Monday, March 4, 2019

Kristen Ghodsee

Kristen Ghodsee is Professor of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her books include Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism, Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence, and the newly released Second World, Second Sex: Socialist Women's Activism and Global Solidarity during the Cold War.

Recently I asked Ghodsee about what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now, I am reading the excellent book, Cold War Anthropology: The CIA, The Pentagon and the Growth of Dual Use Anthropology, by David H. Price. I have long been interested in the impact of Cold War politics on the discipline of anthropology, and back in graduate school I remember reading an essay by Laura Nader about what she called the “Phantom Factor” in anthropology: the persistent (if hidden) presence of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the production of anthropological knowledge about the world. Both Nader and now Price document the uncomfortable relationship between the scholarly study of foreign cultures and the needs of the U.S. military in its efforts to prevent the spread of world communism. After World War II, the CIA had also funneled research monies through dummy funding agencies toward unsuspecting scholars and into many academic research centers and area studies institutes. The Price book exhaustively demonstrates how ethnographic research was often repurposed by the CIA, without the consent of the scholars who produced it. The history of the discipline of anthropology in the United States has been deeply shaped by this covert influence.

I think what I find most fascinating about the discussion is how the use of research grants and fellowships also kept some anthropologists from becoming to critical of U.S. foreign policy, something that Nader also wrote about in the late 1990s. I believe that scholars in all disciplines have a duty to understand the history of knowledge production in their fields, and particularly how that knowledge has been politicized or coopted for different (even nefarious) purposes.
Learn more about Second World, Second Sex at the Duke University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: The Left Side of History.

The Page 99 Test: The Left Side of History.

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