- Associate Professor
Tomas A. Matza received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2010. His research interests extend across the subfields of sociocultural, medical and psychological anthropology, and touch on issues of mental health, political economy and global health, and theoretical considerations of subjectivity, care, expert knowledge and power. His research to date has focused on Russia and El Salvador.
Tomas A. Matza’s first book, Shock Therapy: Psychology, Precarity, and Well-Being in Postsocialist Russia (2018), draws on fieldwork in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he explored the psychotherapy boom that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. This involved ethnographic research in psychological assistance organizations for children and adults, media analysis, and extensive interviews. The book examines how new ideas and practices of selfhood, and what he calls “precarious care," have emerged alongside Russia's political and economic transformations following the collapse of the USSR. Shock Therapy describes the various political afterlives of psychotherapeutic care, which is now practiced as: a marketable commodity, a technique of biopolitical management, and a means to personal healing. These transformations in the nature of care have, in turn, turned the “self” into a site of political and economic production, providing practitioners with new forms of geographic and class mobility, but also creating new means of social differentiation among clients.
Professor Matza’s newest project engages with critical global health. This work draws on fieldwork in El Salvador and is focussed on an NGO’s effort to promote child wellbeing in child welfare centers. His research interest here is in how psychological theories (in this case related to attachment), circulate in the contexts of neoliberalism, El Salvador’s postwar gang violence, and Western hemispheric security, as well as how anthropological critique can be incorporated into collaborative research. The project also explores the social life of metrics and data in the pursuit of “global health.”
Finally, Professor Matza continues a teaching interest in the politics of climate change and carbon markets.
As an interdisciplinary scholar myself, I welcome applications from prospective students with multidisciplinary backgrounds. I enjoy working with students who are insatiably curious; who are both rigorous and generous in their engagement with other scholarship; who are interested in contributing to a convivial departmental atmosphere through cohort building and departmental citizenship; and who are interested in linking their work to the pressing concerns of our times. Applicants interested in my mentorship should be familiar with my research and approach, although interests need not exactly mirror my own. Instead, I am best suited to mentoring students with whom there is an exciting thematic, theoretical or geographic resonance. Successful applications should also identify links with other faculty in the department, department thematic clusters, and other relevant university resources. Please feel free to contact me by email with questions.
Culture & Politics of Mental Health
Undergraduate Seminar. Are emotions universal, or are they culturally specific? Are talk therapies, drug regimes and diagnostic categories effective in the same ways cross-culturally? And, thinking beyond cultural diversity, how does psychological knowledge intersect with power and capital? How, for instance, are some qualities made to seem more “healthy” than others? Finally, do affective disorders carry a biological marker, or are they the result of particular ways of seeing? And what difference does that distinction make to people who provide mental healthcare, and those living under the description of disorder? At their core such questions are fundamentally anthropological, touching on topics of personhood, identity, subjectivity, medical authority and power and temporality, to name a few. This course explores these topics by exploring several ways in which anthropology has intersected with “the psychological.” Those include: studies that have sought to add anthropological depth to a psychological accounting of the human; studies that have interrogated the “psy-ences’” as a social institution enmeshed in relations of power; and studies exploring the increasing biomedicalization of mental health. The goal is to gain not only an appreciation of the rich diversity of human experience, but also a critical understanding of how our feelings and senses of wellbeing are structured by forces beyond ourselves.
Global health & Humanitarianism
In the face of various global crises—health inequality, refugees, violence, natural disasters—the impulse to do something is understandable; however, helping is far from straightforward. What does it mean to help? Should those receiving it be consulted? What are the politics of help? This discussion-based seminar sets out to investigate these and other questions by examining two recent trends in international assistance—humanitarianism and global health. Humanitarianism, in its contemporary form, mobilizes international sentiment, ranging from sympathy to outrage, to address a variety of crises—displaced peoples (refugees), natural disasters, genocide, hunger. The movement for Global Heath, a successor to international health aid, leverages private/public partnerships to measure and eradicate the rising “burden of disease” globally. While distinct in their practices, both of these share a vision of global responsibility, as well, generally, as a transfer of expertise and concern from the global north to the global south. The course will place these two trends in historical and critical perspective by introducing students to a careful, anthropologically-based consideration of them. It seeks to push beyond two forms of naiveté—on the one hand the idea that help is always good; on the other, that it always masks some ulterior motive. The primary aim is to promote students’ awareness of the political, socioeconomic, medical and cultural complexity of the globalization of humanitarian and health concerns, and the importance of anthropological perspectives in discussing unintended problems and pursuing solutions.
Graduate Core Course in Cultural Anthropology
This course in an intensive, graduate-level introduction to key theoretical paradigms in Euro-American sociocultural anthropology since the late-19th century. The purpose is to provide you with an understanding of how anthropological ways of thinking have been shaped through specific debates, controversies and lines of inquiry. In the first half of the course you will see an evolving discourse on such core topics as culture, function, society, structure, comparison, objectivity, materiality, symbols and signs, agents, history, change, practice, method, politics and anthropology’s status as a social science, to name a few. And you will learn about how lines of inquiry that were formed at an earlier stage (for example kinship and social structure) return later in altered form (e.g. challenges to the category of “kinship”; interventions around gender and sexuality). Throughout the semester, partner readings will also destabilize “the canon,” calling attention to its construction, who (or what) is left out, and how the history of theory in cultural anthropology also bears the imprint of hierarchy, position and privilege. In the second half of the course we examine anthropology’s “reflexive turn”—a series of moments in which cultural critique took a more central place in the discipline. Topics covered include gender and sexuality, race, knowledge, power, difference, decolonization, ontology and posthumanism.
Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
Undergraduate Lecture. Cultural anthropology is a social science that seeks to understand human diversity and social life. This course aims to introduce students to the fundamental methods, theories, and concepts of cultural anthropology. Some of the questions we explore include: How widely variable are the norms and forms of social organization? How do cultural values shape our perception of the world, our language, and our identity? How do class, gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity influence how we position ourselves/are positioned in the world? How does the mass media shape conceptions of family and community? Finally, how should we understand cultural difference in a rapidly changing world? In exploring these questions this course will seek to demonstrate the usefulness, but also complexity, of the concept of culture and related anthropological modes of observation and interpretation. Readings, lectures, and activities draw on case studies from a variety of settings – both familiar and distant – in order to examine sources of commonality and difference between human groups. By the end of the course you can expect to have a solid understanding of the history of cultural anthropology, its central topics and approaches, and a sense of new and exciting areas of ethnographic research. Finally, you will see the ways in which cultural anthropology is a productively reflexive field, in constant conversation with its past and the politics of representing others.
Anthropology of Latin America
Latin America is vast, covering 7.4 million square miles of territory, and includes 33 countries, nearly 450 languages, and diverse histories. Counting it as one entity is challenging. Nonetheless, a range of historical processes, experiences, cultural orientations and trajectories link together this diversity. Colonialism, indigenous dispossession, slavery, post-colonial nationalisms, indigenous struggles for sovereignty, and navigating neoimperialism are just a few such shared histories. In this course we explore a range of processes that cut across the region, tying “Latin America” to other transnational and global processes. Topics explored include neoliberalism, development and democracy; extraction and indigenous dispossession; legacies of war, violence and security; novel racial formations; migration patterns; and alternative knowledge and healing systems. Students can expect to gain broad knowledge of the region, an understanding of the ways in which Latin America has globalized over the last centuries, and what that has meant for its diverse peoples.
The Social Life of Climate Change
Undergraduate Seminar. Anthropogenic climate change is arguably the biggest challenge of the 21st century. If scientists are correct, we stand to lose whole cities due to sea-level rise, suffer food shortage due to desertification, trigger the sixth mass extinction, and endure unforeseen effects on human livelihood. What perspectives do scholars in anthropology and related fields offer on this contemporary problem—a problem that, elusively, appears on a future horizon? This course draws on emerging social science scholarship to show how an attention to the social and cultural dimensions of climate change can help us think about the causes, consequences and possible responses to the “carbon problem.” Topics covered include: the basic science of climate change; consumer culture and global inequality; climate policy as seen through the anthropology of development; living through disaster; representing slow violence; and, finally, how climate change is prompting us to rethink “the human” and “the future.” Together, these topics will offer students a robust sense of the social life of climate change, as well as a set of critical tools for thinking about this pressing contemporary problem.
Precarity and Affect
Graduate Seminar. Precarity, as primarily used in European social movements and taken up elsewhere, references a shift in the conditions of late-stage capitalism towards more flexible, irregular, and casual labor. This shift has been accompanied by a turn towards affective labor: capitalism that draws upon and produces/commodifies affect. This course explores the two concepts of precarity and affect in terms of their intersection, overlap, and interface: How is affect experienced and produced under conditions of global capitalism and expanding inequity, risk, and insecurity in social living around the world? We look here at: affect under precarious conditions of labor and life; how affect gets managed and extracted by post-socialist/neoliberal economies; and the commodification of affect but also activism and solidarity generated by an affect of hope or outrage over (shared) precarity. The course will tack between theoretical and ethnographic studies of the two concepts, considering their utility, how they can be expanded in other directions, and what an anthropological approach does, or could, lend to these topics. How does one do an ethnography of affect/precarity? What might a theoretics or politics or ethics of precarity/affect entail? What does anthropology illuminate about the affective landscapes of contemporary precarious existence?
Everyday Life After Socialism
Graduate/Undergraduate Seminar. When everyday life as one knows it is disrupted, how does one survive? This course explores this broad question through the prism of the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse and re-composition as Russia. Taking as a point of departure “the everyday,” the course will explore the ordinary intimacies, pleasures, and also forms of violence and exclusion that have proliferated throughout Russia as people have sought to survive the turmoil of the 1990s and 2000s. We focus on the themes of art and/of death, gods, food & rest, life’s infrastructures, home and homelessness, and belonging. The course’s aim is to consider the everyday not as a site mundane existence, but rather as a locus of social and cultural vitality, as well as political contestation.
Undergraduate Seminar. This course has two objectives: to explore what is—and how to do—ethnography, and to engage some of the central debates and discussions about ethnographic method in anthropology. Over the course of the semester you will conduct research that culminates in an ethnography of some aspect of social life; at the same time, the course readings will prompt deeper reflection on, and perhaps even trouble, that research. The tension between these two objectives is an important aspect of the course. Beyond being just a methods class, this course will challenge you to think about epistemology—that is what we know, how we know it, and how we gather information to constitute knowledge. Thus, students will be asked to consider in practice and also as a conceptual operation how to transform gossip, field notes, impressions, documents, interviews, emotions, personal experiences, entanglement, dislike and love into ethnography.
2019 “Critique and Collaboration: The Objects and Ends of Critique in the Age of Assistance,” Medicine, Anthropology, Theory 6(2), Special Issue: “Objects of critique in critical global health studies,” eds. Biruk & McKay. ONLINE PUBLICATION
2019 "Global Ambitions: Evidence, Scale and Child Wellbeing in El Salvador,” Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 33(3): 364-385.
Matza, Tomas. (2018) Shock Therapy: The Ethics and Biopolitics of Precarious Care in Post-Soviet Russia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Matza, Tomas & Heller, Nicole. (2017) Anthropocene in a Jar. Remains of the Anthropocene. Armiero, Emmett & Mittman, eds. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
O’Neill, Kevin & Matza, Tomas, eds. (2014) Politically Unwilling (Special Issue), Social Text, 120.
Matza, Tomas & O’Neill, Kevin. (2014) "Politically Unwilling: Introduction," Social Text, 120:1-10.
Matza, Tomas. (2014) "The Will to What? Class, Time, and Re-Willing in Post-Soviet Russia," Social Text, 120:49-67.
Matza, Tomas & Solomon, Harris, eds. (2013) "Commonplaces: Itemizing the Technological Present." Somatosphere. ONLINE PUBLICATION.
Koopman, Colin & Matza, Tomas. (2013) "Putting Foucault to Work: Analytic and Concept in Inquiry," Critical Inquiry, 39(4): 817-840.
Matza, Tomas. (2012) "'Good Individualism’? Psychology, Ethics and Neoliberalism in Postsocialist Russia," American Ethnologist, 39(4): 805-819.
Matza, Tomas. (2009) "Moscow’s Echo: Technologies of the Self, Publics and Politics on the Russian Talk Show," Cultural Anthropology, 24(3): 489-522.