in sharper focus. The AAA’s Ethics Task Force discriminates between “clandestine or secretive research that manipulates or deceives,” which is problematic, and “proprietary” or “classified” research, which it leaves open to a more situational ethical calculus.78 The litmus test for this distinction appears to be the extent of compartmentalization of one’s research, and the potential inability to evaluate possible negative consequences of such work, such as the manipulation of, or harm to, counterparts.

“Compartmentalized research” is one particular way in which secrecy matters for ethnographic practice within security frameworks. Attached to this concern are several others: the relative transparency of the relationship of specific research projects to larger objectives (e.g., soft power goals); the extent to which open research can be carried out using classified “sources and methods”; and the circulation of confidential data about persons, as opposed to generic or anonymized data about cultures. Articulating these is a start toward a thicker description of the relations of privacy, transparency, and secrecy in ways that acknowledge the social embeddedness of disciplinary practice in contexts of security. And the promise of humanitarian applications of anthropology will continue to provoke new dilemmas of practice, accompanied by protracted disciplinary discussions, alongside ongoing negotiations with counterparts inside and outside these security arrangements.



1. Here we are drawing a distinction between “soft” and “hard” power, in ways consistent with their use in Joseph S. Nye, Sr., Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2004).

2. While this essay is in part concerned with the ethics of human subjects research for the applied social sciences, throughout we will be using the term “counterpart” to designate people with whom anthropologists typically collaborate in the course of ethnographic field work. These counterparts most directly correspond to the “human subject” referred to in discussions of scientific research ethics. However, the distinction is not casual, and preference for “counterpart” is one way we consistently emphasize the collaborative and negotiated nature of ethnography as a form of knowledge production.

3. Barack Obama, Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009.

4. Leslie Wayne, “A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Immorality,” New York Times, May 29, 2009.

5. See Sheila Jasanoff, Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005).

6. For example, a major task for the new Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues—announced in late 2010—will be a comprehensive review of current federal and international standards to “guard the health and well-being of participants in scientific studies.” See Barack Obama, “Presidential Memorandum—Review of Human Subjects Protection,” sent to Amy Gutmann, commission chair, November 24, 2010, (accessed July 18, 2011). Another response has been that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is now updating the “Common Rule,” which has provided the ethical framework for the process of institutional review of federally funded human subjects research since 1992.

7. See Claire Birchall, “Transparency, Interrupted: Secrets of the Left,” Theory, Culture & Society 28, nos. 7/8 (2011): 60–84.

8. See Nadine Schuurman, “Trouble in the Heartland: GIS and its Critics in the 1990s,”Progress in Human Geography 24, no. 4 (2000): 569–90; Anisa Mnyusiwalla, Abdallah S. Daar, and Peter A. Singer, “`Mind the Gap’: Science and Ethics in Nanotechnology,”Nanotechnology 14, no. 3 (2003): R9–R13; Susan B. Barnes, “A Privacy Paradox: Social Networking in the United States,” Computer and Information Science 11, no. 9 (2006): 11–15.

9. Dana Priest and William M. Arkin, Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State (New York: Little, Brown, 2011).

10. See Marietta Baba, “Disciplinary-Professional Relations in an Era of Anthropological Engagement,” Human Organization 68, no. 4 (2009): 380–91.

11. The most recent Code of Ethics of the AAA can be found here: (accessed January 22, 2012). More information about this process, including a draft of the proposed revision, can be found here: (accessed January 22, 2012).

12. Significant attention has been given to the status of human subjects protection at the policy level of late, including several recent reports. See Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, Moral Science: Protecting Participants in Human Subjects Research(Washington, D.C., 2011); Science Ethics and Human Rights Working Group, Intersections of Science, Ethics and Human Rights: The Question of Human Subjects Protection(Washington, D.C., 2012). The question of human subjects has also preoccupied diverse communities of practice beyond the social sciences as well, such as documentary filmmakers, who have maintained spirited discussions about the ethical ambiguities and lack of ethical standards informing their work. See Patricia Aufderheide, Peter Jaszi, and Mridu Chandra,Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Ethical Challenges in Their Work(Washington, D.C.: Center for Social Media, 2009).

13. Hugh Gusterson and David Price, “Spies in Our Midst,” Anthropology News 46, no. 6 (2005): 39–40. The accusation of espionage against individual anthropologists is not a new one, and in fact it has played a significant role in the discipline’s history. Most notable was Franz Boas’s charge against colleagues in the context of World War I; see David Price, “Anthropologists as Spies,” The Nation, November 20, 2000.

14. See (accessed January 26, 2012).

15. This was the case with the involvement of American anthropologists in World War II. See David Price, Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2008). More controversial anthropological involvement in Vietnam-era conflict led to the creation of the AAA’s first official ethics code; see Gerald Berreman, “Is Anthropology Alive? Social Responsibility in Social Anthropology,” Current Anthropology 9, no. 5 (1968): 391–96. This remains the case today with anthropological involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: George Lucas, Anthropologists in Arms: The Ethics of Military Anthropology(Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009).

16. George Marcus, “CEAUSSIC: Origin Story and Grand Finale,” (accessed December 7, 2009).

17. Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo(London: Ark Paperbacks, 1966), 35.

18. Lucas, Anthropologists in Arms, 25.

19. Laura McNamara, “CEAUSSIC: Ethics Casebook,” (accessed January 27, 2010).

20. Gerald Berreman, “Ethics versus `Realism’ in Anthropology Redux,” in Ethics and the Profession of Anthropology, ed. Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban (Walnut Creek, Calif.: Altamira Press, 2003), 79; Roberto González and Hugh Gusterson, “Taking the Next Step: Why We Should Continue Strengthening the AAA Ethics Code,” Anthropology News 50, no. 6 (2009): 14.

21. Laura Nader, “Anthropology! Distinguished Lecture—2000,” American Anthropologist103, no. 3 (2001): 610.

22. John Comaroff, “The End of Anthropology, Again: On the Future of an In/Discipline,”American Anthropologist 112, no. 4 (2010): 527.

23. Clifford Geertz, “Blurred Genres: The Reconfiguration of Social Thought,” in Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 21.

24. Paul Rabinow, Marking Time: On the Anthropology of the Contemporary (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008).

25. For a discussion of the history of anthropology’s changing disciplinary relationship to the culture concept, see Michael Fischer, “Culture and Cultural Analysis as Experimental Systems,” Cultural Anthropology 22, no. 1 (2007): 1–65.

26. For an example of how anthropological critics of uses of anthropology by militaries equate ethical first principles with disciplinary “core values,” see Gusterson and Price, “Spies in Our Midst.” This position notably contrasts with the post-1990s anthropological critique of the culture concept, which rejects “core values”–type formulations; see David Scott, “Culture in Political Theory,” Political Theory 31, no. 1 (2003): 92–115.

27. Lila Abu-Lughod, “Writing against Culture,” in Recapturing Anthropology in the Present, ed. Richard G. Fox (Santa Fe, N.M.: School of American Research Press, 1991), 137–62.

28. Sally Engle Merry, Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).

29. Rena Lederman, “Comparative `Research’: A Modest Proposal concerning the Object of Ethics Regulation,” Political and Legal Anthropology Review 30, no. 2 (2007): 319.

30. Maureen Fitzgerald, “The Ethics-Review Process,” Anthropology News 46, no. 6 (2005): 10–11.

31. See Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (New York: Anchor Books, 1959).

32. Setha M. Low and Sally Engle Merry, “Engaged Anthropology: Diversity and Dilemmas,”Current Anthropology 51, suppl. no. 2 (2010): S213.

33. See Dennis Tedlock and Bruce Mannheim, The Dialogic Emergence of Culture (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995).

34. Janine Wedel, “Ethical Research across Power Divides,” Anthropology News 50, no. 6 (2009): 18.

35. Peter Pels, “Professions of Duplexity: A Prehistory of Ethical Codes in Anthropology,”Current Anthropology 40, no. 2 (1999): 102.

36. See (accessed January 27, 2012).

37. Our discussion of family resemblances as a better description of social scientific practice than core values relies on Wittgenstein’s seminal development of the concept; see Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell, 1953).

38. Lynn Meskell and Peter Pels, “Introduction: Embedding Ethics,” in Embedding Ethics: Shifting Boundaries of the Anthropological Profession, ed. Lynn Meskell and Peter Pels (Oxford: Berg, 2005), 1.

39. Just as with the turn to more “participatory” kinds of development projects in previous decades, greater participation on the part of research subjects in the design and implementation of studies is now a more widely recognized norm, particularly in applied social science efforts such as participatory health research, but also as a basic feature of ethnographic practice. See Stan Burkey, People First: A Guide to Self-Reliant Participatory Rural Development (London: Zed Books, 1996); Robert V. Kemper and Anya Peterson Royce, eds., Chronicling Cultures: Long-Term Field Research in Anthropology (Boulder, Co.: Altamira Press, 2002); Louise Lamphere, “The Convergence of Applied, Practicing, and Public Anthropology in the 21st Century,” Human Organization 63, no. 4 (2004): 431–43; Eric Lassiter, “Moving Past Public Anthropology and Doing Collaborative Research,” NAPA Bulletin 29, no. 1 (2008): 70–86; Duane Roth, “A Third Seat at the Table: An Insider’s Perspective on Patient Representatives,” Hastings Center Report 41, no. 1 (2011): 29–31.

40. For U.S. anthropology, one example of this trend is the relevance of the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (instituted in 1990), which requires consultation with Native Americans and grants significant authority to them in determining the management and ownership of their own tangible heritage. NAGPRA institutionalizes consultative collaboration between researchers and affected communities. The U.S. military is also responsible for NAGPRA, and it has developed cooperative agreements with Native Americans to create partnerships and to ensure consultative stewardship of cultural resources. Here see Heather Wagner and Laurie Rush, Best Management Practices for Cultural Resource Management on DoD Lands (Ft. Drum, N.Y.: Department of Defense Legacy Program, 2008). Consultative expectations are also being included in new international standards for research conduct. Commensurate with NAGPRA, article 18 of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples spells out a right to participate in any decision-making on matters that might affect them, and to do so in their own terms. While anthropologists might be engaged in ethnography as part of museum curation or for the purpose of academic knowledge production—to write a book—counterparts might view such work as a basis for the consolidation of proprietary claims to knowledge that is “ours,” in their process for establishing a claim of intellectual property. Negotiating such distinct priorities is part of what ethnographic research is now about.

41. Low and Merry, “Engaged Anthropology,” S207.

42. See Barbara Rose Johnston, “Social Responsibility and the Anthropological Citizen,”Current Anthropology 51, suppl. no. 2 (2010): S235–S249.

43. David Price, “Anthropology and the Wages of Secrecy,” Anthropology News 48, no. 3 (2007): 6.

44. See Robert Borofsky, “Defining Public Anthropology,” http://www.publicanthropology

.org/public-anthropology (accessed January 30, 2012).

45. For example, a newer unit of the AAA has been named the Committee on Practicing, Applied and Public Interest Anthropology (or COPAPIA).

46. See John van Willigen, Applied Anthropology: An Introduction (Westport, Conn.: Bergin and Garvey, 2002).

47. Meanwhile, so-called practicing anthropologists sometimes share basic commitments with public, engaged, and applied practitioners but work in contexts and to ends not necessarily defined by relationships with counterparts in the field (and so human subjects). Rather, they can be engaged in applications of the conceptual apparatus of anthropology to a wide variety of public and policy problems; see Keri Vacanti Brondo, “Practicing Anthropology in a Time of Crisis: 2009 Year in Review,” American Anthropologist 112, no. 2 (2010): 208–18.

48. See Shannon Speed, “At the Crossroads of Human Rights and Anthropology: Toward a Critically Engaged Activist Research,” American Anthropologist 108, no. 1 (2006): 66–76.

49. See Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Death without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); Hughes, “The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a Militant Anthropology,” Current Anthropology 36, no. 3 (1995): 409–20.

50. Nancy Scheper-Hughes, “The Ethics of Engaged Ethnography: Applying a Militant Anthropology in Organs-Trafficking Research,” Anthropology News 50, no. 6 (2009): 14.

51. It is notable that at least one anthropologist now working within an institutional context of the security state in the United States understood Scheper-Hughes’s “militant anthropology” as a space of agency available to her as well, framing her efforts to address how best to help soldiers mitigate violence in conflict zones. Charlene Milliken, “Identity Management in the Federal Government: How an Andean Archaeologist Became a Social Scientist,” in Anthropologists in the Securityscape: Ethics, Practice, and Professional Identity, ed. Robert Albro et al. (Walnut Creek, Calif.: Left Coast Press, 2012), 27–38.

52. Price, Anthropological Intelligence, 273.

53. Price, “Anthropology and the Wages of Secrecy,” 6.

54. See Taylor B. Seybolt, Humanitarian Military Intervention: The Conditions for Success and Failure (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

55. Dustin M. Wax, “The Uses of Anthropology in the Insurgent Age,” in Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency, ed. John D. Kelly et al. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 165–66. The assumption of the transparency of ethnographic relationships for the purposes of consent and dissemination of results is reminiscent of the normative ideal of deliberative “rational-critical debate” introduced by Habermas as part of his classic conception of the public sphere, a conception that grossly underestimates the uneven distribution, absence, diversity of forms, understandings, and goals of deliberation. See Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,” Social Text, nos. 25/26 (1990): 56–80.

56. See (accessed January 30, 2012).

57. Lederman, “Comparative `Research'”; Lederman, “Comparing Ethics Codes and Conventions: Anthropological, Sociological, and Psychological Approaches,” Anthropology News 50, no. 6 (2009): 11–12.

58. Lederman, “Comparing Ethics Codes and Conventions,” 11.

59. Gary Fine, “Ten Lies of Ethnography,” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 22, no. 3 (1993): 267.

60. Roger Sanjek, “The Secret Life of Field Notes,” in Fieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology, ed. Sanjek (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990), 187–272.

61. Low and Merry, “Engaged Anthropology,” S206.

62. In her work with aid organizations in Sudan, Fluehr-Lobban documents the practices of secrecy characterizing her work with rape victims, casualties of persistent violent conflict who could be subject to reprisal or to “honor killings” by relatives were their identities made public. Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, “New Ethical Challenges for Anthropologists: The Terms `Secret Research’ and `Do No Harm’ Need to be Clarified,” Chronicle of Higher Education Review55, no. 12 (2008): B11.

63. See Philippe Bourgois, In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

64. Robert A. Rubinstein, “Ethical Considerations from the Study of Peacekeeping,” in Albro et al., eds., Anthropologists in the Securityscape, 194.

65. One well-known case is that of “dual-use” research, in which information dissemination (e. g., about how to construct a nuclear device or bioweapon) might compromise national security or public safety. The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, for instance, is charged with oversight of such dual-use research (our thanks to Monica Schoch-Spana for providing this example).

66. Fine, “Ten Lies of Ethnography,” 291.

67. See Birchall, “Transparency, Interrupted.”

68. See Jan Bachmann, “`Kick Down the Door, Clean up the Mess, and Rebuild the House’: The African Command and Transformation of the U.S. Military,” Geopolitics 15, no. 3 (2010): 564–85; Costas Douzinas, “The Many Faces of Humanitarianism,” Parrhesia 2, no. 2 (2007): 1–28; Eric Heinze, Waging Humanitarian War: The Ethics, Law, and Politics of Humanitarian Intervention (Albany: SUNY Press, 2009).

69. See American Anthropological Association, “Executive Board Statement on the Human Terrain System Project,” October 31, 2007, (accessed February 1, 2012); CEAUSSIC, “Final Report on the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System Proof of Concept Program,” October 14, 2009,–HTS–Final–Report.pdf (accessed February 4, 2012).

70. For an overview of these developments by an informed nonanthropologist, see George Lucas, Anthropologists in Arms. For a critique of them from the anthropological point of view, see John D. Kelly et al., eds., Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

71. Robert Albro, “Anthropology and the Military: AFRICOM, `Culture,’ and the Future of Human Terrain Analysis,” Anthropology Today 26, no. 1 (2010): 23.

72. CEAUSSIC, “Final Report,” 53–55; Laura A. McNamara and Robert A. Rubinstein, eds.,Dangerous Liaisons: Anthropologists and the National Security State (Santa Fe, N.M.: SAR Press, 2011).

73. Christopher Kelty and George Marcus, “Open Source Experiments: What They Show about the Analyst’s Frustrations in Intelligence Communities,” Anthropology News 48, no. 2 (2007): 3–4.

74. Michael T. Flynn, Matt Pottinger, and Paul D. Batchelor, Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan (Washington, D.C.: Center for New American Security, 2010), 9–10.

75. Michael Brown, Who Owns Native Culture? (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003), 13.

76. Ibid., 27–30.

77. For example, Article 12 of the 2007 UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples articulates the indigenous right to privacy regarding their religious and cultural sites, while Article 31 confirms the claim of intellectual property for indigenous heritage, knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.

78. See (accessed February 1, 2012).


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About Dena Plemmons

Currently serving as interim director of the Division of Research Affairs at San Diego State University. Her permanent appointments are in the Anthropology Department and the Research Ethics Program at the University of California, San Diego. She served a four-year term on the Committee on Ethics of the American Anthropological Association, and also as chair of the Task Force for Comprehensive Ethics Review, charged with reviewing and revising the AAA’s code of ethics. She was recently elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

About Robert Albro

Scholar-in-residence at American University. Trained as a sociocultural anthropologist at the University of Chicago, he served as chair of the American Anthropological Association’s Commission on Anthropology’s Engagement with the Security and Intelligence Communities. His most recent co-edited book, Anthropologists in the SecurityScape: Ethics, Practice, and Professional Identity (Left Coast, 2012), uses a dialogic format to examine the range of disciplinary practice in contexts of national security, with particular attention to associated dilemmas of professional identity.