By David A. Westbrook
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Additional resources for Navigators of the Contemporary: Why Ethnography Matters
My professional career was by that time already pretty much over. I had received tenure and promotion to full professor, and I had no desire for another job. Nor did I want to run for office on these ideas. Others, people who had power already and could affect policy now, needed these ideas. Let me be more direct: I wanted people who were in charge of “kineti cally” addressing the enemies of my nation, that is, killing them, to imagine their world, and so their missions, somewhat differently. How to go about changing these minds?
Ethnography in the service of knowing the enemy, as a kind of intelligence, may be a simply good thing in a war that is clearly defined and where the intentions of the powerful are not under debate. Whether or not such wars exist, the current wars are decidedly more ambiguous. However necessary they may be, security deployments of old-fashioned ethnography, Malinowski militant, what the military now calls operations on “human terrain,” do little to interrogate the exercise of power, because they are instrumental.
I was getting a lot of exercise, ski racing with the locals, building onto the house, and so forth. My comeuppance arrived soon enough. I found myself in possession of—there was no denying it—a set of political ideas, which I think are ter ribly important, not to me, but to this country. And so I felt patriotically compelled to ask, how could I actually do politics with these ideas? (Pa triotism is not a sentiment with which postmodern critical theorists are en tirely comfortable, but there it was.
Navigators of the Contemporary: Why Ethnography Matters by David A. Westbrook