Foundations and Anthropology In The United States

Elite philanthropy is not an example of capitalist altruism: so while such philanthropy is often presented as a selfless act of generosity — especially when reported in the capitalist media — it is really a thoughtful form of capitalist investment. This investment however does not necessarily generate financial gain rather it works to stabilize the ruling classes means of ideological domination. And one way by which the ruling class imposes its will upon others is by purchasing society’s knowledge producing networks. In the case of “higher education” this is no easy matter, but such capitalists have proven more than capable of meeting their own ideological requirements. Such well-funded assaults of free thought require persistence on the part of the ruling class, and their work never proceeds without resistance; but unfortunately in many cases such challenges have been sidetracked and marginalized. Arguably the longterm failure of this resistance owes more to the low level of popular awareness of the major problems associated with elite philanthropy than it does to intellectual shortcomings of its proponents. Consequently this article aims to closely examine the philanthropic-academic nexus within an anthropological context to illustrate this point. This will be done by referring to Professor Thomas C. Patterson’s book A Social History of Anthropology in the United States (Berg, 2001), a comprehensive study that provides a detailed examination of the insidious role of philanthropy on academia in the twentieth century.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century perhaps the most important thorn in the side of the capitalist anthropological community was a Jewish political radical named Franz Boas (1858-1942); an individual who had emigrated to America in 1887 as a result “of Bismarck’s antiliberal policies and rising anti-Semitism in Germany.” ((Patterson, A Social History of Anthropology in the United States, p.45. Patterson suggests that Boas’s “most perceptive biographer” is William S. Willis, Jr., who published “Franz Boas and the Study of Black Folklore,” In: John W. Bennett (ed.), The New Ethnicity: Perspectives from Ethnology (West Publishing Company, 1975).)) Boaz became an assistant editor at Science, the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he courted controversy as soon as he arrived in the United States, providing important though oft ignored, criticisms of hegemonic cultural evolutionary thought and environmental determinism. His antagonistic relationship to reigning orthodoxy meant that gaining paid employment was not always easy, and at times “Boas was only sporadically employed,” that is at least until Frederick W. Putnam (1839-1915) “succeeded in getting Boas an appointment” at Columbia University for the 1896/97 academic year. ((Patterson, p.48. Until his death in 1915, Frederick W. Putnam “was the driving force behind the growth and access of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnography at Harvard University.” (p.41) )) From then on Boas rose to become an important though controversial academic authority, as for example in 1907, when he was employed by the US Immigration Commission to investigate “the effects of the American environment on immigrants and their children.” Boas’s findings from this study challenged the racist “established views in the wider society and in the emerging profession” and not surprisingly the Commission “dismissed Boas’s claims” without good reason. This however did not hold Boas back and he began working more closely with W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963), arguing in favour of racial equality and integration. This “put him in opposition to the faction led by Booker T. Washington at the Carnegie-supported Tuskegee Institute, which stressed the acquisition of skills and property as well as the maintenance of the existing social order.” ((Patterson, p.49, p.50.))

Determined to challenge the racism of Booker T. Washington, who was strongly backed by white wealth and their newly formed philanthropic foundations, in 1910 Boas helped form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but prior to this, in “the fall of 1906, he [had also] attempted to establish an African American Museum in New York to counteract racism.” Perhaps owing to his relatively privileged position within the elite educational establishment Boas tried his luck at “solicit[ing] funds from Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and two supporters of Negro education, George Peabody and Robert Ogden.” However, given the norm of elite support for Tuskegee-styled education, they all declined to fund his project. ((Patterson, p.50. With respect to the evolution of anthropology prior to the advent of the twentieth century, Patterson notes: “The anthropological tradition that developed in the United States in the wake of the Revolutionary War was shaped by three overriding concerns: creating a national identity, episodic westward expansion and settlement in the Indian territories, and consolidating a slave-based economy in the southern states.” (p.7) )) Not deterred by his rejection, Boas “then turned to the Bureau of American Ethnology, which also declined to support [his Museum project], because it might arouse ‘race feeling’ in Congress and jeopardize the Bureau’s appropriations.” But Boas persisted in his fund-raising efforts and “finally got some financial support from Carter J. Woodson, Elsie Clews Parsons, and George Peabody to support and train African American students at Columbia.” ((Patterson, p.50.))

The turn of the century was a busy time for academia, and the field of anthropology underwent a significant period of restructuring and professionalization which was facilitated by the formation of the American Anthropological Association in 1902. Graduate training programs in anthropology were established at a handful of universities and by 1912 twenty men had been awarded doctorates in anthropology. Boas quickly rose to dominance within the field and by 1928 a further thirty-three men and nine women had obtained Ph.D. degrees in anthropology, with Boas himself having successfully “supervised the dissertations of fifteen men and seven women at Columbia.” ((Patterson, p.51.)) Yet the processes of reorganization and centralization proceeded slowly in the early decades of the twentieth century, and Boas’s growing “intellectual leadership” in the field was strongly challenged by powerful individuals working through regional anthropological societies, like for example Edgar Lee Hewett (1865-1946). ((Patterson, p.51.))

In 1909, Boas and some of his colleagues had been critical of Edgar Lee Hewett’s “research and opportunism” especially with regard to Hewett’s allocation of monies for archaeological research, but had been unable to repeal the funders’ decisions to support Hewett. The hostility between Boas and Hewett led to a series of heated exchanges, which resulted in Hewett’s friend, William H. Holmes (who also “had his own axe to grind”) coming to Hewett’s aid and working to ensure that the Bureau of American Ethnology’s cut off “financial support for Boas’s ongoing linguistic research.” “As a result of his political connections and tactics,” Hewett continued to have “a shaping effect on the development of American anthropology from 1904 through the mid-1920s”; and his “influence and prominence, especially in the Midwest and West, were virtually unchallenged until he tangled with John D. Rockefeller, Jr. over the fate of [his School of American Archaeology in] Santa Fe in the mid-1920s.” ((Patterson, p.52. On Hewett’s tangle with John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Patterson refers to: George W. Stocking, Jr., “Philanthropoids and Vanishing Cultures: Rockefeller Funding and the End of the Museum Era in Anglo-American Anthropology,” In: George W. Stocking, Jr. (ed.), Objects and Others: Essays on Museums and Material Culture (University of Wisconsin Press, 1985).))

The Carnegie Institution of Washington’s president, Robert S. Woodward, had “consulted with Boas and other former colleagues at Columbia” about funding their work, and by 1911, “he was convinced that a department of anthropology should be formed”. This political movement toward Columbia was however opposed by various other Carnegie trustees who were led by William Barclay Parsons and were able to bypass Boas to push an alternative bid to promote archaeological research in Central America. In 1914, Sylvanus Morley was chosen to commence work on this research, which he had proposed to undertake at Chichen Itza in southern Mexico. ((Patterson, p.52, p.53.)) Ironically, it turned out that Morley and three of his American colleagues, while engaged on this project, “were spies who used anthropology as a front for their espionage activities in Central America and Mexico during the First World War.” Having already opposed the War as a committed pacifist Boas was “outraged” when he made this discovery.

That anthropologists whom he knew or supported — Morley, H. E. Mechling who attended the International School in Mexico City, Herbert Spinden (1879-1967) of the American Museum of Natural History, and J. Alden Mason (1885-1967) of the University of Pennsylvania — were spies was seen by Boas as more than a personal betrayal; without naming them, he told the readers of The Nation (December 20,1919) that they “had prostituted science by using it as a cover for their activities as spies” (Boas 1919/1974:336). (p.53) ((Other anthropologists “to serve with Army or Navy Intelligence during the First World War” included: William C. Farabee (1865-1925) of the University of Pennsylvania, Marshall Saville (1867-1935) “who was Boas’s erstwhile colleague at Columbia,” Samuel Lothrop (1892-1965), and Alfred V. Kidder (who in 1929 became the director of the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s new Division of Historical Research and of its Middle American research program). Patterson, p.54, p.53.

For further details Patterson refers to Paul Sullivan, Unfinished Conversations: Mayas and Foreigners between Two Wars (University of California Press, 1989), pp.132-7; and David H. Price, “Anthropologists as Spies,” The Nation, 272 (16), pp.24-7.))

Although Boas had supporters, his article in The Nation “incensed a majority of the anthropological community in the United States.” Consequently in early 1920, “Boas was forced to withdraw his candidacy for a seat on the National Research Council which was presided over by John C. Merriam, who would soon become president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.” This act of political retribution would have a significant influence on the National Research Council (which had been “established in 1916 as a means of mobilizing science and research for the war effort”), and on the future of anthropology especially. This is because of the “[t]hree distinct conceptions of anthropology existed during and after the First World War,” Boas and his students represented the only progressive stream of thought, “argu[ing] that culture rather than race determined behavior and stressed the interconnections of ethnology, linguistics, folklore, archaeology, and physical anthropology.” The other two views which assumed ascendency during these years were those of eugenicists like Charles B. Davenport (1866-1944), and the ideas “crafted by Ales Hrdlicka (1869-1943) of the National Museum, [which] asserted the primacy of the biology and attempted to establish physical anthropology as an autonomous academic discipline.” ((Patterson, p.54, pp.54-5. Here one might note that “Davenport was the Director of the Carnegie-sponsored Eugenics Record Office and Station for the Experimental Study of Evolution at Cold Spring Harbor and a leading proponent of eugenics in the United States.” (p.69) )) The National Research Council (NRC)…

…would acquire a permanent status in 1918 as a result of an Executive Order (Number 2859) signed by President Woodrow Wilson; the Executive Order was engineered by Elihu Root (1845-1937) and George E. Hale (1868-1938), both of whom were affiliated with the Carnegie Corporation, the umbrella organization which linked together Andrew Carnegie’s various philanthropies, and whose board of trustees had publicly “acknowledged its wish to preserve Anglo-Saxon prerogatives, customs, and genes”. The formation of the NRC coincided with the heyday of the eugenics movement in the United States, whose proponents claimed that the Anglo-Saxon race was being swamped by all of the babies that were being born to the members of inferior races — e.g. Mediterraneans, East Europeans, Jews, American Indians, Asians, Blacks, and poor people. At a practical level, the eugenicists argued for sterilization, selective breeding, and restricting the immigration of peoples from Eastern and Southern Europe and of individuals with dark skins.” The formation of the NRC also coincided with radical union organizing and labor agitation by workers who were drawn largely from the races deemed inferior by the eugenicists and by the wealthy capitalists who supported them — e.g. Carnegie, Mary Harriman, John D. Rockefeller, the Kellogg family which made breakfast cereal, and Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857-1935) who was president of the American Museum of Natural History. (pp.55-6).

Henry Fairfield Osborn, a “friend and confidant” of George E. Hale, the National Research Committee’s founding director, happened to also be a friend to Madison Grant (1865-1938), “a wealthy New York lawyer, racist propagandist, and virulent antisemite” who was the author of the best-selling Passage of the Great Race (1916). Thus in April 1917, “presumably” as a result of Osborn’s activism, Grant “offered to provide financial assistance” for the NRC’s Committee on Anthropology’s “work in exchange for membership on it.” The Committee’s chair William H. Holmes (1846-1933) who worked closely with Hrdlicka reluctantly accepted Grant’s membership on the committee. Furthermore, when Hrdlicka was informed of Boas’s “outrage over Grant’s inclusion in the Committee on Anthropology” he “asked Holmes to fill the remaining slot on the committee with Davenport.” ((Patterson, p.57. In this section Patterson draws heavily upon an unpublished Ph.D. thesis; Frank Spencer, Ales Hrdlicka, M.D., 1869-1943: A Chronicle of the Life and Work of an American Physical Anthropologist, Ph.D. Dissertation in Anthropology, University of Michigan, 1979.))

By December 1917, Grant and Davenport were disgruntled. Grant perceived correctly that Hrdlicka only wanted his money, and Davenport realized that Hrdlicka had no interest in his eugenic investigations. Grant complained to Hale that the committee was unable to implement the survey because it could not agree on the design of the anthropometric form that should be used. In Grant’s opinion, the committee had become pre-occupied with establishing Hrdlicka’s physical anthropology journal. Holmes and Hrdlicka met with Hale on January 4, 1918 in order to clarify and resolve the issues. Hale supported Davenport’s proposals and told them to use the anthropometric schedule Davenport employed at the Eugenics Record Office, because it would give “scientifically comparable results”. Holmes attempted to resign, pointing out that he had been appointed “Chairman of the Committee on Anthropology not of the Committee on Anthropology and Eugenics”; Hrdlicka also threatened to resign, but Hale asked him to explain in detail his objections to Davenport’s research project. Hale did not accept their resignations immediately in order to forestall embarrassing questions. (p.57)

Hale continued to prioritize eugenics and succeeded in delaying the resignations, and when Holmes “resubmitted his resignation” in April 1918 “Hrdlicka responded by requesting that Clark Wissler (1870-1947), a student of Boas who was employed at the American Museum of Natural History, be added to the committee and by adding Boas and two of his allies… to the editorial board of his American Journal of Physical Anthropology.” ((Patterson, p.58.))

In March, Davenport and Grant attempted to consolidate their position on the Committee on Anthropology and to eliminate possible interference from Boas and the American Anthropological Association. With the backing of Henry F. Osborn, they established a rival anthropological society, the Galton Society for the Study of the Origin and Evolution of Man, which was centered in New York City at the American Museum of Natural History. Grant wrote that the membership of the new society would be “self elected and self perpetuating, and very limited in members, and also confined to native Americans, who are anthropologically, socially, and politically sound, no Bolsheviks need apply”. Davenport chaired the new society which included prominent eugenicists on the NRC, at the American Museum of Natural History, and in universities; its membership was soon expanded to include Clark Wissler of the American Museum of Natural History and Harvard physical anthropologist Earnest A. Hooton (1887-1954). (p.58)

Such eugenic influences were not to the liking of Hrdlicka, and when Galton Society member John C. Merriam “was named in May 1918 to oversee the NRC’s peacetime conversion” it did not take long for Merriam to send Hrdlicka off to New York — where he worked under the direction of Isaiah Bowman (at the American Geographical Society). In a bid to further undermine Boas’s influence on the field, Merriam “decided that [anthropology] should have a close relation with psychology” and in July 1919 he created within the NRC, a body known as the Division of Anthropology and Psychology. Boas was subsequently elected to this body, but was “forced to resign” when his controversial article in The Nation later that year. ((Patterson, p.58, p.59.))

Tragically by the mid-1920s, Davenport’s racist views had come to further dominate elite knowledge networks, and his well-funded eugenic activism provided the “ideological justification” for establishing various harsh immigration quotas (like the Johnson Act of 1924), were which supplemented by the “enactment of sterilization and miscegenation laws in numerous states during the 1920s and 1930s.” ((Patterson, p.60. “Boas was understandably outraged in 1924 when Congress passed the Immigration Restriction Act, whose nationalism, xenophobia, and racism he deplored as ‘nordic nonsense.’” (p.49) Franz Boas, “This Nordic Nonsense,” The Forum, 74 (4), 1925, pp.502-11.)) Indeed, between 1904 and 1929, just the Carnegie Institution of Washington alone had invested nearly $3,000,000 in Davenport’s eugenic research programs.

With an increasing number of geneticists “raising serious objections to eugenics as a field of inquiry”; in 1929, Merriam who now headed the Carnegie Institution, set up a committee to assess the validity of Davenport’s research. This committee made a number of suggestions that his work needed to be tested more rigorously, and when Merriam “convened a second panel in 1936” they “concluded that Davenport’s data were virtually worthless.” Yet old and ideologically fruitful elite habits die hard, and it took a further three years before the Carnegie Institution terminated their support for Davenport’s projects. Mainstream funding of eugenics was no longer considered acceptable, and so the the “eugenics movement was transformed with Rockefeller support as its focus shifted from heredity to population control and to birth-control experiments on an international scale.” ((Patterson, p.60. Patterson list the following concerned geneticists: L. C. Dunn (1893-1964) and H. J. Muller (1890-1967) in the United States and J. B. Haldane (1892-1964) in England.))

Now returning to the dominant factors “shap[ing] the direction of anthropological research in the United States after the First World War”; Patterson suggests that in addition to the National Research Council, the major liberal foundations played a critical role in facilitating the professionalization of the field, most notably the Rockefeller philanthropies and the American Council of Learned Societies’ (ACLS) Committee on Research in American Native Languages (which was “funded mainly by an $80,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation in 1927”). ((Patterson, p.72. “A few anthropologists — notably Edward Sapir and, to a lesser extent, Franz Boas — were involved with more than one of the initiatives in the 1920s and 1930s. During this period, Sapir, for example, was a member of the [Rockefeller’s] Social Science Research Council (1928-34) and the ACLS’s Committee on Research in American Native Languages (1927-37) and chaired the NRC’s Division of Psychology and Anthropology (1934-36) when the SSRC projects that he proposed on the study of acculturation and the relationship of the individual and culture came to fruition.” (p.72) ))

It turns out that the Rockefeller fund “had the most profound effect on the development of anthropology and the other social sciences” directing tens of millions of dollars to this purpose during the 1920s and early 1930s. This influence was especially strong at the University of Chicago (which John D. Rockefeller had founded in 1892), where anthropologists “such as Fay-Cooper Cole (1881-1961), Melville J. Herskovits, Ralph Linton, Robert Redfield (1897-1958), and Edward Sapir” were to assume prominent roles in the development of the field. (For more on this, see “Foundations and the Racial Politics Of Knowledge.”) Given the key influence of elite philanthropies in guiding the evolution of the social sciences, it should not come as too much of a surprise that the sort of critical “anthropology led by anti-imperialist critic Frederick W. Starr (1858-1933) languished after the turn of the century”; even more so when he retired in 1923. ((Patterson, p.73, p.78.))

The interest of the Rockefeller philanthropies in anthropology, especially in colonial policies and the social management of natives, was apparent by 1926, when they invited Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942) and A. R. Radcliffe-Brown (1881-1952) to discuss their views with colleagues at selected universities in the United States. At the end of the summer, Radcliffe-Brown sailed to Australia to assume the newly created, Rockefeller-funded chair in social anthropology at the University of Sydney. (p.73)

Radcliffe-Brown then “saw to it” that W. Lloyd Warner (1898-1970) was able to study “aboriginal society in northern Australia” with Rockefeller aid provided via the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM). In 1930, Warner would go on to work with the Australian psychiatrist Elton Mayo (1880-1949) at the latter’s Committee on Industrial Physiology which was based at Harvard University and “whose research in the 1920s and 1930s was completely underwritten by the LSRM.” Here Warner worked as a consultant on Mayo’s controversial Hawthorne project (see “Liberal Elites and the Pacification of Workers”), and then had his research directly funded by Mayo’s Committee on Industrial Physiology, and in the late 1930s went on to co-found the University of Chicago’s interdisciplinary Committee on Industrial Relations. ((Patterson, p.73, p.74. “Psychologists supported by corporations and by the Rockefeller philanthropies in the 1920s were at the center of the industrial relations movement that sought to control shop-floor inefficiency and worker discontent.” (p.99) ))

The Great Depression of 1929 had a large influence on the evolution of anthropology and many practitioners applied their academic knowledge to various relief agencies to set up to help ameliorate the poverty now inflicted upon the majority of American citizens. This in turn led some anthropologists, who might otherwise have not come into so much contact with grass-roots organizations and leftist political parties, to become “outspoken critics of the racism and classism of American society, while others spoke out against fascism in Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States.” Likewise, during the New Deal (1933-41), many anthropologists were employed by the Department of Agriculture or in bodies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs “bring[ing] their knowledge to bear on problems facing government agencies.” This applied approach then led to the formation of the Society for Applied Anthropology in 1941. However, one should note that the “first anthropologists to benefit from New Deal legislation” were archaeologists, whose field of research “appealed to the relief agencies, because it was labor-intensive and did not produce a commodity that competed with the private sector.” ((Patterson, p.80, p.81. ))

During the 1930s, American anthropologists were concerned with various problems but perhaps one of the most significant one revolved around their work on race relations. Under the direction of Gunnar Myrdal, in 1937 the Carnegie Corporation funded the “Negro in America” project which involved many leading often radical anthropologists from around New York City. ((Patterson, p.89. Myrdal “solicited criticisms and suggestions from anthropologists including Boas, Benedict [??], Herskovits, Linton, and Powdermaker. In addition, he employed Columbia-trained anthropologists Ashley Montagu (1905-99) and Bernhard J. Stern (1894-1956) among others to prepare research memoranda on particular subjects.” (p.89) )) Thus despite the fact that many socialists were consulted on this project, the end product — Myrdal’s book An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944) — war far from radical as far as its conclusions were concerned. (For detailed criticism of this project, see “Liberal Foundations and Anti-Racism Activism”)

Around this time when the US government was planning how best to continue its ideological war on the domestic front (in the 1930s), the Rockefeller philanthropies, including the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies, “were already acutely aware that the United States was ill-prepared to wage war on a global basis.” To counter this problem, these “two foundations advocated the need to develop inter-disciplinary area studies in American universities”; and they quickly set about coordinating research and resources in preparation for war. ((Patterson, p.95.)) For example, various committee were set to progress Latin America Studies, and bodies like the NRC’s Committee on Latin American Anthropology “whose charge was to coordinate research and resources with government needs” like those of the Office of the Coordinator of Interamerican Affairs (OCIAA). Set up in 1940, Nelson Rockefeller (1908-79) was the founding director of OCIAA and while in this position:

He implemented a series of policies that involved anthropologists. He provided $114,000 in federal funding for ten archaeological projects in Latin America in 1940-1941, which were coordinated by Wendell Bennett (1905-53) and George Vaillant (1901-45) of the American Museum of Natural History. He lobbied Congress for funds to publish the Handbook of South American Indians as a symbol of hemispheric unity during the war; Julian Steward edited the Handbook for the BAE and the Smithsonian Institution. Rockefeller and John Collier supported the formation of the Inter-American Indian Institute in 1941 to carry out research on “Indian problems” of countries in the Western Hemisphere. (p.95)

From the late 1940s onwards, it was almost natural by now that transformations within the realm of anthropology should be fuelled by Cold War priorities. In this way, the “discourses of established areas of learning were shaped and transformed in tandem with the changing needs of the state” as facilitated by the Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie Foundations. These big three foundations likewise “supported lines of inquiry — such as behavioralism or functionalism — that countered more radical social theories which had gained prominence during the Depression.” Furthermore, the foundations influence over academia was so extreme that “certain subjects, such as Marxist contributions to anthropology or social thought, could not be discussed openly in the academy for fear of political reprisal.” ((Patterson, p.104. On these points Patterson refers to Edward Berman’s book The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy: The Ideology of Philanthropy (State University of New York Press, 1983); and Eleanor B. Leacock, “Marxism and Anthropology,” In: Bertell Ollman and Edward Vernoff (eds.), The Left Academy: Marxist Scholarship on American Campuses (McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1982).)) Later in the 1960s, such funding induced silences were broken down as anthropologists began to “recognize the inadequacies or limitations of prevailing theoretical perspectives” and explored the viability of Marxist and feminist approaches to explaining the massive problems evident all around them. Such questioning of methods was intensified in 1965 with the “public disclosure of and reaction to Project Camelot” which since 1957 had “serve[d] the needs of the psychological warfare directorate of the American Army.” However, while Project Camelot has been terminated, the work of some anthropologists was still being yoked to imperialism, and in March 1970 students liberated personal files from a UCLA anthropologist “which indicated that the professional expertise of several anthropologists working in Southeast Asia was being harnessed to counterinsurgency efforts in Thailand.” ((Patterson, p.125, p.126. “By 1964, projects involving anthropologists or individuals representing themselves as anthropologists had been launched in Chile, Colombia, and Peru. The existence of Project Camelot — the research in Chile — became public in June 1965.” The project was then immediately canceled. (pp.124-5) ))

In this latest controversy three prominent anti-war anthropologists/activists (Gerald Berreman, Eric Wolf, and Joseph Jorgensen) who were also members of the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) ethics committee spoke out against the linkages between counterinsurgency and anthropology. This in turn led the Executive Board of the AAA to set up an ad hoc committee of inquiry, which was chaired by Margaret Mead. Released in November 1971 to deal with the controversy, the Mead Report “whitewash[ed] the activities of the anthropologists involved in the counterinsurgency research” and concluded that such work was “well within the traditional canons of acceptable behavior for the applied anthropologist”. Soon after its publication the validity of the Mead Report was discussed at the AAA’s annual meeting, and after much debate “the voting members of the Association rejected the report section by section.” A few days later the Executive Board then “passed a motion stating that the issues raised by the Thailand Controversy remained unresolved”; and they still remained “unresolved thirty years later.” ((Patterson, p.127, p.126, p.127. “Kathleen Gough (1925-90) had already captured another facet of the problem in 1968 in her now-famous article ‘Anthropology: Child of Imperialism’ which appeared in Monthly Review, the most influential of the American Marxist journals. Gough pointed out that many Third World peoples involved in decolonization or national liberation movements saw anthropologists as part of the larger problem of American interference in the internal affairs of their countries.” (p.127) In a follow-up paper titled “New Proposals for Anthropologists,” Gough “argued that it was time for anthropologists to reassess critically the roots of their discipline and to examine the social and political interests which its practitioners have traditionally served. The concerns of this paper, controversial at the time, resonated with sentiments expressed in the pages of Current Anthropology and in three edited collections that were published between 1969 and 1973: Dell Hymes’s (1969) Reinventing Anthropology; Robin Blackburn’s (1972) Ideology in Social Science: Readings in Critical Social Theory; and Tala1 Asad’s (1973) Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter.” (p.127)

In recent years the imperialist abuse of anthropology again rose to the fore as documented by the excellent research undertaken by radical anthropologist, David Price.))

Needless to say, despite the cynical manner by which philanthropic elites have dominated the field of anthropology, the fruits of its study are essential to any radical movement which is intent on eradicating capitalism. The point made in this article is a general one, because in anthropology, as in many other fields of scholarship, class conscious elites have used the power of capital to manage and harness the power of knowledge. What is clear is that knowledge producing networks must be reclaimed by the majority to serve the needs of all humans. Unfortunately, to date, within many radical circles there is a collective amnesia as to the manner by which this power has been exerted; but with ample knowledge now at our fingertips this need not be the case any longer.

Michael Barker is an independent researcher based in the UK. Read other articles by Michael, or visit Michael's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on September 15th, 2010 at 8:12am #

    Study of how peoples lived since 15 k yrs wld be useful and very interesting. The study wld include also their structures of society and guidance or in many cases a rule in all its degrees of dominance, brutality, abuse, torture, etc.

    Such a study ought to include also how afrikans and americans lived. In such society, guidance-tutoring had been the norm until just 150 yrs ago.

    At around time the diktators began arriving in afrika and began to destroy the ancient civilization in all of afrika.
    Indigenous civilization of canada and americas had been assaulted even earlier and by now totally destroyed.
    And darknes set upon the planet; civilization may have ended forever in countries like US.
    The barbarity of US warlords, appears so stupendous that even 98% of meat for war and abuse cannot see it or are numbed with its awesomeness! tnx

  2. David Silver said on September 15th, 2010 at 8:49am #

    And like Serenba Nanda’s and other books on Cultural Anthropology
    under “Economics” we see the the word capitalism but not

  3. MichaelKenny said on September 15th, 2010 at 9:07am #

    “The point made in this article is a general one”. Indeed! So general that it’s not at all clear what the point was! All the author seems to be saying is that he who pays the piper calls the tune. That’s hardly a stunning discovery! The various scientific “mafias” are all funding-driven and if someone puts up the money, there will always be a scientist who will argue, with a completely straight face and with with the help of tons of scientific gobbledygook, that what the funder wants to hear is irrefutable scinetific fact. And if you persist in thinking that blackbirds are not white, its just that you’ve been looking at them from the wrong perspective!

  4. Don Hawkins said on September 15th, 2010 at 9:14am #

    but with ample knowledge now at our fingertips this need not be the case any longer. You know just on the off chance what we now see with our own eye’s is real and not a computer generated illusion read the above article and just read between the lines a little.