Ethnography and intelligence

Posted on Tuesday 27th March 2012

Keith Shear and Insa Nolte in the Centre for West African Studies have received £9,130 from the British Academy under the Small Research Grant Scheme for their project ‘Ethnography and Intelligence: The Wartime Career of Jack Sargent Harris in West and Southern Africa, 1940-1945’

Jack Sargent Harris, an American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) agent in World War II West and Southern Africa, was an anthropologist who had conducted pre-war research in Nigeria. Harris is better known for his post-1945 career in the United Nations Trusteeship Territories division, where he criticised Britain’s administration of Tanganyika and worked with the radical cleric Michael Scott in condemning South African rule in Namibia. Dismissed from the UN as a communist, he became a successful businessman in Costa Rica. Drawing on our expertise on Nigeria and South Africa, focusing on Harris’s wartime dispatches from and activities in these two theatres, we will explore the relationship between ethnography and intelligence-reporting, not as a problem of academic ethics or complicity with empire, but as modes of (self-)perception and apprehension, and social description and analysis. The research will involve accessing OSS’s files and the papers of Harris’s correspondents; interviewing Harris’s sons and acquaintances; and field and archival research in Nigeria and South Africa.