João Biehl

Susan Dod Brown Professor and Chair of Anthropology
Brazil LAB Director
Office Phone
210 E Aaron Burr Hall
Office Hours
Tuesday: 2:00 pm-4:00 pm

Requests of appointments can be made via Ryan Noll: [email protected]


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


Medical and Political Anthropology, Social Studies of Science and Technology, Ethnography of Public Policy, Human Rights and Social and Environmental Justice, Global and Planetary Health, Indigenizing Conservation, Religious Studies, Settler Colonialism and Insurgency, Literary Anthropology, Latin American Societies, Brazil, Amazonia.


Short Bio
João Biehl is Susan Dod Brown Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Brazil LAB at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.

In his ethnographic work, Biehl explores how science and technology move from laboratories to markets, health policies, and unequal lifeworlds in the Global South, with a focus on the pharmaceuticalization of care and the judicialization of the right to health. In his historical anthropological work, Biehl traces nature-based healing practices and the afterlives of anti-colonial insurgencies in southern settler frontiers. Biehl is currently leading a new transdisciplinary and collaborative research project, “Indigenizing Conservation Research and Policy,” which seeks to incorporate Indigenous principles and practices into effective tools for promoting a sustainable Amazon.

Biehl is the author of the award-wining books 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 in Brazil alongside pharmaceutical globalization, paying particular attention to the proliferation of zones of social abandonment along with the growing pharmaceuticalization of self and society. They also elaborate on the circuits of care and the legal mobilization for workable infrastructures through which poor patients and families articulate alternative modes of existence and politics.

Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment 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: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival 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: Global Pharmaceuticals, AIDS, and Citizenship in Brazil,” and “Pharmaceuticalization: AIDS Treatment and Global Health Politics.”

Building on this work, Biehl has collaborated with human rights and legal scholars, epidemiologists, and health professionals on a project that maps the widespread judicialization of the right to health in Brazil and assesses its socio-political and economic impact. This body of socio-legal work has been published in leading journals, such as The Lancet, Health and Human Rights, Global Public Health, Osiris, and American Ethnologist.

Biehl has recently coauthored Arc of Interference: Medical Anthropology for Worlds on Edge; Insurgent Traces: The Saga of a Transatlantic Theological Manuscript and the Worldmaking of the Unlettered in a South American Settler Frontier (in Portuguese and German and forthcoming in English); and On Listening as a Form of Care. He also coedited the field-shaping volumes Unfinished: The Anthropology of Becoming; When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health; and Subjectivity: Ethnographic Investigations.

Biehl is co-editor of the book series Critical Global Health at Duke University Press and is a Commissioner of The Lancet-London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Commission on “The Emotional Determinants of Health.”

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, Princeton’s Grand Challenges Initiative and the Office of the Dean for Research. He held the Harold Willis Dodds Presidential University Preceptorship 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 Princeton’s Humanities Council, as well as a Visiting Professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales.

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 Religious Studies 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.

Keen to interdisciplinary collaborations and public outreach, Biehl is associated with several units, including the High Meadows Environmental Institute, the Program in Latin American Studies, the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, the Center for Human Values, the Center for Health and Wellbeing, and the Office of Population Research. He works closely with the Pace Center for Civic Engagement and the Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship.

A passionate educator, in 2008 Biehl cofounded the Program in Global Health and Health Policy (GHP) at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and led it for over a decade. He is the recipient of Princeton’s Presidential Distinguished Teaching Award and the Graduate Mentoring Award.

Biehl is cofounder and director of the Brazil LAB (Luso-Afro Brazilian Studies), an interdisciplinary initiative that takes Brazil as a dynamic nexus for engaging today’s most pressing issues, from the Amazonian tipping points and the ongoing legacies of enslavement to the precariousness of democracy and emerging forms of political mobilization and cultural expression. The LAB’s multimodal projects are marked by the cross-pollination of intellectual traditions, with special attention to historically marginalized perspectives in academia. Committed to social and environmental justice, the Brazil LAB seeks to produce actionable and transformative knowledge around five main research hubs: Safeguarding the Amazon, Inequalities, Racialized Frontiers, Decolonizing/Indigenizing the Arts, and Engaging Indigenous Ecologies of Knowledges.

As head of the Department, Biehl is supporting efforts at indigenizing academia and collaborating with colleagues and students in mapping the history of Anthropology and Indigenous scholarship and activism at Princeton. He is also helping to redesign the undergraduate curriculum and pedagogical arc (expanding community-engaged research and multimedia work) and to create the Anthro AI Lab, among other initiatives.

Blurring the boundaries between history, ethnography and autobiography, Biehl’s new book manuscript, The Spirit of Nature and Love of Kin: Traces of My Ancestral War, dissects the fratricidal Mucker War that shattered the 19th century German-Brazilian communities of southern Brazil (where he grew up) and that the poor’s storytelling and quest for justice reanimates time and again. He recently published elements of this work in a Current Anthropology article, “Insurgent Archivings: Sensing the Spirit of Nature and Reckoning with Traces of Our Dead.” Biehl is currently working on the co-edited book Oikography: On Alter-Geographies and House-ing.

vita book cover
book cover will
book cover subjectivity
WCPF book cover
book cover for Unfinished
book cover: on listening
book cover Lost writings (portuguese)
book cover Lost writings
book cover arc of interference


Selected Publications


2023 Arc of Interference: Medical Anthropologies for Worlds on Edge (with Vincanne Adams) (Duke University Press)

2022 Escritos Perdidos: Vida e Obra de um Imigrante Insurgente (with Miqueias Mugge) (Oikos) (In Portuguese and German)

2020 On Listening as a Form of Care (with Kristen Ghodsee, Lisa Stevenson & Aaron Levy) (Slought Foundation and Health Ecologies Lab)

2017 Unfinished: The Anthropology of Becoming (with Peter Locke) (Duke University Press)

2013Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment ( Updated with a New Afterword and Photo Essay) (University of California Press)

2013When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health (with Adriana Petryna) (Princeton University Press)

2007 Will to Live: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival (Princeton University Press)

2007Subjectivity: Ethnographic Investigations (with Byron Good, Arthur Kleinman) (University of California Press)

2005Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment (University of California Press)


“Insurgent Archivings: Sensing the Spirit of Nature and Reckoning with Traces of Our Dead,” Current Anthropology, 2022, 63(S25):S2-S31

"Oikograhy: Ethnographies of House-ing in Critical Times” (with Federico Neiburg). Cultural Anthropology, 2021, 36(4): 539-547.

“The Pharmaceuticalization and Judicialization of Health: On the Interface of Medical Capitalism and Magical Legalism in Brazil.” Osiris, 2021, 36:309-327.

“Supreme Court v. Necropolitics: The Chaotic Judicialization of COVID-19 in Brazil” (with J. Amon and L. Prates). Health and Human Rights Journal 2021, 23(1):151-162.

“Do incerto ao inacabado: Uma aproximação com a criação etnográfica.” MANA, 2020, 26(3): 1-33.

“How to teach anthropology in a pandemic?” (with Onur Günay). Somatosphere, May 25, 2020.

“Right-to-Medicines Litigation and Universal Health Coverage: Institutional Determinants of the Judicialization of Health in Brazil” (with Mariana P. Socal and Joseph J. Amon), Health and Human Rights Journal, 2020, 22(1): 221-235.

“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

“Ethnographic Open.” In Arc of Interference: Medical Anthropologies for Worlds on Edge (with Vincanne Adams). Durham: Duke University Press, 2023, pp.257-286

“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.