David H. Price. Cold War Anthropology: The CIA, the Pentagon, and the Growth of Dual Use Anthropology. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016. 488 pp. ISBN 978-0-8223-6125-1.

© Laboratorium. 2017. 9(1)

Adrianna Link

Adrianna Link. Address for correspondence: Center for Humanistic Inquiry, Amherst College, PO Box 5000, AC 2273, Amherst, MA 01002, USA. alink@amherst.edu.

With the publication of Cold War Anthropology—the last of a trilogy of books exploring the connections between American anthropology and US military and intelligence agencies—David Price has cemented his status as “anthropology’s conscience” (as attributed to him by anthropologist Marshall Sahlins). In this most recent addition, Price builds on arguments first introduced in Threatening Anthropology (Price 2004) and Anthropological Intelligence (Price 2008) that highlight the role of the US government in shaping the direction of anthropological research during the mid-twentieth century. His case is strengthened by information obtained from previously classified documents now made available through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). These records offer numerous examples of how organizations and institutions reflecting CIA and Pentagon interests actively courted and collaborated with anthropologists in the years after World War II.

Price folds these details into larger narratives about the field’s disciplinary evolution and self-conscious refashioning throughout the 1950s and into the early 1970s, showing how the involvement of American anthropologists in government-sponsored modernization and counterinsurgency projects inspired a new generation of scholars to question the motivations and ethical considerations underlying anthropological research. By calling attention to this pivotal moment in the formation of modern anthropological thought and practice, Price ultimately challenges his colleagues to remember the high stakes involved with maintaining academic freedom—particularly as today’s rapidly changing political and economic climates may again offer attractive incentives to scholars with expertise on contested geographic regions and communities.

The book is organized into two parts. The first consists of five chapters that echo conclusions made in Anthropological Intelligence and set the stage for cases discussed in greater detail in part 2. Entitled “Cold War Political-Economic Disciplinary Formations,” part 1 considers how the funding and organizational structures that mobilized anthropological knowledge during World War II and made it a powerful tool in the fight against fascism and totalitarianism established the preconditions for government investment in anthropology in the following decades. While these connections supported the discipline’s rapid growth and geographic expansion after the war (especially as promoted through government-funded language immersion and area studies programs), Price notes how these “postwar residues” in turn nurtured “ideological justifications for a new era’s conceptions of American exceptionalism” (p. 51). Yet he is careful to show that in many cases anthropologists contributing to US military and intelligence operations remained largely ignorant of the exact origins of their research funds—a detail that highlights how deeply embedded CIA influence could be in seemingly benign ethnographic pursuits.

Central to his discussions of the systems of patronage formed between anthropologists and government agencies is the concept of “dual use.” He borrows this term from histories of the physical sciences, which have looked at how “basic” scientific work in fields like physics and chemistry was “applied” for military or commercial uses. As Price rightly suggests, this relationship between basic and applied work not only became critical to advancements in the natural and physical sciences but also the social sciences (p. xiv). His use of the term “dual use” thus clarifies how anthropological knowledge gathered during the Cold War came to benefit theoretical innovations in the discipline while simultaneously serving government interests. At the same time, by employing a concept more typically associated with mid-twentieth century physics, he elevates the status of social science research organized during this period and contributes to a growing body of literature on the topic (see, e.g., Rohde 2013 and Solovey and Cravens 2012).

Whereas part 1 establishes the book’s theoretical and contextual framework, part 2, “Anthropologists’ Articulations with the National Security State,” moves to more specific treatment of the individuals and institutions engaged in “dual use” anthropology. At nearly double the length of part 1, part 2 constitutes the book’s core and serves to delineate the four types of dual use relationships identified by Price (“witting-direct,” “witting-indirect,” “unwitting-direct,” and “unwitting-indirect”) (p. xxii). In chapter 6 he concentrates on “witting” anthropologists whose former ties to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II continued through their involvement working for the CIA. Chapter 7 extends this discussion to research foundations that knowingly and unknowingly employed funds provided by the CIA to support research (he names 58 organizations in total but acknowledges the possibility of even more). A particularly illuminating example of the “witting-indirect” relationship is his account of the funding structure between the Asia Foundation (established as the Committee for Free Asia in 1951) and the American Anthropological Association (AAA). According to Price, despite being publically revealed as a CIA cover in 1967, the Foundation continued to pay for journal subscriptions for AAA members specializing in Asian cultures until 1969. This shows the extent to which even major players in the discipline became unwittingly implicated in intelligence and military work. Chapter 8 continues this trajectory with a description of the CIA’s application of Harold Wolff’s research on stress reactions towards developing new interrogation methods (an example of “unwitting-direct”); chapter 9 offers multiple cases of how anthropological fieldwork became unwittingly and indirectly tied to monitoring regions seen as having communist sympathies in Southeast Asia and in Central and South America.

Although Price identifies only two “parts” to his book, chapters 10, 11, 12, and 13 stand somewhat separate from the rest and can be treated as a distinct section. These chapters concentrate on how the proposed use of anthropological data for counterinsurgency projects (most notoriously Project Camelot) inspired a group of activist anthropologists led by Ralph Beals, Eric Wolf, Gerald Berreman, and others to call for the adoption of an official disciplinary code of ethics. Debates about the proper use of information obtained through fieldwork and the ethical obligation of anthropologists to protect the communities they studied further fueled generational divisions emerging during the late 1960s and early 1970s between younger scholars and older anthropologists like Margaret Mead who continued to defend the value of applied anthropology. While this watershed moment in the discipline’s development has been reviewed repeatedly in histories of anthropology, Price foregrounds how concerns over anthropological involvement with counterinsurgency “most violently opened the fissures between anthropologists’ passionate, if unarticulated, visions of anthropology” (p. 300).

Price’s exhaustive treatment of the different ways in which anthropologists found themselves entangled in government projects serves as both the book’s greatest asset and its greatest weakness. While lengthy tables listing the names of projects, individuals, or agencies tied to CIA work make for clear evidence, at times the sheer quantity of information feels overwhelming and even serves to depersonalize the experiences of those involved. His commitment to detail is best used when applied to individuals; his analysis of the murder of Yale University anthropologist Raymond Kennedy (who worked for the OSS and is suspected to have been involved in espionage activities in Indonesia at the time of his death), his attention to the surveillance of June Nash and her husband as “communist sympathizers” following their return from Guatemala in 1954, or his efforts to give voice to little-known anthropologist Elizabeth Bacon and her own lengthy correspondence unmasking the hidden CIA influence within anthropological organizations are quite compelling and help maintain the reader’s interest. Perhaps this also reflects Price’s intended audience—although the book covers key moments in anthropology and American history, it is written more with anthropologists in mind than historians or general readers.

That said, there are places where additional details could have strengthened the book’s themes. In titling his book Cold War Anthropology, Price is clearly situating his study within a particular historical moment as characterized by the ideological conflict fought between the United States and the Soviet Union. Yet, as Odd Arne Westad (2007) and others have shown, the significance of this power struggle extended beyond these two countries; one wonders how anthropologists trained in other national contexts might have contributed their expertise toward making sense of the changing world order. While the immediate postwar period certainly witnessed the expansion of American anthropology, it also facilitated the development of new international networks of anthropologists (as has been discussed most recently by Susan Lindee and Joanna Radin [2016] in a special issue of the journal Current Anthropology—itself established in 1959 to promote international anthropological work). Likewise, it might be worth considering how the participation of American anthropologists in the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (founded by UNESCO in 1948)—and especially their interactions with anthropologists from developing nations—also framed discussions about the necessity of an anthropological code of ethics. While this book and the rest of Price’s trilogy succeed in bringing attention to a lesser-known moment in anthropology’s history, the complexity of its events show just how many more accounts there are to be uncovered.


  • Lindee, Susan, and Joanna Radin. 2016. “Patrons of the Human Experience: A History of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, 1941–2016.” Current Anthropology 57(S14):S218–S301.
  • Price, David H. 2004. Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Price, David H. 2008. Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Rohde, Joy. 2013. Armed with Expertise: The Militarization of American Social Research during the Cold War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • Solovey, Mark, and Hamilton Cravens, eds. 2012. Cold War Social Science: Knowledge Production, Liberal Democracy, and Human Nature. New York: Palgrave.
  • Westad, Odd Arne. 2007. The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times. London: Cambridge University Press.


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