John W. Borneman

Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus.

Ph.D. Harvard University, 1989


Secular ritual, law, intimacy, intersubjectivity, psychoanalysis, care, prosperity, refugees, Europeanization, Germany, Lebanon, Syria

Short Bio

John Borneman is among the most well-known and groundbreaking theorists within the subfields of legal, political and psychological anthropology, having conducted fieldwork in Lebanon and Syria and throughout Central Europe.

He came to Princeton in 2001 after teaching at Cornell University for a decade. His early work focused on a divided Berlin, including the first two of his nine books, “After the Wall: East Meets West in the New Berlin” (1991) and “Belonging in the Two Berlins: Kin, State, Nation” (1992). His other books on Germany include “Sojourners: The Return of German-Jews and the Question of Identity”(1995), co-authored with Jeffery Peck; “Settling Accounts: Violence, Justice, and Accountability in Postsocialist Europe” (1997); “Subversions of International Order: Studies in the Political Anthropology of Culture” (1998); and “Cruel Attachments: The Ritual Rehab of Child Molesters in Germany” (2015).

Borneman began his ethnographic work in Lebanon and Syria after arriving in Princeton. The monographs that emerged from that research include “Syrian Episodes: Sons, Fathers, and an Anthropologist in Aleppo” (2007), “Al-jinayah al-siyasiyyah wal-silm al-ijtimaei” (2007), and “Political Crime and the Memory of Loss” (2011), a comparative analysis of Germany and Lebanon. 

He edited six volumes and published over 92 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. He also co-produced a 1993 film, “The Return of German-Jews and the Question of Identity in East Germany.”

Borneman received two Fulbright professorships at Aleppo University in Syria and Humboldt University in Berlin in addition to many grants, fellowships, residencies and prizes. 

He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an M.A. from University of Washington and a Ph.D. from Harvard University.



book cover



book cover



book cover


book cover


book cover


book cover



book cover



book cover
Selected Publications

2015 Cruel Attachments: The Ritual Rehab of Child Molesters in Germany

2011 Political Crime and the Memory of Loss: Events of Closure, Rites of Repetition, and Accountability (University of Indiana Press)

2009 Being There: The Fieldwork Encounter and The Making of Truth (co-editor Abdellah Hammoudi) (Berkeley: University of California Press)

2007 Syrian Episodes: Sons, Fathers, and an Anthropologist in Aleppo (Princeton: Princeton University Press)

2004 Death of the Father: An Anthropology of The End in Political Authority, ed. (New York: Berghahn Press)

1992 Belonging in the Two Berlins: Kin, State, Nation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

1997 Subversions of International Order Studies in the Political Anthropology of Culture (SUNY Press)

1997 Settling Accounts: Violence, Justice, and Accountability in Postsocialist States (Princeton University Press)


2017 “Afterword: Further Questions about the Global Care Chain,” Ethics and Social Welfare 11 (3): 296-303.

2016 “Foreword: ‘Recording Uncertainty and Disorder on the Ethnographic Scene.’” In Comparing Impossibilities: Selected Essays of Sally Falk Moore. Sally Falk Moore, pp. xv.-xxx. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

2016 “Opposition and Group Formation: Authoritarianism Yesterday and Today,” in The State We’re In, eds. Henrietta Moore and Nick Long, pp. 97-121. (New York: Berghahn Press).*

2015 “Anthropology and the Security State,” (co-author Joseph Masco) American Anthropologist 117 (4): 781-794.*

2014 Containment in Interlocution-based Fieldwork Encounters: Thought, Theory, and Transformative Thinking, Anthropological Theory 14 (4): 442-461.*

2014 “Schwimmbecken und Pornokinos. Wovon wollen Töchter und Söhne sich eigentlich befreien?” Mittelweg 36 23 (3): 79-88.

2014 “Abandonment and Victory in Relations with the Dead,” Governing the Dead, ed. Finn Stepputat, pp. 227-249. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

2014 State, Anthropological Aspects, International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. (London: Elsevier Science Ltd.)

2013 "Intimacy, Disclosure, and Marital Normativity," Intimacies: A new world of relational life, eds. Alan Frank, Patricia Ticineto Clough and Steven Seidman, pp. 117-129. (New York: Routledge Press)

2012 "Und nach den Tyrannen? Macht, Verwandtschaft und Gemeinschaft in der Arabellion," La Lettre International 98 (Fall): 33-48 (translated by Martin Zillinger and Daniele Saracino)

2012 "Border Regimes, the Circulation of Violence and the Neo-authoritarian Turn," A Companion to Border Studies, ed. Thomas Wilson and Hastings Donan, pp. 119-136. (N.Y.: Wiley)

2012 Incest, the Child, and the Despotic Father," Current Anthropology, Vol. 53 (2) (April):181-203, with commentary and response

2011 "Daydreaming, Intimacy, and the Intersubjective Third in Fieldwork Encounters in Syria," American Ethnologist 38 (2):234-248 * (2013 Boyer Prize Winner, Society for Psychological Anthropology)

2010 "European Rituals of Initiation and the Production of Men," Social Anthropology 18 (3):289-301*

2010 "Mutual Subject-Discovery in Syrian Encounters," in Kontaktzonen, ed. Christoph Wulf and Gerald Blaschke, pp. 120-136. (Berlin: Akademie Verlag)

2009 "Dozenten-'Evaluierung' und die Universität. Partizipation und Rechenschaft in den Demokratien der USA, Großbritaniens und Österreichs (Teacher 'Evaluations' and the University: Participation and Accountability in the US, the UK, and Austrian Democracies)," in Erziehung und Demokratie: Europäische, islamische und arabische Länder im Dialog, ed. Christoph Wulf, Fathi Tikri, Jacques Poulain, pp. 253-270. (Berlin: Akademie Verlag)

2009 "Veiling and Women's Intelligibility," Cardozo Law Review 30: 6: 2745-2760*

2009 "Terror, Compassion, and the Limits of Identification," in Violence: Anthropological Encounters, ed. Parvis Ghassem-Fachandi, pp. 119-134. (London: Berg Publishers)*

2008 "A Scrap of Cloth," London Review of Books 30 (24): 13-14*

2007 "The State of War Crimes following the Israeli-Hezbollah War," Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice 25 (2): 274-289*

2007 "On Money and the Memory of Loss," in Restitution and Memory: Historical Remembrance and Material Restitution in Europe, ed. Dan Diner and Gotthart Wunberg, (New York: Berghahn Books)*

2007 "North Korea, South Korea: One Korea and the Relevance of German Unification," 344-364, in The Partition Motif in Contemporary Conflicts, ed. Eyal Ben-Ari, Smita Tewari Jassal. (N.Y.: Sage)

2006 "Postscript: Reflections on Totemism Tomorrow: Horse Breeds and Breeding in the United States and "France," 351-365. And reprint of "Race, Ethnicity, Species, Breed: Totemism and Horse Breed Classification in America," 319-350, in Modes of Comparison: Theory and Practice, ed. Aram Yengoyan (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press)*

2006 "Kiss Daddy! A Syrian son longs to be an American," Granta 93 (Spring): 185-200

2005 “Public Apologies as Performative Redress,” Johns Hopkins SAIS Review of International Affairs 25 (2): 53-66, special issue “Pride and Guilt in International Relations”

2005 “The Weather Where We Are (Sri Lanka),” Granta 91 (Fall): 227-233.

2003 “Is The United States Europe’s Other? American Ethnologist 30 (4): 487-507, with commentaries by Ostendorf, Rabinow, Schiller, Bowman, Ickstadt, and my rejoinder “Someone won the war!”

2002 "Reconciliation after Ethnic Cleansing: Listening, Retribution, and Affiliation," Public Culture 14(2): 281-304.* Commentary and Response to Laura Nader, Richard Falk, Richard Wilson, and Seven Sampson, “Why Reconciliation: A Response to Critics,” Public Culture (2003) 15 (1): 197-206

2001 "Caring and To Be Cared For: Displacing Marriage, Kinship, Gender, and Sexuality," 29-46, in The Ethics of Kinship, ed. James Faubion. (New Jersey: Rowland and Littlefield)

2000 “Politics without a Head: Is the Love Parade a New Form of Political Identification?” (co-author Stefan Senders), Cultural Anthropology 15 (2):294-317*

1997 "Europeanization," Annual Review of Anthropology 26: 487-514 (co-author Nick Fowler)

1996 "Until Death Do Us Part: Marriage/Death in Anthropological Discourse," featured article: issues in debate, American Ethnologist 23 (2): 215-238*

1992 “State, Territory, and Identity Formation in the Postwar Berlins,” Cultural Anthropology 7(1): 44-61

1988 "Race, Ethnicity, Species, Breed: Totemism and Horse Breed Classification in America," Comparative Studies in Society and History 30 (1): 25-51