João Biehl

Susan Dod Brown Professor of Anthropology
Co-Director, Program in Global Health and Health Policy
(609) 258-6327
Email Address:
Office Location: 
128 Aaron Burr Hall
Office Hours: 
Tuesday: 1:30 pm-3:00 pm

& by appt.

Teaching (Fall 2017)
Topics in Theory & Practice (Half-Term): Peopling Critical Theory (ANT 521B)
Critical Perspectives in Global Health (GHP 350 / WWS 380 / ANT 380)


Ph.D. Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley (1999)
Ph.D. Religion, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley (1996)

Sociocultural and medical anthropology, social studies of science and religion, global health, subjectivity, ethnographic methods, critical theory, Brazil and Latin American societies.

Short Bio

João Biehl is Susan Dod Brown Professor of Anthropology and Woodrow Wilson School Faculty Associate at Princeton University. He is also the Co-Director of Princeton’s Global Health Program.

Biehl’s main research and teaching interests center on medical and political anthropology, ethnography and critical theory, the social studies of science and technology, global health, pharmaceuticals, affect and agency, and religion and German colonialism (with a regional focus on Latin America and Brazil).

In his ethnographic work, Biehl has been concerned with how science and technology move from the laboratory to health policy and popular discourse, and from professional medicine to domestic economies and the intimate realms of bodily experience, particularly in contexts of stark inequality. In recent years, Biehl authored Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment (University of California Press) and Will to Live: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival (Princeton University Press). These books are ethnographic studies of the experience and treatment of mental illness and AIDS, respectively. Both Vita and Will to Live explore new geographies of access and marginalization that have emerged alongside pharmaceutical globalization. They also elaborate on the circuits of care and the mobilization for workable infrastructures through which poor patients and families articulate alternative modes of existence and politics in wounded cities.

Vita garnered seven major book awards, including the J. I. Staley Award of the School for Advanced Research and the Margaret Mead Award of the American Anthropological Association. Will to Live was awarded the Wellcome Medal of Britain’s Royal Anthropological Society and the Diana Forsythe Prize of the American Anthropological Association. Biehl received the Rudolph Virchow Award for his articles “The Activist State” and “Pharmaceuticalization.”

Concerned with the conceptual and literary force of ethnography, Biehl has recently co-authored Unfinished: The Anthropology of Becoming (Duke University Press). He is also the co-editor of the books When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health (Princeton University Press) and Subjectivity: Ethnographic Investigations (University of California Press). Biehl is currently co-editing the book series Critical Global Health: Evidence, Efficacy, Ethnography at Duke University Press.

Biehl has been awarded Fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and his research has been funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Princeton’s Health Grand Challenges Initiative, and Princeton’s Council of International Teaching and Research. He held the Harold Willis Dodds Presidential University Preceptorship at Princeton and was a Member of both the School of Social Science and the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study. Biehl has also been a Fellow at the School for Advanced Research and at the Center for Theological Inquiry, and a Visiting Professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. Biehl received Princeton’s Presidential Distinguished Teaching Award in 2005 and Princeton’s Graduate Mentoring Award in 2012.

Before joining the Princeton faculty in 2001, Biehl was a National Institute of Mental Health Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University (1998-2000). He earned a doctorate in Anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley (1999) and a doctorate in Religion from the Graduate Theological Union (1996). Biehl received a master’s degree in Philosophy and undergraduate degrees in Theology and Journalism from academic institutions in Brazil.

Biehl is currently writing a book tentatively titled The False Saints: A Story of Remains. This is an historical ethnography of the Mucker War, a religious and fratricidal conflict that shattered the 19th century German-Brazilian communities of southern Brazil. He is also collaborating on the book project Oikography, which foregrounds the house as a key site of empirical and conceptual analysis.

Biehl’s present ethnographic research explores the judicialization of health and politics and the emergence of the category of patient-citizen-consumers in Brazil. Biehl is also coordinating a research and teaching partnership between Princeton University and the University of São Paulo centered on the anthropology of health and medicine and the social markers of difference, and is co-coordinating a collaborative network on Race and Citizenship in the Americas.

João Biehl's website:
See also:

vita book cover will metallic cover subjectivity book cover WCPF book cover

Publications List: 


2013Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment ( Updated with a New Afterword and Photo Essay) (Berkeley: University of California Press)
2013When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health (Princeton University Press)
2007 Will to Live: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival (Princeton University Press)
2007Subjectivity: Ethnographic Investigations (João Biehl, Byron Good, Arthur Kleinman) (Berkeley: University of California Press)
2005Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment (Berkeley: University of California Press)


“Ethnography in the Way of Theory.” Cultural Anthropology, 2013, 28(4):573–597.
“The Judicialization of Biopolitcs: Claiming the Right to Pharmaceuticals in Brazilian Courts. American Ethnologist, 2013, 40 (3):419–436.
“Anthropology as Political Critique” (with Ramah McKay). Anthropological Quarterly, 2012, 85 (4): 1211–1230.
“Between the Court and the Clinic: Lawsuits for Medicines and the Right to Health in Brazil” (with Joseph J. Amon, Mariana P. Socal, and Adriana Petryna). Health and Human Rights, 2012, 14(1):1-17.
“Bodies of Rights and Therapeutic Markets” (with Adriana Petryna). Social Research, 2011, 78(2):359-386.
“Homo Economicus & Life Markets.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 2011, 25(2).
“Deleuze and the Anthropology of Becoming” (with Peter Locke). Current Anthropology, 2010, 51(3):317-351 (with comments and a reply).
“Symptom: Subjectivities, Social Ills, Technologies” (with Amy Moran-Thomas). Annual Review of Anthropology, 2009, 38: 267-88.
“Judicialisation and the Right to Health in Brazil” (with Petryna A, Gertner A, Amon JJ, Picon PD). The Lancet, 2009, 373: 2182-84.
“Accès du traitement du sida, marches des medicaments et citoyenneté dans le Brésil d’aujourd’hui.” Sciences Sociales et Santé, 2009, 27(3): 13-46.
"Drugs for All: The Future of Global AIDS Treatment." Medical Anthropology, 2008, 27(2):1-7.
“Pharmaceuticalization: AIDS Treatment and Global Health Politics.” Anthropological Quarterly, 2007, 80(4):1083-1126.
"Ex-Human: Reflections on Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment.” City & Society, 2007, 19(1):81-85.
“Will To Live: AIDS Drugs and Local Economies of Salvation” (a photographic essay with Torben Eskerod). Public Culture, 2006, 18(3):457-472.
“Life of the Mind: The Interface of Psychopharmaceuticals, Domestic Economies, and Social Abandonment.” American Ethnologist, 2004, 31(4): 475-496.
“The Activist State: Global Pharmaceuticals, AIDS, and Citizenship in Brazil.” Social Text, 2004, 22(3):105-132.

Book Chapters

“Patient Value.” In Cash on the Table edited by Edward F. Fischer. Santa Fe, NM: SAR Press, 2013, pp.67-90.
“Care and Disregard.” In A Companion to Moral Anthropology edited by Didier Fassin. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012, pp.242-263.
“CATKINE … Asylum, Laboratory, Pharmacy, Pharmacist, I and the Cure: Pharmaceutical Subjectivity in the Global South.” In Pharmaceutical Self and Imaginary: Psychopharmacology in a Globalizing World edited by Janis Jenkins. Santa Fe, NM: SAR Press, 2011, pp.67-96.
“When People Come First: Beyond Technical and Theoretical Quick Fixes in Global Health.” In Global Political Ecology edited by Richard Peet, Paul Robbins, Michael Watts. London: Routledge, 2010.
“‘Medication Is Me Now’: Human Values and Political Life in the Wake of Global AIDS Treatment.” In In the Name of Humanity: The Government of Threat and Care edited by Ilana Feldman and Miriam Ticktin. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.
“Human Pharmakon: Symptoms, Technologies, Subjectivities.” In A Reader in Medical Anthropology: Theoretical Trajectories, Emergent Realities edited by Byron Good, Michael M.J. Fischer, Sarah Willen, Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, pp.213-231.
“The Brazilian Response to AIDS and the Pharmaceuticalization of Global Health.” In Anthropology and Public Health: Bridging Differences in Culture and Society (second edition) edited by Robert A. Hahn and Marcia Inhorn. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008, pp.480-511.
“The Mucker War: A History of Violence and Silence.” In Postcolonial Disorders edited by Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good, Sandra T. Hyde, Sarah Pinto, and Byron Good. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008, pp.279-308.