Emily Wanderer

  • Assistant Professor

Emily Wanderer earned her PhD from MIT’s program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society. She is an anthropologist of science whose research focuses on the intersection of medical and environmental anthropology and addresses how ideas of identity and place in the world are implicated in the practice of life scientists, as well as the ways human and non-human lives intersect and are transformed in scientific practice.

Her research and teaching interests include the anthropology of science and technology, medical anthropology, environmental anthropology, multispecies ethnography, Latin America, and Pittsburgh.

 

Research Description

Professor Wanderer’s first book, The Life of a Pest (2020), is a study of the politics of nature in Mexico, examining why and how different species are variously protected or exterminated to improve life as a whole. Through multispecies ethnographic research in labs, fields, and offices, it analyzes how scientists moved biopolitics and biosecurity beyond the human to include animal, plant, and microbial worlds. In improving life, scientists were called upon to determine what it meant to be a native or invasive species and to address the migration, mobility, and security of a wide array of life forms. They became arbiters who established which life forms were included in or excluded from group membership. In Mexico, where nature has never been conceptualized as pristine or separate from culture and human life, biopolitics and biosecurity have looked different than in Euro-American places. Scientists produced biopolitical apparatuses that incorporated multiple species and sorted bodies according to categories of difference that were informed by Mexican history and culture. Through case studies of infectious disease, invasive species, and agricultural and ecological research, this book considers how better living is a multispecies project, one which moves past anthropocentric conceptions of a good life to incorporate a more biocentric view.

Her current research project is on regeneration. Much has been written about extinction in the age of the Anthropocene, as extinction processes have been analyzed for what they tell us about nature, science, and conservation and the consequences of human actions, and for their power to generate action. Alongside analyses of extinction have emerged reports on regeneration – of cells, tissues, organisms, and ecosystems. This project analyses scientific work on regeneration, from research in regenerative medicine to enhance human capacities to heal or replace tissues and organs to work in restoration ecology to enable ecosystems to regenerate. This project asks how the cultural, political, and economic contexts of research in regeneration shape how scientists imagine what life could or should be and, as scientists remake life in the lab and the field, how these ideas are being built into biological substances. How do scientists make comparisons and translate findings about non-human life into human biology and how does this research reconfigure the relationship between humans and other life form? In analyzing the role of non-human life forms in our understanding of regeneration, this project looks particularly at amphibians and their dual roles as model organisms and sentinel species.

Professor Wanderer also has research interests in the Pittsburgh environment, particularly air quality, its relationship with health, and the development of related citizen science projects. 

Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).

 

Courses

Anthropology of Science: Global Perspectives

Science and technology are integral to contemporary societies. Understanding how science is produced and how it shapes daily life is a crucial challenge for anthropologists, who have studied the production of scientific knowledge in labs, hospitals, field sites, and elsewhere. While early studies of science as a cultural practice focused primarily on the U.S. and Europe, science and technology are produced and consumed globally. Through analyses of case studies of biotechnology, medicine, genetics, conservation, agriculture, energy, climate science, and computing around the world, this class will investigate the global dynamics of science and technology. Juxtaposing readings on different scientific fields from around the globe, we will look for recurring themes that connect these studies. What happens when science and technology travel, and how do new places emerge as centers of knowledge production? How are culture, identity, technology, and science linked?

Health and the Environment in Pittsburgh

This course examines the relationship between environment and health, with a special focus on the city of Pittsburgh and the surrounding environs as a case study. We will use medical anthropology to systematically investigate the effect of the environment on health and the interplay of natural and human systems. Drawing on research in political ecology, this class will consider the social, political, and economic systems that shaped Pittsburgh and its inhabitants. We will pay particular attention to the way changing industrial and environmental conditions changed incidence of disease, and how exposure to risk and disease are shaped by race, gender, and class. We will examine issues like the histories of air pollution and resource extraction including coal mining, oil and gas drilling and their impacts on the environment and health. The course will examine how knowledge about health is produced and the development of new forms of citizen science that enlist local residents in projects to monitor issues like air quality.

Global Pharmaceuticals

This course examines pharmaceuticals as cultural and social phenomena, following their development, production, marketing, and use around the globe. We will investigate a number of issues, including the growing number of drugs prescribed to Americans each year, the lack of access some populations have to essential medicines, the increasingly global nature of clinical trials, and the role of pharmaceutical companies in the opioid crisis. We will use the study of drugs and medicines to analyze the production of medical knowledge, changing perceptions of health and illness, and the role of the state and the market in the development and distribution of therapeutics. Pharmaceuticals bring together science, clinical practice, marketing, and consumerism, and this course will draw on anthropological research to trace the role they play in global flows of knowledge, capital, commodities, and people.

People and other Animals

What can anthropology tell us about nonhuman life forms? This class examines the interconnections between humans and other life forms, looking at how human cultural, political, and economic activities are shaped by the animal, plant, and microbial forms that surround us and likewise how these life forms are shaped by human activities. Topics addressed will include the interactions of humans and other beings in agriculture, domestication, hunting, scientific research, medicine, pet-keeping, and conservation. We will consider the subjectivity and agency of the nonhuman, our moral and ethical obligations to other life forms, and critically examine divisions between culture and nature.

Medical Anthropology II

This course is a seminar in medical anthropology, focusing on the key theoretical perspectives and methodological problems that have characterized the subfield. We begin with an overview of the emergence of the field of medical anthropology from early studies of rationality and belief, moving on to analyze diverse medical traditions and understandings and experiences of the body, health, and disease. We will discuss contemporary theory in medical anthropology as well as the construction of research problems from different theoretical perspectives in medical anthropology. The course will address approaches within medical anthropology to the social construction of illness and healing, sex, gender, race, markets and bioeconomies, and global health and humanitarianism. The goal of the course is to prepare students to conduct their own research and to engage in contemporary scholarly debates within the subfield of medical anthropology.

Publications

2020 "The Life of a Pest: An Ethnography of Biological Invasion in Mexico". Berkeley: University of California Press.

2019 “Our Amphibians, Ourselves: An Interview with Emily Wanderer,” interview with Ashley Elizabeth Drake and Lachlan Summer.

2018 “The Axolotl in Global Circuits of Knowledge Production: Producing Multispecies Potentiality” Cultural Anthropology 33(4): 650-679.

2017 “Bioseguridad in Mexico: Pursuing Security Between Local and Global Biologies,” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 31(3): 315-331.

2015 “Michael Dove Interviews Emily Wanderer, 2014 Rappaport Finalist”.

2015 
“Biologies of Betrayal: Judas Goats and Sacrificial Mice on the Margins of Mexico,” BioSocieties, 10(1).

2012 "Perspectivas Antropológicas Sobre el Riesgo y la Bioseguridad", AMEXBIO Annual Journal, 18-20.