Social Science, Counterinsurgency, and American National Security: Policy Lessons from History

Date & time

Apr 12, 2010, 4:00-5:30 pm EDT


In 2007, the U.S. Army introduced its newest counterinsurgency weapon into Iraq and Afghanistan: civilian social scientists. As members of the Human Terrain System (HTS), the social scientists are embedded in combat brigades, where they provide commanders with research and advice. HTS has been controversial from the start; many social scientists attack it for melding academia and national security and for violating research ethics codes. In this talk, I historicize HTS within the broader context of the relationship between social science and national security policy since the 1950s. By examining the cases of the Special Operations Research Office and Project Camelot, I argue that HTS is simply the most recent example of the national security state's decades-old effort to use social knowledge to bureaucratically and technically manage complex problems of foreign and military policy.

Joy Rohde is a historian of science and a scholar of science and technology studies. Her research integrates the study of science policy with American political, intellectual, and diplomatic history. She is currently completing a book manuscript entitled The Social Scientists' War: Knowledge, Statecraft, and Democracy in the Era of Containment. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania's Department of History and Sociology of Science.