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American Today



Anthropology Conference Examines
Social Movements

By Adrienne Frank

From left, Geoff Millard, Iraq Veterans Against the War; Dylan Kerrigan, AU anthropology student; Kevin Caffrey, AU professor of anthropology; and Deborah Murphy, AU anthropology student, discussed anthropologists and the military. (Photo: Jeff Watts)

Academia met activism at AU’s fifth annual public anthropology conference, Supporting Social Movements, Oct. 31–Nov. 1.

Hosted by the Department of Anthropology, the event drew dozens of scholars, students, and community organizers, who shared insights from the environmental, labor, liberation, peace, and feminist movements, among others. The conference featured nearly 20 panel discussions and skill workshops, along with a media room, where participants could take in films about sexuality and identity, race and the election, and homophobia.

During a Friday afternoon discussion on anthropologists and the military, a trio of panelists debated whether or not social scientists belong in the battlefield, alongside infantrymen and marines.

Geoff Millard, president of the D.C. chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, said that, “anytime you have a civilian around you, they’re a pain. They’re looked at as being in the way of our mission.”

Millard, who served in the military for nine years, including 13 months in Iraq, said that the work of embedded social scientists is inherently biased.

“Anytime you’re dependent on someone else for your security, it corrupts your work,” he said.

Kevin Caffrey, AU professor of anthropology agreed, saying that anthropologists—who generally “know nothing about military training or weapons—have no place in the battlefield. He said the military, which is in the midst of a rebranding campaign, wants “cultural tour guides— not anthropologists.”

“Anthropology is not the Miss Manners of the world, the guide to ‘how to get along.’ That’s Lonely Planet, and that’s not what we do,” he explained.