Saturday, March 24, 2012

Terror and the Nuclear Threat Tradition

Culture is formed by the accumulation and the passing on of traditions from one generation to the next in social groups . These traditions are the collective experiences, beliefs, values and practices of individual members and institutions of society. Those which prove to be adaptive and become critical to the group's survival  are recorded and passed on from generation to generation. Those which are not critical may be lost over time. The speed of culture changes influences what is retained, what is passed on and what is lost.

The end of the Cold War in 1992 changed the way we, in the public, look at the nuclear threat. For those born after the end of the Cold War, the nuclear war threat may only be "history." But, for those of us who lived through the Cold War, the traditions of that period remain part of the our culture and worldview.The terrorist attack on the twin towers on 9/11/02 has shifted our national focus from the threat of a global nuclear war between nations to the threat of the individual terrorist suicide bomber of the 21st century.

Today, with the discussions about the possibilities of  nuclear terrorism once again surfacing, it may be worthwhile to re-examination of the culture of nuclear defense and disaster control. Today in 2012, with the concern over Iran's nuclear program and Israel and US potential response to it, it is worth thinking about how our traditional nuclear culture may be used to guide our response. We should examine the super-organic of t,he Nuclear war and Terrorism as anthropologists by asking:  How do the Cold War traditions influence, or not influence, life in America and the world the 21st century? Do our traditions prepare us for what might happen?

A good place to start is this 2008, TED presentation, by Irwin Redlener entitled

How to survive a nuclear attack

The presentation is described as: "The face of nuclear terror has changed since the Cold War, but disaster-medicine expert Irwin Redlener reminds us the threat is still real. He looks at some of history's farcical countermeasures and offers practical advice on how to survive an attack "

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"What does the applied ethnographer need to know about business?"

In an interesting discussion about the problems of working in a corporate and interdisciplinary / multidisciplinary environment, Gavin Johnson questions the meaning and value of disciplinary boundaries. While certainly the environment has a strong influence on how and which disciplines may be recruited and assigned to a project, there is another issue. I have addressed part of this question in an essay entitled, “What business needs to know from applied ethnography”

There is a complementary question. "What does the applied ethnographer need to know about business?" I feel that it is more important, or at least equally important, to address this problem from the anthropologist/ethnographer perspective. In particular, the status/role that the applied ethnographer is required to occupy and play in the business context.  This is as

a "Team Player"

 Rather than as

the “lone wolf.”
Traditionally, the ethnographer is a lone wolf, going off into the wilds of real life, encountering a herd of another species, and in chameleon-like fashion inserting oneself into the herd as a participant/observer. In this role, the ethnographer acts as both the instrument and the intelligence operating the instrument recording the data. The product of these efforts are written for an audience of other lone wolves who share their stories and observations grounded in the similarity of the status/role of the “field” experience. This is like a group of pro-golfers or tennis players getting together after the U S Opens to discuss the techniques and experience of the various matches..

As part of an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary team, however, the ethnographer is constrained by both his/her status as “anthropologist” on the team and by her/his role as “ethnographer” in the specific research assignment. Playing a team sport is very different from an individual sport. In a team sport, there is an overall game plan. In the game plan, each player has a specific assignment, the effectiveness of the team and the plan is dependent upon each player sticking to their assignment. This means subordinating one’s ego to the team’s mission. The applied anthropologist, playing the position of “ethnographer” must understand what his/her role is, in general, and also specifically, on his/her team.

He/she must also recognize that for any specific play, i.e. research assignment, that role may change. The ethnographer may be asked to be a “surveyor,” or “historian” instead of participant/observer. She/he must be prepared to adjust to the new assignment when the play is called without any second thoughts or reservations. The success of the team depends on the player’s ability to adjust on a moment's notice.

So yes, the disciplinary lines that are so pronounced in the academic world, become blurred in the “fog of corporate research” where the goal is to contribute to the corporate bottom line, and not to some disciplinary Hall of Fame.