2021 Award Recipient

Dr. Peter Kunstadter

The Executive Director’s Award recognizes an individual or team for their innovative accomplishments undertaken without the safety net of a tenured academic appointment. This year’s Award recognizes Dr. Peter Kunstadter, who first joined AAA in 1952, and who today is a research associate with the Program for HIV Prevention and Treatment, Chiang Mai, Thailand. In the late 1960s, Dr. Kunstadter was among a group of anthropologists who were accused by the Student Mobilizing Committee, a campus-based anti-Viet Nam War network, of engaging in counter-insurgency research with the sponsorship of the US Defense Department. The AAA commissioned a task force, chaired by Margaret Mead, to investigate these accusations. The Task Force found that the accusations were largely without merit, but the Executive Board at the time rejected the Task Force’s findings. Among the individuals named in the Student Mobilizing Committee’s documentation, some were indeed actively complicit, some were barely aware of the unintended consequences of their work, while others, like Dr. Kunstadter, actively resisted the Defense Department’s overtures. In Dr. Kunstadter’s case, this episode redirected him to a long and productive career in applied medical anthropology, to the immense benefit of the communities in northern Thailand with whom he has collaborated all these decades. I think there is a lesson to be learned here about due diligence, restraining ourselves from leaping to conclusions based on second-hand information that is filtered through an ideological lens. Dr. Kunstadter, we recognize you for your innovative work, and for your willingness to help the Association on the path to becoming the trustworthy and accountable organization we aspire to be.