Virtual War and Magical Death

Technologies and Imaginaries for Terror and Killing

Virtual War and Magical Death

The Cultures and Practices of Violence

More about this series

Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 15 photographs, 2 tables Published: April 2013

Subjects
Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Geography

Virtual War and Magical Death is a provocative examination of the relations between anthropology and contemporary global war. Several arguments unite the collected essays, which are based on ethnographic research in varied locations, including Guatemala, Uganda, and Tanzania, as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and the United States. Foremost is the contention that modern high-tech warfare—as it is practiced and represented by the military, the media, and civilians—is analogous to rituals of magic and sorcery. Technologies of "virtual warfare," such as high-altitude bombing, remote drone attacks, night-vision goggles, and even music videoes and computer games that simulate battle, reproduce the imaginative worlds and subjective experiences of witchcraft, magic, and assault sorcery long studied by cultural anthropologists.

Another significant focus of the collection is the U.S. military's exploitation of ethnographic research, particularly through its controversial Human Terrain Systems (HTS) Program, which embeds anthropologists as cultural experts in military units. Several pieces address the ethical dilemmas that HTS and other counterinsurgency projects pose for anthropologists. Other essays reveal the relatively small scale of those programs in relation to the military's broader use of, and ambitions for, social scientific data.

Contributors
. Robertson Allen, Brian Ferguson, Sverker Finnström, Roberto J. González, David H. Price, Antonius Robben, Victoria Sanford, Jeffrey Sluka, Koen Stroeken, Matthew Sumera, Neil L. Whitehead

Praise

“The book is strongly recommended, not least to those who are tasked with finding out whether ‘smart’ warfare does what it says on the box.” — Paul Richards, Journal of Military History

“[E]nchanting, ethnographic- and analysis-full…. this volume gathers some of anthropology’s most knowledgeable war scholars who collectively identify the enormous scope of contemporary virtual war in its multiple meanings and applications.” — Alisse Waterston, The Australian Journal of Anthropology

"The volume elegantly frames early-twenty-fi rst-century militarism as a form of magical thinking. The result is a collection that successfully, and productively, brings into dialogue chapters that cover the origins of the US military’s Human Terrain Systems and drone warfare programs with chapters on diamond diggers in rural Tanzania and the expansion of police violence in postwar Guatemala."  — Danny Hoffman, Journal of Anthropological Research

"The creativity of this book’s analysis lies more in its invitation to critically reflect on how competition and defeat, domination and resistance, and war and peace in the modern era survive by inspiring ways of living and methods of acting in the world that modernity has too hastily relegated to the past." — Victor Igreja, Comparative Studies in Society and History

"A polemical stance on ‘the agon of war’ (p. 21) that encompasses the military’s infiltration of academe; the military’s abuse of anthropological knowledge (with vehemence toward human terrain mapping and the Human Terrain System);enhanced interrogation techniques and drone warfare; and socialization into a militaristic mindset through video games and entertainment." — Karen Walker, Terrorism and Political Violence

"This is a valuable collection…. It is a fine tribute to Neil Whitehead, whose insights on why we kill each other will be sorely missed." — Chris Hables Gray, Technology and Culture

"Virtual War and Magical Death is a creative project that is bound to stimulate constructive conversation. It inserts contemporary technologies of warfare, particularly the U.S. Army's Human Terrain System, into sociocultural anthropology's current reflections on its theoretical and methodological practices, as well as the purposes of ethnographic inquiry within and beyond the discipline." — Carol J. Greenhouse, author of The Paradox of Relevance: Ethnography and Citizenship in the United States


"By placing in brackets conventional ways of contrasting modernity and premodernity, the contributors to this groundbreaking collection of essays bring into startling relief the phenomenological commonalities that underlie warfare and witchcraft, militarism and magic, while offering radically new insights into the virtual and ritual dimensions of violence and the 'war on terror.'" — Michael Jackson, author of Life Within Limits: Well-being in a World of Want


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Spring 2019 sale
Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Neil L. Whitehead (1956–2012) was Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His books Dark Shamans: Kanaimà and the Poetics of Violent Death and In Darkness and Secrecy: The Anthropology of Assault Sorcery and Witchcraft in Amazonia (coedited with Robin Wright) are both published by Duke University Press.

Sverker Finnström is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Uppsala University. He received the Margaret Mead Award for Living with Bad Surroundings: War, History, and Everyday Moments in Northern Uganda, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Virtual War and Magical Death / Neil L. Whitehead and Sverker Finnström 1

1. Ethnography, Knowledge, Torture, and Silence / Neil L. Whitehead 26

2. The Role of Culture in Wars Waged by Robots: Connecting Drones, Anthropology, and Human Terrain System's Prehistory / David Price 46

3. Cybernetic Crystal Ball: "Forecasting" Insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan / Roberto J. González 65

4. Full Spectrum: The Military Invasion of Anthropology / R. Brian Ferguson 85

5. Today He Is No More: Magic, Intervention, and Global War in Uganda / Sverker Finnström 111

6. The Hostile Gaze: Night Vision and the Immediation of Nocturnal Combat in Vietnam and Iraq / Antonius C. G. M. Robben 132

7. Virtual Soldiers, Cognitive Laborers / Robertson Allen 152

8. Virtual Wars in the Tribal Zone: Air Strikes, Drones, Civilian Casualties, and Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan and Pakistan / Jeffrey A. Sluka 171

9. Propaganda, Gangs, and Social Cleansing in Guatemala / Victoria Sanford 194

10. The Soundtrack to War / Matthew Sumera 214

11. War at Large: Miner Magic and the Carrion System / Koen Stroeken 234

References 251

Contributors 279

Index 281

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5447-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5435-2
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