Author:Kathryn Tomlinson (BBC Media Action)
Paper short abstract:
This paper discusses work to improve the representation of culture in military training, through development of a tool to create synthetic cultures, and suggests that such work provides opportunities for the discipline to take ownership of applied anthropologists’ expertise in modelling culture.
Paper long abstract:
In the context of the UK Government's Comprehensive Approach to engagement in conflict and reconstruction, the Ministry of Defence is developing its Effects-Based Approach to operations. Key to this is a deeper understanding of the environments in which military and civilians work. 'Cultural awareness' is thus of increasing importance, although training in this field is still in its infancy. This paper discusses work to improve the representation of culture in role-play-based military training, through development of a tool to create synthetic cultures. It presents a model of cultures that distinguishes between categories of cultural practices and social structures. These categories will be populated using ethnographic examples from a variety of societies, allowing the user to produce a realistic, rather than real, cultural profile.
The paper discusses some of the challenges of this approach, including the need to sufficiently simplify real cultures for categorisation, while retaining complexities and reactions to change within the synthetic cultures produced by the tool. But it also examines the opportunities that this work provides for increasing disciplinary ownership of the contributions of applied anthropology. While Douglas' and Mars' work on cultural modelling has been influential, Hofstede and Trompenars are better known in the business world and general public for their contribution to helping people interact sensitively with people from other societies. Given that understanding of difference is central to anthropology, it is hoped that this work will contribute towards the re-appropriation of disciplinary expertise in modelling culture.
Audible anthropology: anthropologists in government