The armchair is not just an unbecoming site in anthropology. There is armchair sociology, armchair economics, armchair theory, and arm-chair travel. There are armchair critics, historians, strategists, and even quarterbacks, who put forward nothing but secondhand knowledge. In figure 1, the seat that accommodated the armchair general indexed a lack of participation, a dearth of action. Given his suit- and- tie clothing, the man in the picture was probably an executive. Pressed to leave his comfortable position — which offered no actionable knowledge — he was urged to take part in the workforce, to fight like a soldier in production.

This image is part of a collection of thousands of wartime posters produced by the US government, corporations, and civilian organizations during World War II. A subset of these images popularized tactics for harvesting knowledge — sitting in an armchair was not one of them. Most of these idea posters featured manual workers who were implored to share their firsthand knowledge with the nation at war. With workers staged as thinkers whose thought mattered for the nation, submitting ideas was cast as a contribution to the war effort. In analyzing this set of posters, this article seeks to call attention to the historical particularities of how knowledge production, material production, and war were interrelated in this economy of ideas.

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Public Culture
Erasmus University Rotterdam

van Eekelen, B. (2018). Uncle sam needs your ideas: A brief history of embodied knowledge in American world war II posters. Public Culture, 30(1), 113–142. doi:10.1215/08992363-4189191