João Biehl

Susan Dod Brown Professor of Anthropology
Director, Brazil LAB
(609) 258-6327
Email Address:
Office Location: 
128 Aaron Burr Hall

Teaching (Fall 2021)
Co-seminar in Anthropology (Half-Term): Insurgent Archivings: On the Sentient, the Storied and the Yet To Come (ANT 503A)


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

Medical Anthropology; Political Anthropology; Social Studies of Science and Technology; Historical Anthropology; Religion; Settler Colonialism; Human Rights & Global Health; Ethnographic Theory; Environmental Humanities; Creative Writing; Latin American Societies; Brazil; Amazon.

Short Bio
João Biehl is Susan Dod Brown Professor of Anthropology and Faculty Associate at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.

In his ethnographic and archival works, Biehl is concerned with the plasticity and unfinishedness of human subjects and lifeworlds. As he dissects past and present-day regimes of veridiction and falsification, he also explores the array of affects, ideas, forces, and objects that shape contemporary modes of existence, particularly in contexts of stark inequality in Brazil. While advancing the conceptual terrain of an anthropology of becoming, Biehl seeks to restore a sense of multiplicity and possibility to ethics, politics, and storytelling.

Biehl has authored Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment and Will to Live: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival. These books are ethnographic studies of the experience and treatment of mental illness and AIDS, respectively. Both Vita and Will to Live explore new regimes of normalcy and the geographies of access and marginalization that have emerged alongside pharmaceutical globalization, paying particular attention to the proliferation of zones of social abandonment along with the growing pharmaceuticalization of health in a transforming Brazil. 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.

Vita garnered seven major book awards: the J. I. Staley Prize of the School of Advanced Research; the Margaret Mead Award of the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology; the Anthony Leeds Prize of the Society for Urban, National, and Transnational/Global Anthropology; the Eileen Basker Memorial Prize of the Society for Medical Anthropology; the Stirling Prize of the Society for Psychological Anthropology; the Benjamin L. Hooks Outstanding Book Award of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change; and Honorable Mention from the Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology. 

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. He is also the co-author of the books When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health and Subjectivity: Ethnographic Investigations. Biehl is co-editing the book series Critical Global Health 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. His research has been funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Princeton’s Health Grand Challenges Initiative. 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 was also a Fellow at the School for Advanced Research, the Center for Theological Inquiry, and the Princeton’s Humanities Council, as well as 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. He is a Service Focus Faculty Mentor, at Princeton’s Pace Center for Civic Engagement.

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 writing a book tentatively titled Traces-of-what-one-does-not-know—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 co-writing Memento Vivere: War and Worldmaking in the South American Borderlands (1864-1874) and collaborating on two edited books: Oikography: A New Anthropology of the House and Arc of Interference: Medical Anthropology for Worlds on the Edge.

At the Brazil LAB, Biehl is leading a multi-disciplinary academic partnership with the Graduate Program in Social Anthropology of Brazil’s Museu Nacional. He is also helping to curate Captured + Escaped, a digital platform of storied images of different phases of the institution of slavery in Brazil, exploring key themes such as the South Atlantic slave trade, rural and urban enslaved labor, family life, childhood and aging, cultural manifestations, religiosity, slave resistances, and post-abolition life. 

In his current ethnographic research, Biehl is exploring the judicialization of health and the emergence of the category of patient-citizen-consumer in Brazil. Though the Amazonian Leapfrogging project, he is also chronicling multi-stakeholders’ efforts to articulate an alternative vision for the Brazilian Amazon, which is threatened by illegal deforestation, fires, and socioeconomic inequality. 

João Biehl's website:
See also:

vita book cover will metallic cover subjectivity book cover WCPF book cover book cover for Unfinished

Publications List: 


“The Right to Remedies: On Human Rights Critiques and Peoples’ Recourses” (with Joseph J. Amon). HumanityOct. 4, 2019 (Symposium: “The Right to Medicines in an Age of Neoliberalism”). 
“Judicialization 2.0: Understanding Right-to-Health Litigation in Real Time (with M. P. Socal, V. Gauri, D. Diniz, M. Medeiros, G.Rondon & J. J. Amon). Global Public Health, 2019, 14:2, 190-199.
“The Books of the Dead Revisited: Mortality and Morbidity in the German Colonies of Southern Brazil, 1850-1880 (with Miqueias Mugge & Ana Maria Goldani). História, Ciências, Saúde – Manguinhos, 2018, 25(4):1197-1217.
“The Postneoliberal Fabulation of Power: On Statecraft, Precarious Infrastructures, and Public Mobilization in Brazil.” American Ethnologist, 2016, 43(3): 437-50.
“Patient-Citizen-Consumers: The Judicialization of Health and the Metamorphosis of Biopolitics.” Revista Lua Nova, 2016, 98:77-105.
“On the Heterogeneity and Politics of the Judicialization of Health in Brazil” (with Mariana P. Socal and Joseph J. Amon). Health and Human Rights, 2016, 18(2):269-271.
“The Work of Evidence in Critical Global Health” (with Vincanne Adams). MAT: Medicine Anthropology Theory, 2016, 3(2):123–126.
“Theorizing Global Health.” MAT: Medicine Anthropology Theory, 2016, 3(2): 127–142.
“Antropologia entre o inesperado e o inacabado: Entrevista com João Biehl” (with Patrice Schuch). (Anthropology between the Unexpected and the Unfinished: Interview with João Biehl). Horizontes Antropológicos, 2016, 22(46):389-423.
“The Judicialization of Health and the Quest for State Accountability: Evidence from 1,262 Lawsuits for Access to Medicines in Southern Brazil” (with Mariana P. Socal and Joseph J. Amon). Health and Human Rights, 2016, 18(1): 209-220.
“The Masked Anthropologist” (with Naomi Zucker). HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 2015, 5(2):367-374.
“Peopling Global Health” (with Adriana Petryna). Saúde e Sociedade, 2014, 23(2):376-389.
“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

“From Global Health to Planetary and Micro Global Health: Theorising Global Health’s Present Remodeling and Scaling” (with Yi-Ching Ong). In Handbook on the Politics of Global Public Health edited by Richard G. Parker and Jonathan Garcia. New York: Routledge, 2019, pp. 63-78.
“Ethnographic Sensorium” (João Biehl and Peter Locke). In Unfinished: The Anthropology of Becoming. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017, pp.1-38.
“The Anthropology of Becoming” (João Biehl and Peter Locke). In Unfinished: The Anthropology of Becoming. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017, pp.41-89.
“Hereafter.” In Unfinished: The Anthropology of Becoming. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017, pp.278-291.
“Ethnography Prosecuted: Facing the Fabulation of Power” In If Truth Be Told. The Politics of Public Ethnography edited by Didier Fassin. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017, pp.261-286.
“The Juridical Hospital.” In Living and Dying in the Contemporary World edited by Veena Das and Clara Han. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015, pp. 251-269.
“Claiming the Right to Pharmaceuticals in Brazilian Courts.” In The Clinic and the Court: Law, Medicine and Anthropology edited by Ian Harper, Tobias Kelly, and Akshay Khanna. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015, pp. 163-196.
“Ethnography in the Way of Theory.” In The Ground Between: Anthropologists Engage Philosophy edited by Veena Das, Michael D. Jackson, Arthur Kleinman, and Bhrigupati Singh. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014, pp. 94-118.
“Patient-Citizen-Consumers Claiming the Right to Health in Brazilian Courts.” In Beyond Imported Magic: Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America edited by Eden Medina, Ivan da Costa Marques, and Christina Holmes. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014, pp. 349-372.
“Patient Value.” In Cash on the Table: Markets, Values, and Moral Economies edited by Edward F. Fischer. Santa Fe, NM: SAR Press, 2014, pp. 67-90.“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.