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Sociocultural Data to Accomplish Department of Defense Missions: Toward a Unified Social Framework - Workshop Summary
new proposals, programs, or models. Not even the Human Terrain Teams or the various cultural training programs, which are already in the field, are being subjected to any kind of field test. “We do no scientific evaluation that I can see of our own initiatives.”
A related issue is how to involve cultural anthropologists in this area in a way that does not violate their professional ethics or norms. In World War II, Laitin noted, the British historian George Taylor assembled a group of top anthropologists to answer specific questions about fighting the Japanese, such as why their surrender rates were so low. “One of the things that Taylor understood was that you can’t bring anthropologists to help choose targets,” Laitin said. He believes the United States has not fully applied Taylor’s lessons in harnessing the best scientific evidence for the fulfillment of its field objectives.
A third lesson is the importance of the group as a fundamental unit of cultural understanding. This was apparent in a number of presentations, Laitin noted, including those of Chen and Kennedy as well as Brant Burleson’s talk on social support. “Understanding radical group dynamics, what makes them efficient, what makes them resistant to negotiations, what makes them murderous,” to Laitin, seems like “areas of research that may benefit the U.S. military.”
Finally, Laitin repeated the words of Robert Rubinstein in his presentation on culture in cooperative relationships that trying to create some sort of general predictive model of social and cultural influence on behavior is likely to be a “fool’s errand.” Laitin echoed the general sentiment of several of the workshop presenters: attempts to create broad, integrated approaches to social science issues or to base practical applications on such integrated theoretical foundations are not likely to be successful. The more valuable approach, he said, would be to work to extract local information on targets, the authorities and informal leaders, and cultural practices—what MG Flynn referred to as “the environment”—in order to address specific field questions. Throughout the workshop, participants seemed to have at least one position in common: although models are not the single answer to the sociocultural challenges faced by the U.S. military, they may have utility in strategic-level sense-making and providing a “probability space” to assist commanders in making better informed decisions.