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Jon Lindsay | Tribal Engagement Starts at Home: The Ethnography of Information Practice in War

September 16, 2020

Wednesday, April 14, 2021 12:30 p.m – 1:20 p.m  Register Here

Jon R. Lindsay is Assistant Professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Information Technology and Military Power (Cornell University Press, 2020) and co-editor of Cross-Domain Deterrence: Strategy in an Era of Complexity (Oxford University Press, 2019) and China and Cybersecurity: Espionage, Strategy, and Politics in the Digital Domain (Oxford University Press, 2015). He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an M.S. in Computer Science and B.S. in Symbolic Systems from Stanford University, and he has served in the U.S. Navy.

Tribal Engagement Starts at Home: The Ethnography of Information Practice in War

My new book, Information Technology and Military Power, is about “information practice,” or the knowledge work that military personnel perform to understand and influence combat operations. The book draws on my experience serving in uniform with a U.S. special operations task force in Western Iraq in 2007-2008. I found that the epistemic infrastructure enabling the task force’s “tribal engagement” mission with Iraqi society was shaped by U.S. military subcultures and the frictions between them. In this talk I will discuss the unique challenges and opportunities of participant-observer fieldwork in a combat zone. In many ways it is basically impossible. In my case it was possible only because of an unusual alignment between what I wanted to observe and how the participants behaved. Military information technologies are like epistemic prosthetics, and the consequences of misperception can be fatal. The military personnel who use them thus naturally become concerned with how they work, and how well. As a researcher, I wanted to know the same things. Curiously enough, the same theoretical concepts that I developed to explain military information practice also explain my own ethnographic practice.

Article – “Target Practice: Counterterrorism and the Amplification of Data Friction”

Methods Appendix from Information Technology and Military Power