Posted by: Christian | September 14, 2009

What Afghanistan scholarship used to be

Blog breaks continues, file sharing gallops on:

Standards are plummeting. That is obvious. I’m not saying there aren’t great books and articles being published. What I am saying is that overall quality is way down as many people make the plunge into the region. The same thing happened with the Soviet-Afghan War. Many writers and scholars jumped in and the field was saturated with wretched publications. Overall quality improved as the vast majority of those people left the field along with the world’s attention when the Soviets went home.  Then 9/11 came and many discovered Afghanistan. And some of those people are solid scholars and writers. Some even great. But again, there is the problem of overall quality. And in the last year it has again taken a dive. Probably the biggest one ever.

Anyways, I’m probably starting to sound like a grumpy old USMC drill sergeant complaining that this year’s recruits are the fattest, dumbest, laziest recruits ever.  So let’s take a venture into the imaginary past of pristine scholarship and cherry-pick something great. I was looking for this edited volume for quite a while. Me and my trusty scanner finally caught up with this elusive creature compliments of the University of Wisconsin:

Ethnic Processes and Intergroup Relations in Contemporary Afghanistan. Occasional Paper No. 15 of the Afghanistan Council of the Asia Society New York, Summer 1978. Edited by Jon W. Anderson and Richard F. Strand.


‘Introduction and Overview’ by Jon W. Anderson

‘Ethnic Competition and Tribal Schism in Eastern Nuristan’ by Richard F. Strand

‘Ethnic Relations and Access to Resources in Northeast Badakhshan’ by M. Nazif Shahrani

‘The Impact of Pashtun Immigration on Nomadic Pastoralism in Northeastern Afghanistan’ by Thomas J. Barfield

‘Religious Myth as Ethnic Boundary’ by Robert L. Canfield

Sorry it’s 30MB, but when I scanned it I wanted to make sure Strand’s linguistic markers on the Latin letters were as clear as possible. Plus it help out on the printing and OCR quality.


  1. Thanks for all your efforts in keeping me educated about what’s going on.

  2. You know, we had photocopied that last summer. We could have sent you a PDF had you asked for it :-)

  3. I would have asked for it if I knew what files y’all had.

  4. Thanks for recommending this. I agree that much of what is out there new is just twaddle, written by people trying to make a buck.

    It is encouraging to see quality efforts, and this particular report still has helpful info to be gleaned from it, particularly the description of Pashtuns relating to other tribes.

    Some of the description of how they relate may be summed up in a patron/client relationship – whoever is the strong one in the party becomes the patron, and all must be subservient to him. Some of this will never change, or not at least for a long time. I appreciate Richard Strand’s research, but still caution anyone interested from categorizing all Afghans the same way. There are big differences between educated, westernized Afghans, and villagers Afghans.

  5. “There are big differences between educated, westernized Afghans, and villagers Afghans.”

    Wow. Thank you for that huge insight.

  6. “Wow. Thank you for that huge insight.”

    Wow thanks for contributing to it with something even deeper…

  7. is this linked with the NATO program for
    Education for women

  8. someone should nominate Christian for a MacArthur genius grant.

  9. I have to agree on the standards part. That’s what happens when a field of study becomes popular with the masses. The same thing has been seen recently with Iraq, Iran, Counterinsurgency, and China. Of course this interest means that it is easier for a serious researcher to get money to do their research and that think tanks will write on it, but we have to watch out for drivel written by a hack.


%d bloggers like this: