The strategic anthropologist



Ken Booth's Strategy and ethnocentrism, published in 1979, deserves to be promoted in scholars' esteem to the very small category of works regarded as classics about strategy. Three reasons serve to explain why, over the years, it never received the acclaim it merits: the relatively undistinguished publisher; ironically, the subsequent debate over more than a quarter of a century about culture as a factor necessary for the understanding of strategy; and the attractively accessible style in which Booth expressed himself. Strategy and ethnocentrism is witty and even occasionally amusing—characteristics apt to trigger a response of some disdain from over-serious scholars. We can now assess Booth's book in its proper context, which is the long if very thinly populated history of strategic ideas, largely free of unduly distorting ‘presentist’ concerns. The fact that Strategy and ethnocentrism was written in the context of the Cold War really does not matter for the quality of its argument. This work is a classic because it speaks to all periods and about all participants in strategic history. The originality of Booth's treatment of culture does not lie so much in the realm of his grasp of its relative strategic significance, but rather in his relentless unwrapping of the actual, or certainly potential, harm, including unanticipated self-harm, of ethnocentricity. Today, studies of culture and strategy are not in short supply, but works that compel readers to attempt to take due account of their own ethnocentric frailties are in desperately short supply.