Beyond the Human Terrain System: a brief critical history (and a look ahead)
Contemporary Social Science
This article provides a brief critical history of the Human Terrain System (HTS), a US Army counterinsurgency programme designed to embed anthropologists and other social scientists with combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan. It lasted from 2007 to 2015 and at its peak employed more than 500 people. The programme, which was among the most expensive social science programs in history, was controversial for many reasons. Among anthropologists, HTS sparked heated debates about the ethics of professional social science. Soon after its creation, the American Anthropological Association’s executive board described the program as ‘an unacceptable application of anthropological expertise’. The article explores the reasons behind the program’s rapid rise and its subsequent demise, and it also discusses the long-term impacts of the programme–most notably the survival and propagation of the ‘human terrain’ concept within military and intelligence agencies, particularly as applied to techno-scientific methods of counterinsurgency. The article ends by reflecting upon broader questions of anthropological ethics in the post-9/11 world.
Anthropology, counterinsurgency, ethics, military
Roberto J. González. "Beyond the Human Terrain System: a brief critical history (and a look ahead)" Contemporary Social Science (2020): 227-240. https://doi.org/10.1080/21582041.2018.1457171