Anthropologie

Today's New York Times features a fascinating article, which plays into recent postings about design. The article, entitled Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones, describes how employing social scientists is increasing effectiveness and reducing violence in Afghanistan. Here's an excerpt:


The anthropology team here also played a major role in what the military called Operation Khyber. That was a 15-day drive late this summer in which 500 Afghan and 500 American soldiers tried to clear an estimated 200 to 250 Taliban insurgents out of much of Paktia Province, secure southeastern Afghanistan’s most important road and halt a string of suicide attacks on American troops and local governors.

In one of the first districts the team entered, Tracy identified an unusually high concentration of widows in one village, Colonel Woods said. Their lack of income created financial pressure on their sons to provide for their families, she determined, a burden that could drive the young men to join well-paid insurgents. Citing Tracy’s advice, American officers developed a job training program for the widows.

In another district, the anthropologist interpreted the beheading of a local tribal elder as more than a random act of intimidation: the Taliban’s goal, she said, was to divide and weaken the Zadran, one of southeastern Afghanistan’s most powerful tribes. If Afghan and American officials could unite the Zadran, she said, the tribe could block the Taliban from operating in the area.

“Call it what you want, it works,” said Colonel Woods, a native of Denbo, Pa. “It works in helping you define the problems, not just the symptoms.”

The program is just in the early stages, and as the article reports, some feel strongly that this is militarizing the social sciences. Those involved claim to be better socalizing the military. Whatever.

This seems analogous to what I've seen when we focus upon how things really are, as we do when designing a project, as a means for better defining how they might be. As long as the target is killing more insurgents, the supply of insurgents seems inexhaustible. Reframe the purpose to undermining the reasons for people to become insurgents, and the whole game changes quite dramatically.

We probably should no more expect a programmer armed with technology, a manager focused upon controlling execution, or a soldier armed with a rifle to delve into these deeper -- or shallower -- social perspectives. But no project was ever mustered to simply deliver requirements. No project was ever managed simply to exert control. And no war was ever fought -- or, more importantly won -- by simply killing the bad guys.
blog comments powered by Disqus