Looking back on the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is evident that one of the greatest impairments for Western stability practitioners was their inability to identify with indigenous perspectives. Despite this well-known weakness, there is a way to acquire such essential insights: By becoming the “other” as a participant observer, civilian ethnographers can access entry points at the individual level that foster social interactions that realistically introduce indigenous intelligence into complex operations—recording how identity is learned and communicated; how identity informs perspectives; and how the population may respond to change. Equipped with this type of ethnographic comprehension, stability practitioners can limit their collective efforts to those select opportunities that can be successfully engaged at the subnational level rather than ill-advised “whole of government approaches,” which often create new levels of instability. Based on our fieldwork with U.S. special operations forces, we discuss qualitative research methods that succeeded and failed in a complex operations environment. Read more at Special Operations Journal or download PDF here.

“Entry Point: Accessing Indigenous Perspectives During Complex Operations,” (with James Jeffreys and Justin Depue) Special Operations Journal 1:1 2015. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23296151.2015.1017996