Essay Archives

Arguments For and Against Minerva

January 23rd, 2009

Knowing the Enemy

Submitted by David C. Engerman, Brandeis University

In the summer of 1953, a major military-academic project came under attack on Capitol Hill.  The target was Harvard University’s Refugee Interview Project, sponsored by the Air Force to the tune of almost $1 million – equivalent to $8 million in 2008.  It sought to understand Soviet society by applying the latest techniques of “behavioral [...]

December 30th, 2008

Building Bridges and Communities

Submitted by Dr. Tom Mahnken, Department of Defense

The US government has always turned to the nation’s scholars and intellectuals for help in times of national crisis or emergency. Many of our most prized scholarly organizations today were born during previous conflicts. President Lincoln established the National Academy of Sciences amidst the Civil War. Likewise, President Wilson created the National Research Council during [...]

December 11th, 2008

The Minerva Controversy; a Cautionary Tale

Submitted by Ron Robin, New York University

The Minerva initiative has elicited several warnings of creeping contamination. Hugh Gusterson describes Minerva as a lethal vector not unlike the cancer-spreading tobacco industry’s contagion of health research. Katherine Lutz defines defense related funding as a malignant disease; “whole subfields have atrophied and others metastasized.” Priya Satia agrees that the separation of the delicate academic [...]

November 14th, 2008

Minerva and Critical Public Engagement

Submitted by Robert Albro, American University

There are a myriad of reasons for the social sciences to be skeptical of developing closer working relationships with the military by cashing in on new opportunities like the Minerva Initiative, most obviously the possibility of a further militarization of academia. Anthropologists, in particular, have been vocal about their concerns — concerns that should be [...]

November 10th, 2008

Scholars and Security

Submitted by Paul Bracken, Yale University

The results of U.S. national security policy since 9/11 speak for themselves. There’s little point for me to throw more gasoline on this fire. My bet is that had the results of the last eight years been better than they were, there would be no Project Minerva, the Department of Defense’s program to support social [...]

November 6th, 2008

The Perils of Pentagon Funding for Anthropology and the Other Social Sciences

Submitted by Catherine Lutz, The Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University

This spring, the US Department of Defense announced an initiative to put up to $18 million annually toward social science research on issues of “national security.”  It identified anthropology as a key discipline to be recruited to this work.  Dubbed the Minerva Research Initiative, after the Roman’s virgin goddess of both warriors and wisdom, the [...]

October 29th, 2008

The Military-Social Science Interface

Submitted by Ian Roxborough, Stony Brook University

If social scientists are to have a more effective engagement with the military we need to understand them better. It is not enough simply to produce research, package it, and hand it over to be used by the military. We should think about how it will be appropriated by them. Let me first argue the [...]

October 27th, 2008

Possibilities for Partnerships?

Submitted by Victor P. Corona, Columbia University

Four years ago, Berkeley sociologist Michael Burawoy called for a “public sociology” that increased interaction between publics and sociologists.[1] The idea encountered both vigorous opposition[2] and support from researchers eager for activist roles. Commenting on the issue, SSRC President Craig Calhoun questioned some of Burawoy’s assumptions but agreed that the discipline should “engage and be [...]

October 17th, 2008

The Forgotten History of Knowledge and Power in British Iraq, or Why Minerva's Owl Cannot Fly

Submitted by Priya Satia, Stanford University

In its lofty attempt to restore wisdom to war, Project Minerva promises to harness the formidable intellectual powers of the American university to the anti-intellectual gambits of the “war on terror.” Darkness has fallen, and the initiative heralds the proverbial flight of Minerva’s owl; the DoD has finally confessed it is out of its depth [...]

October 9th, 2008

Skewing Scholarship

Submitted by Conor Gearty, Centre for the Study of Human Rights-LSE

It strikes me immediately that the Minerva project represents simultaneously something of an advance and also a retreat. On the one hand it is a sign of progress that those engaged in the management of American ‘security’ (as they conceive the term) regard it as no longer possible to rely simply on the imposition of [...]

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