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Under Contract: Nepalis, Indians, Turks, Georgians and the Webs of Workers that Fight America's Wars

Date and Time: 
Thursday, March 14, 2019. 03:00 PM - 05:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Baker Room
Workshop: 
Worlds of Work and the Work of Networks
Meeting Description: 

War is one of the most lucrative job markets for an increasingly global workforce. Most of the work on American bases, everything from manning guard towers to cleaning the latrines to more technical engineering and accounting jobs, has been outsourced to private firms that then contract out individual jobs, often to the lowest bidder. An "American" base in Afghanistan or Iraq will be staffed with workers from places like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Turkey, Bosnia, and Nepal: so-called "third-country nationals." Tens of thousands of these workers are now fixtures on American bases. Yet, in the plethora of records kept by the U.S. government, they are unseen and uncounted—their stories untold. Noah Coburn traces this unseen workforce across seven countries, following the workers' often zigzagging journey to war. He confronts the varied conditions third-country nationals encounter, ranging from near slavery to more mundane forms of exploitation. Visiting a British Imperial training camp in Nepal, U.S. bases in Afghanistan, a café in Tbilisi, offices in Ankara, and human traffickers in Delhi, Coburn seeks out a better understanding of the people who make up this unseen workforce, sharing powerful stories of hope and struggle.

Noah Coburn is professor of anthropology at Bennington College. He focuses on political structures and violence in the Middle East and Central Asia. He has conducted field research in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Nepal, India, and Turkey. He received his doctorate in anthropology from Boston University in 2010; MA in regional studies, Columbia University; BA, Williams College. He has taught at the American University of Afghanistan, Boston University, the University of Michigan, and Skidmore College. He is the author of three previous books, most recently Losing Afghanistan: An Obituary for the Intervention (Stanford, 2016). His writing has been featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, and The Financial Times.

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