Accepted Paper:

Transforming crisis: what the world looks like in 2017  
Philip Kao (Harvard University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper draws its ethnographic detail from an unclassified US Army war game. I will focus on the culture of crisis planning and prevention, and analyse transformational attempts to lash up civilian strategic planning with military structures of command and control.

Paper long abstract:

The events of September 11th, 2001 sent nervous shockwaves around the world inaugurating a political sense of uncertainty. Additionally, the threat of global terrorism compounded by the occurrence of natural calamities, and the desire to control and manage the 'gap of pain' continue to defy existing government planning capabilities, and institutional arrangements. As a result, the defense community has recently initiated a plethora of newly designed experiments and war games to cope with future conflicts, and contingencies.

My paper will explore one such unclassified war game which attracted national media attention at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA. At one level, I will provide an analysis of the 'culture of crisis planning', which involves analyzing the transformational push for co-evolving 'institutional cultures': in particular between the US military, its international coalition partners, and the greater civilian interagency world.

The role of anthropology in development has been significantly documented over the past two decades, spanning from critiques of development discourse to a flushing out of state and market ideologies and reifications. What I intend to do here is provide insight into the world of crisis management and prevention from the viewpoint of an experimental and operational concept called the Multinational Interagency Group (MNIG). The MNIG is made up of a cadre of international development and humanitarian subject matter experts who attempt to influence military planning and decision-making at the strategic and operational levels. It is situated in the seams between the military's planning design and the amorphous civilian political world. I will draw from Norman Long's actor-oriented approach and interface analysis, to explore how agents of change manufacture and frame the problems of crisis as they socialize, reflect and react to simulations, and interpretations of globalization, complexity science, and local communities. One of the interesting conclusions will be that the focus and energy spent on crisis prevention is equally a socially motivating force for establishing new relationships and 'views of the world' as in the case of social life after a real crisis.

Panel W078
When the worst happens: anthropological perspectives on crises and disasters