OK all you Bachelor-of-Arts candidates, listen up. A declared major in sociology* or anthropology is no longer a one-way ticket to manning a register at Barnes&Noble or asking, "Do you want fries with that?" In fact, social scientists are actually responsible for a bit of progress in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Pentagon has an experimental program whereby social scientists are dispatched to troubled areas to study the mores and norms of the community, and use what they learn to help soldiers help the locals. The first unit of -ologists, a.k.a. the Human Terrain Team, have helped soldiers get past tribal issues so they can focus on bringing services like health care and education to combat areas. And the brass is so happy with their progress that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has authorized a major expansion. Sounds good, right? Well, not entirely... critics fear the -ologists' hard work is being used more for political gain than anything else, in what amounts to "mercenary anthropology." What do you think?
*Full disclosure... I majored in sociology!