Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Professional Ethics -- 2 Inherent Conflicts

Throughout the post WWII period, the U.S. Federal Government established the many programs, domestic and international, to address Cold War concerns and fight the War on Poverty. In the process, the Federal Government became the major source that university researchers looked to for research dollars. By the 1960s, this presented the membership of the American Anthropological Association with a real ethical challenge. "What role should anthropologist play when accepting federal funding for their research projects supporting the Federal Government policies, ?"

One of the many social sciences to benefit from the Federal "largest,"was anthropology. Some of these funded anthropological projects focused on basic research, gathering data about local and foreign institutions. Other research projects, however, were policy oriented. Some of these were designed to establish baselines or subsequent evaluations for specific programs designed by such agencies as HUD, HEW, OEO, USAID, etc. The problem arose when the values of academic researcher conflicted with the funding agency's values to promote a political agenda. These projects were designed to produce information to further government political policies and not specific scientific questions.

During the Depression and WWII era, many anthropologists found employment with the expanding Federal Government.  As pointed out by David H. Price and others, many of these because of their concerns over labor and minority rights came under scrutiny by the FBI, the McCarthy Hearings, and the House Un-American Activities Committee for the real or alleged affiliations or sympathies with the Communist Party.

Price offers a very detailed and insightful discussion of that period and the key personalities affected by it. He points fingers at the failures of the very academic institutions one might expect to stand up for the individuals targeted. The AAA, the AAUP, and the universities that publicly proclaimed their  support for academic freedom, failed to support their "suspected" colleagues on promotion and tenure committees. This failure of institutional anthropology and academia in general set the stage for the ideological changes that emerge in younger generation of anthropology students, the sons and daughters of the generation then in power of the "traditional" institutions of professional anthropology.

Themes such as civil rights, anti-war movements, economic inequalities, colonialism, student rights, gender rights, gay rights and even an attempt to justify pedophilia rights, became acceptable causes for the new generation of anthropology student. Once feared as part of the Communist agenda, the anthropologists trained during the Depression and serving in War effort found that such views could be held against them as they returned to or attempted to reenter the traditional academic career path.

 At the same time, the federal government replaced the private foundations as the principle funding source for social science research dollars. Routine security background checks for researchers, especially those applying for grants to do social science research overseas appear to have been fairly routine, if not totally acknowledged as part of the process. As an aside, the same held for those applying for positions in the newly created Peace Corps as this writer can attest.

Radical anthropologists of the 1960s and 1970s turned on their elders and questioned many of the assumptions that formed the basis of traditional academic anthropology ethics.

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