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Anthropologists Announce New Task Force on AAA Engagement with Israel/Palestine

The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) announces the creation of the Task Force on AAA Engagement with Israel/Palestine, part of a broad association effort to respond to members’ interest in dialogue about the ongoing Israel/Palestine conflict. The Task Force is charged with helping the Executive Board consider the nature and extent to which AAA might contribute to addressing the issues that the Israel/Palestine conflict raises. It will report to the Executive Board by October 1st, 2015.

Task Force members were appointed by AAA President Monica Heller based on criteria including: significant expertise in relevant subject areas (e.g. conflict; historical memory); a representation of the main sub-fields of archeology, linguistics, biological, and cultural anthropology; understanding of the association; no two members from the same organization or university; no one with publicly identified positions on the issue.

The members of the group are Chair Don Brenneis (UC-Santa Cruz; AAA past president), Niko Besnier (University of Amsterdam), Patrick Clarkin (University of Massachusetts-Boston), Hugh Gusterson (George Washington University), John Jackson (University of Pennsylvania), and Kate Spielmann (Arizona State University).

The Executive Board has asked the Task Force to: 1) enumerate the issues embedded in the conflict between Israel and Palestine that directly affect the Association. These issues may include, but are not limited to, the uses of anthropological research to support or challenge claims of territory and historicity; restrictions placed by government policy or practice on anthropologists’ academic freedom; or commissioning anthropological research whose methods and/or aims may be inconsistent with the AAA statement of professional responsibilities; 2) develop principles to be used to assess whether the AAA has an interest in taking a stand on these issues; 3) provide such an assessment.

This may include providing a comprehensive and neutral overview of arguments for and against a range of specific possible stands on these issues, as well as on any broader but relevant issues that are raised in the context. The Task Force will also recommend whether or not the Association should take any action, and if so, will recommend what form it should take. To read the full Task Force charge, please visit http://bit.ly/1t9ELse.

“The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine is of great relevance to the AAA, and it is worth the investment of time and careful thought that the Task Force is being asked to make,” Task Force Chair Don Brenneis said today. “The Association’s engagement in the relevant issues may take several forms. We want to be sure that we have the facts straight, and a clear understanding of the impacts associated with our choices before we recommend to the Executive Board a course of action.”

The Second Issue of Open Anthropology is Here!

Open Anthropology 150x150Violence is the theme of the second issue of Open Anthropology. The collection “On Violence” offers information, revelations, historical facts, descriptions of context and portraits of situations over time and place, a sampling of anthropological findings on the subject. Ten articles, two book reviews, and “The Editor’s Note” comprise this anthology written by anthropologists across time, sub-discipline, and journal title culled from the full AAA collection. 

“Taken as a whole, this collection deepens understanding and draws attention to the critical ingredients in the making of violence, a phenomenon ubiquitous in the contemporary world,” notes editor Alisse Waterston (John Jay College, CUNY). Synthesizing major anthropological viewpoints on the topic, Dr. Waterston identifies a key feature of violence and raises central questions that anthropologists answer:  “Domination is a critical element. In what specific way is the playing field of social life uneven? Who uses violence, of what types, and to what ends?”

Content in Open Anthropology is selected from the full archive of AAA publications, curated into issues, and freely available on the internet for a minimum of six months, permitting any user to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search or link to the full text of these articles. Each issue is dedicated to topics of interest to the general public, and that may have direct or indirect public policy implications.

Anthropologists Approve Comprehensive Overhaul of Ethics Code

After a five-year review process, members of the American Anthropological Association have approved a rigorous overhaul of their ethics code.  The code offers guidance to anthropologists as to how they should conduct themselves in professional and academic settings, in collecting and disseminating research data, and in their relationships with research subjects, colleagues and students.  The new document, titled “Statement on Ethics: Principles of Professional Responsibility,” strengthens the previous ethics code, adapts it to the digital age, and makes use of a fundamentally new format.  Members were given six weeks to vote on the code, which was approved by an overwhelming 93 percent of those who voted.

The first AAA ethics code was written in 1971, in response to controversies over the Vietnam War. Where previous AAA ethics codes resembled straightforward legal codes, the new Principles of Professional Responsibility take the form of a hyperlinked living document in a simple, user-friendly format.  While still offering guidance for ethical conduct in the form of general principles, the new document features embedded hypertext links to pertinent case study materials, reference documents, websites and articles. The Statement has a series of references after each defining principle to allow the readers to find further sources of information and data.  These resources give readers a richer sense of the context of the ethics code and of specific dilemmas anthropologists have faced in their work. Continue reading

Anthropologists and the Human Terrain System

In March, the C4ISR Journal, a publication of Defense News, ran the cover story U.S. Army’s Human Terrain Experts May Help Defuse Future Conflicts. In the piece, journalist Jim Hodges wrote:

The HTS (Human Terrain System) also ran afoul of anthropological organizations that believed their scholars were becoming spies and that their work was being used to undermine the population rather than help it. The anthropologists also said their first ethic — “do no harm” — was being violated by the work of the HTS teams.

The American Anthropological Association condemned the program in 2007, and in a letter to Congress in 2010 the Network of Concerned Anthropologists questioned HTS’s effectiveness and called it “dangerous and reckless” and a “waste of taxpayers’ money.”

And went on to say:

The controversy has cooled. The HTS will have a recruiter at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco in November.

This misinformation was not taken lightly here at AAA. In working with C4ISR’s editor, we were able to run a two page commentary on sharing the anthropological side of the story. Thanks to members, Hugh Gusterson and Rob Albro, C4ISR readers not only understand that HTS recruiters will not be at AAA’s Annual Meeting this November, but also how HTS contravenes anthropological ethics:

The controversy has died down only insofar as the American Anthropological Association has completed a detailed investigation of HTS, with particular attention to the Human Terrain Teams deployed both in Iraq and Afghanistan to collect socio-cultural information for commanders to aid their decision making.

We want to reinforce that the American Anthropological Association stands by its 2009 conclusion that the U.S. Army-led Human Terrain System contravenes anthropological ethics and incites superficial “windshield ethnography” that falls short of professional standards. That conclusion is detailed in the association’s “Final Report on The Army’s Human Terrain System Proof of Concept Program.”

Sending social scientists to study local populations in the company of armed troops amid active hostilities will not produce scientifically reliable information. Just as important are the long-term consequences of this approach. Embedding anthropologists with combat brigades undermines their independence and duty not to harm populations — requirements that are the linchpins of anthropological ethics. Calling embedded anthropologists “social scientists” does not solve the problem.

Read the entire article and leave your comments on the issue.

Anthropologists Denounce New Georgia Anti-Immigration Law

The Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) strongly condemns recently-signed legislation in Georgia that unfairly targets illegal immigrants, calling the law “discriminatory and weakening customary legal prohibitions of police investigations on immigrant status.” The group passed a resolution speaking out against the law on May 22.

Georgia House Bill 87, signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal (R) would, among other things, allow local and state police to arrest illegal immigrants and transport them to state and federal jails; punish people who use fake identification to get a job in Georgia with up to 15 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines; and punish those who knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants or encourage them to come to Georgia. First-time offenders would face imprisonment for up to 12 months and up to $1,000 in fines.

Georgia is the third state to pass anti-immigration legislation within the past year. Utah and Arizona both passed similar types of legislation, with Arizona’s law currently being challenged in Federal court. Last year, AAA issued a statement condemning the Arizona law, calling it “predatory and unconstitutional.”

AAA leadership was united in its opposition to the law. “Georgia’s new law unfairly targets illegal immigrants and includes draconian punishments for those who can least afford to be treated so harshly,” AAA President Virginia Dominguez said in a statement issued today. The sponsor of AAA’s measure, George Mason anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, noted that with the passage of the resolution “the anthropological community has shown that it will not bring its business to a state that has moved so far from American traditions and, instead, chosen to scapegoat its weakest citizens.”

The AAA resolution pledges that the association as a whole will refuse to hold a scholarly conference in Georgia until House Bill 87 is either repealed or struck down as constitutionally invalid.

Click here to view the official AAA press release.

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