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CEAUSSIC Ethics Casebook

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Commitment in Context: A Casebook of Stories in Practice and Ethics
Written by and for Anthropologists
A project of the American Anthropological Association’s Ad Hoc Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC)


Since 9/11, and with the invasions of Afghanistan and then Iraq, have been debating what constitutes an “appropriate” limit to scholarly involvement in military and intelligence activities. These debates involve complex relationships among moral landscapes, political trends, current events, methodology, and scholarly theory; and are largely expressed in the form of concerns about anthropologists getting involved in military and intelligence work.   However, we believe that all anthropologists have political, ethical, personal, institutional, scholarly, and other commitments whose intersections create difficult but important and often productive tensions in our creative and scholarly work.  What we lack is a place in which we can collectively capture, share, and discuss how each of us experiences the many commitments though which we express our scholarly selves – an absence that significantly limits the quality and depth of current discussions about “ethics.” 

We believe that the best mechanism for complicating and broadening the discipline’s current ethical debates is to gather and publish A set of illustrative case studies drawn from the real-world experiences of anthropologists in the field and in the workplace.  Accordingly, we are asking our colleagues to contribute personal stories that illustrate how we both establish and respond productively to the many commitments we have.  These commitments are perhaps most salient when they come into conflict, but they can also align in surprisingly productive and interesting ways.  We are thinking here of the practicing anthropologist whose career in an NGO both creates and limits opportunities to share the knowledge she produces; the community college teacher whose involvement in an Institutional Review Board causes him to reflect on the nature of “informed consent” in archaeology; or the forensic anthropologist working in the criminal justice system who navigates among legal and scholarly codes of ethics.

We plan to compile the experiences you submit into a casebook, a set of descriptive scenarios through which readers can explore specific events and problems, and consider how they instantiate abstract concepts like scholarship, ethics, morality, methodology, and theory in specific contexts and practice.  We see this as a powerful tool to inform, broaden, deepen, and provoke debate among our colleagues, employers, research partners, the people we study, and our students.

Readership.  The casebook will be aimed primarily at anthropologists in all four fields of the discipline and their students as well as counterparts in other fields. But we also expect the book to generate interest among a wide range of stakeholders in the discipline of anthropology: for example, potential employers of anthropologists, funding agencies, other social scientists, members of institutional review boards, academic ethicists, and the public.   We believe that students, practitioners, and professors alike will benefit from reading and considering narrative cases that illustrate the complex relationships among politics, teaching, ethics, morality, research practice, and scholarship in anthropology, across all fields and in all contexts, and expect such a casebook to provide needed points of reference for consideration of anthropology’s practice, methods and ethics, as part of our discipline’s ongoing discussion of these core concerns.   


We are interested in cases that explore intersections among the ethical, methodological, and theoretical aspects of work in, around, and for public and private institutions, in and outside academia.   We seek narrative cases from all of anthropology’s fields, including archaeology, human evolutionary ecology, biological/physical anthropology, ethnology, and linguistic anthropology.

Format. Each case should include a cover sheet with the case title, your name and contact information, and a 200-word abstract that summarizes the key themes that you wish to explore in your essay. The main case narrative should begin on a separate page and be between 1500 and 3000 words in length, in 12-point font, and submitted electronically to the CEAUSSIC page on the AAA website (web address here).   At the end of the narrative, you may include a list of suggested discussion questions that you believe the case raises.  A sample case narrative is attached at the end of this call.  Although this case narrative presents an example of a very immediate ethical conflict, your story can describe other forms of intersection – unexpected alignments, for example, or the tensions that emerge as you move among different professional contexts (between anthropology and a corporate workplace, for example).  If you are in doubt about whether or not you have something to say, err on the side of creativity: write your ideas down and send them to us; or drop us an email with your idea and any questions you might have.  This is not a competition; it is a collaborative effort, and our job is to facilitate the creation and collection of interesting and provocative narratives.

Content.  Your narrative and abstract should briefly describe the context, the individuals and institutions involved, the time period during which the situation is occurring or took place, and the problems, themes, and issues that the case raises. Rather than offering opinions, solutions, or polemics, you should seek to produce a descriptive narrative that richly evokes the context and complexities of a moment of engagement in which moral, political, methodological, ethical, and/or scholarly become salient for you – a point at which you came to a key realization or insight about what it means to be an anthropologist in a particular context. We strongly encourage our colleagues to submit narrative describing real-life situations that they have encountered in their work, but we are willing to consider realistic hypothetical cases that raise provocative questions about ethics, politics, morality, theory and methods, and that have practical implications for working anthropologists.

Privacy and Confidentiality. All cases will be held in strictest confidence for consideration and discussion of CEAUSSIC and its guests only.  However, we ask that you indicate if the story is hypothetical or fictional (or some combination thereof), and to indicate where you have used real names, events and places in your story, so that we can take appropriate safeguards to maintain confidentiality and anonymity. If your case is selected for publication, CEAUSSIC will contact you to anonymize identifying elements in the story, to protect privacy and confidentiality of the individuals and institutions involved in the event.

Review. CEAUSSIC will select a subset of the case submissions for discussion and review.  Cases will be chosen for quality of the narrative, the case’s relevance to present-day issues in anthropological research and practice, and the complexity and nuance of the issues that the case raises.  CEAUSSIC will recruit appropriate subfield representatives and a professional research ethicist to assist in the review of the cases.  The selected cases will be annotated with a set of discussion questions and a summary of the review committee’s comments; these annotated cases will provide the basis for a final casebook manuscript.  

Submission process.  You may submit your case abstract electronically to CEAUSSIC@americananthro.org.  Alternatively, you may mail a paper copy of your abstract to the following address:

ATTN: Dr. Robert Albro
School of International Service
American University
4400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016

Contact.  Questions and concerns may be directed to the Ad Hoc Commission's Chair, Dr. Rob Albro, at albro@american.edu or 202-885-1546.


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