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Sojourn, Volume 30, Issue 2, 2015, pp. 528-549

American anthropology’s “Thailand controversy”: An object lesson in professional responsibility

Abstract :

Nearly half a century after it unfolded, American anthropology’s so-called “Thailand Controversy” remains a matter of contention, as controversial as ever. In his recent contribution to SOJOURN, “Phantom Scandal: On the National Uses of the ‘Thailand Controversy’ ”, Hjorleifur Jonsson (2014) argues that the episode is best understood as a witch hunt conducted by anthropologists and that it constitutes an unfortunate blight on the discipline of anthropology. I want to take issue both with significant aspects of the story as Jonsson recounts it and with some of the lessons that he draws from it. As one whose anthropological career has been profoundly shaped by my experiences in Southeast Asia and by the Thailand Controversy as it happened, my perspective on the matter differs distinctly from Jonsson’s. Moreover, the events concerned continue to inform anthropology’s ties to the military; the controversy’s relevance is of more than antiquarian interest. © 2015 ISEAS.

Keywords : American anthropological association,Anthropology,Hjorleifur Jonsson,Professional ethics,United States Department of defense,Vietnam war,“Thailand controversy”
Subject Area : Anthropology Sociology and Political Science

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