The Rise of the Contract State: Privatizing Social Science for National Security

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 9:40 AM
Chicago Ballroom C (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Joy Rohde, Trinity University
In the 1950s, the Defense Department teamed with social scientists to create a number of university-based, Pentagon-funded research institutes tasked with winning the hearts and minds of the Third World. Yet, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, anti-war activists and Left-leaning politicians charged that these institutes were part of the military-industrial-academic complex and orchestrated their exile from academia. This paper argues that the attack on Pentagon-sponsored research had ironic, unanticipated consequences. Rather than severing the ties between scholars and the Pentagon, they strengthened them, fueling the growth of a private, but increasingly militarized research industry. Some Pentagon-funded institutes, such as the Institute for Defense Analyses and the Special Operations Research Office, were reborn as private, Pentagon-funded research agencies that continued to advise the national security state well into the 1970s. These were joined by new for-profit think tanks and consulting agencies created by former employees of the now defunct, quasi-academic research institutes. Opposition to the militarization of academia helped create the Beltway Bandits.

            The implications of these events were profound. Work that had once taken place in public view on university campuses moved to less transparent and less intellectually rigorous settings. Ensconced in private agencies, the Pentagon’s scholars were no longer forced to wrestle publicly with the political and ethical implications of their expertise. They remained free to treat political and military problems as amenable to scientific solutions. They evaded the era’s critiques of technocracy and militarization, and instead created a more heavily militarized research and advising sector. The growth of the Beltway Bandits altered the direction and content of non-academic social research, fueled the militarization and privatization of foreign affairs policymaking, and reduced the power of academic social scientists, elected officials, and citizens over American foreign and military policy.

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