João G. Biehl

Susan Dod Brown Professor of Anthropology
Department Chair
Director, Brazil LAB
Office Phone
210 E Aaron Burr Hall
Office Hours
Monday: 1:30 pm-3:00 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 Anthropology, Political and Legal Anthropology, Social Studies of Science and Technology, Ethnographic Theory, Colonial/Decolonial, Human-Nonhuman, Insurgent Archivings, Critical Global Health, Pharmaceuticalization, House-ing, Humanities of the Unlettered, Social and Environmental Justice, Planetary Health, 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 and historical work, Biehl explores how people's plasticity and environmental attunements disrupt and exceed dominant ways of knowing and acting, thus opening new vistas for storytelling and critical theory. As he dissects past and current regimes of power/knowledge, Biehl considers the array of human-nonhuman alignments, affects, ideas, technologies, and forces that shape survival in contexts of stark inequality and living together in frontier zones. In attending to insurgent archivings and advancing an anthropology of becomings, Biehl’s work seeks to restore a sense of wonder and movement to ethical and political debates and to creative expression.

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 in Brazil alongside pharmaceutical globalization, paying particular attention to the proliferation of zones of social abandonment along with the growing pharmaceuticalization of 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 radical 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 humanities of the unlettered and the conceptual force of the ethnographic open, Biehl has recently co-authored On Listening as a Form of Care, Unfinished: The Anthropology of Becoming, and Arc of Interference: Medical Anthropology for Worlds on Edge (forthcoming). 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-editor of 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 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 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 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 was one of the co-founders of the Princeton Global Health Program in 2008 and was the GHP co-director until 2020. He is a Faculty Associate of multiple units at Princeton, including the High Meadows Environmental Institute, the Program in Latin American Studies, and the University Center for Human Values. He is also a Service Focus Faculty Mentor at Princeton’s Pace Center for Civic Engagement. Biehl received Princeton’s Presidential Distinguished Teaching Award in 2005 and Princeton’s Graduate Mentoring Award in 2012.

Since 2018, Biehl has been directing the Brazil LAB, an interdisciplinary initiative that takes Brazil as a dynamic nexus for engaging some of today’s most pressing issues, from the Amazonian tipping point and the ongoing legacies of enslavement to emerging forms of political mobilization and cultural expression. The LAB’s multimodal projects are marked by the critique of hegemonies and 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 the Arts, and Engaging Indigenous Ecologies of Knowledges.

Biehl is leading the Brazil LAB’s involvement in multi-stakeholders’ efforts to articulate an alternative vision for the Brazilian Amazon threatened by illegal deforestation, fires, and socioeconomic inequality. He is also helping to curate the digital platforms Freedoms/Liberdades (storied images of different phases of the institution of slavery in Brazil) and Clarice (an audiovisual tribute to Clarice Lispector, one of the literary geniuses of the 20th century).

Attuned to dissenting storytelling and diverse sensoria, Biehl is currently writing a new account of the Mucker—a religious-therapeutic movement at the center of fratricidal conflict that shattered the 19th century German-Brazilian communities of southern Brazil—which he grew up hearing from the elderly in the region. Blurring the boundaries between history, ethnography and autobiography, Traces-of-what-one-does-not-know probes the political stakes of decolonizing archives and keeps in motion homegrown arts of healing and ways of reckoning with the dead. Drawing from these forays into insurgent archivings, Biehl has recently co-written the book Lost Writings: The Life and Work of a Seditious Immigrant—Johann Georg Klein (1822-1916), which will be published in 2022 in both Portuguese and German. He is also co-editing the book Oikography: Ethnographies of House-ing in Critical Times.


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



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)



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

“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.