Medical Anthropology, STS, Health and the Environment

Heath Cabot


Professor Heath Cabot will be on leave from September 1, 2022- April 30, 2023.  

Heath Cabot  (PhD, University of California, Santa Cruz 2010) is a political and legal anthropologist whose research examines citizenship, ethics, and rights in Europe, with a focus on Greece.

Research interests and areas of expertise: political and legal anthropology; anthropology of ethics and morality; migration, citizenship, and asylum; human and social rights; care and humanitarian governance; economies of redistribution; cultures of neoliberalism; ethnography of the state; Europe, Italy, Greece; epistemology and aesthetics. 

Graduate Recruitment

I am currently interested in receiving applications from prospective students with a recent track record of hard work and success in relevant fields (academic or professional), and who demonstrate intellectual humility and generosity. Prospective applicants should be familiar with my research and intellectual approach. Research interests do not need to be (indeed, should not be!) exactly in the “niche” of what I have done, but should overlap in productive ways with aspects of my own approach—topically, thematically, area-wise, or ethico-politically. Applicants should also articulate how the department as a whole, as well as other relevant resources on Pitt campus, could fit with their proposed intellectual trajectory.


Research Description

Asylum and Refugees in Greece

My first research project, which formed the basis for my book (On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece, UPenn Press 2014), examined political asylum on the EU’s most porous external border. Between 2005 and 2013, I conducted twenty-two months of ethnographic fieldwork on asylum adjudication in Greece, social and legal support in the NGO sector, EU policy-making, and migrant and refugee political mobilizations. I show that while asylum law and humanitarian aid enact exclusion, they also speak to emergent configurations of Greek, European, and more global citizenship, often transforming knowledge, ethics, and judgment. 

Rights in Crisis: Humanitarian Governance on Europe’s Mediterranean Margins

I am currently working on a second book manuscript on the precaritization of human and social rights in austerity-ridden Greece through the prism of community-based healthcare. This project emerged directly from my earlier research, as I observed Greek citizens increasingly seeking services necessary for the sustenance of bodily health in extra-state venues, often alongside asylum seekers and refugees. This project is focused on “social pharmacies and clinics,” grassroots initiatives that provide care and medicines based on political-economic and social “solidarity.” Since 2011, these clinics have emerged throughout Greece, operating on horizontally-organized forms of voluntarism and redistribution. Pensioners, unemployed persons, and migrants and refugees work alongside each other to assist diverse groups of beneficiaries (some of whom are volunteers themselves) through the redistribution of medicines and care. I show how citizens and non-citizens alike in Greece are increasingly dependent on both formal and informal modes of humanitarian governance, which, I argue, throws into question the capacity of state and supranational governments to safeguard access to right on the margins of the global North.

Emily Wanderer

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 examines the convergence of tech and wildlife in the Anthropocene in the science of wildlife tracking and the production of the "datafied animal." Over the past twenty years, scientists have developed an ever expanding "internet of animals," a collection of tools and research practices that include machine learning, AI, cyberinfrastructure, GPS-telemetry, and minaturized tags. These have transformed the way animal life is tracked, quantified, and understood. Through ethnographic fieldwork on the development and use of technology for wildlife research, this project analyzes the ideas, cultural categories, and histories that shape machine learning and AI about wildlife and the consequences they have for wildlife management. 

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).



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.

Tomas Matza

Tomas A. Matza received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2010. His research interests extend across the subfields of sociocultural, environmental, and medical/psychological anthropology, and touch on issues of mental health, political economy, environment, and global health, and theoretical considerations of subjectivity, care, expert knowledge and power. His research to date has focused on Russia, El Salvador, and Hawai'i.  His newest project focuses on land stewardship in Hawai'i as a form of human/more-than-human care and as a practice of environmental justice in the Anthropocene.

Research Description

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," 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, economic and ethical production, providing practitioners with new forms of geographic and class mobility, but also creating new means of social differentiation among clients. 

Professor Matza’s second project engaged with critical global mental health. This work draws on fieldwork in El Salvador and focussed on an NGO’s effort to promote child wellbeing in child welfare centers. His research explored how psychological theories (in this case related to attachment), circulated 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 explored the social life of metrics and data in the pursuit of “global health.”  He is currently working on a collaborative ethnography that explores the potential for life history to offers insights into political struggle, forms of violence, and reliance.

Professor Matza’s newest research explores care in a new context—via biocultural stewardship in Hawai‘i. The Hawaiian islands are global biodiversity hotspots whose habitats and endemic species continue to be threatened by introduced species, over-development, increasing water scarcity, and other factors. At the same time, as many in the native sovereignty movement have pointed out, Hawai‘i was illegally annexed by the United States, and thus remains a sovereign kingdom. These overlapping social, ecological, and political contestations present significant challenges when it comes to caring for land. Are there ways to do so that can promote multi-species well-being? What is “just conservation”? Who should care for the land and on whose behalf? Through a collaboration with Dr. Nicole Heller, Associate Curator of Anthropocene Studies at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and in conversation with scholars in Hawai‘i doing research on biocultural stewardship, the project aims to use collaboration, co-development, and transdisciplinary research to answer these difficult questions.

Public-Facing Engagement

Since 2022 I have been co-developing an environmental justice learning initiative with my colleague and friend, Dr. Nicole Fabricant (Towson University). This work brings together environmental justice community activists from Baltimore and the Pittsburgh region, and faculty and students from University of Pittsburgh, Towson University and other educational institutions in the context of three activities centered on environmental justice harms and community responses for repair in Southwestern Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio and South Baltimore. The larger goal of this initiative is to build cross-regional solidarities as a basis for developing community-facing collaborative projects, resources, educational materials, and even possible policy interventions.

I am a member of the Pitt Faculty Union's Communication Action Team, and am one of many working to improve working conditions for our colleagues as I see a natural link between their well-being and the quality of our students' educational experiences. 

Disciplinary Service

In my final year's role as a Councilor for the American Ethnological Society I am co-organizing with Dr. Heath Cabot the AES spring conference on the theme of "Repair." This conference is co-sponsored by APLA and will take place at Pitt from April 4-6, 2024. I have benefitted immensely from collaborations with Darlène Dubuisson, Nicole Heller, Noah Theriault, Emily Wanderer, and Gabby Yearwood.

Graduate Recruitment

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 and for whom my expertise would provide a solid foundation for a PhD. 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.


Environments, Health, and Power

Graduate Seminar. The Anthropocene, a new geological designation identifying humanity’s unprecedented, massive impact on the Planet, has been a fertile area of anthropological inquiry. Concerned with giving an ethnographic grounding to the impacts of climate change, species loss, land enclosure or pollution, scholars have documented the specific ways that capitalism and colonialism continue to animate many of these harmful processes, while also prompting pressing questions about the relationship between human and more-than-human worlds. How are political economic processes implicated in new forms of dispossession? What is the best way to account for the slow violence of toxic pollution? How should scholars respond to the ending of local lifeways and place-based societies? At the same time, anthropologists have also focused on mitigation efforts, adding complexity to our understanding of the politics of protection efforts, the permeabilities between human and more-than human words, and the way that the Anthropocene affords us with new imaginative capabilities. What insights does this literature offer scholars writing in responses to crises? What does it contribute to public understandings of the relationships between environments, health, and power? And what broader take-aways might there be for debates about the future of life in the Anthropocene? To explore these questions, this graduate seminar organizes anthropological and allied social theory literatures around four different themes—conservation, exploitation, contamination, and re-imagination–as relates to human/nature relationships. We aim to grapple with how power operates in and through environment at a moment when human/nature relationship have become matters of life and death. Topics include Anthropocene/Plantationocene studies, coloniality & decolonization, infrastructure and the built environment, affect, resistance, and repair.

Culture & Politics of Mental Health

Undergraduate Lecture Course. 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.

Anthropology of the Anthropocene

Undergraduate Seminar. The “Anthropocene” is the name that many scholars are using to name a new epoch in the Earth’s history. The idea is that human impacts on the planet have grown to such a scale as to match other Earth system phenomena. The signs of the times include anthropogenic climate change, the impending sixth extinction (due in part of human-caused habitat loss), the disappearance of coral reefs and ocean acidification, etc. What sense can we, as concerned humans, make of this situation? And how can anthropology help us to grapple with the multiple meanings of the current age? How do the answers to these questions vary across different groups? And what are the prospects for confronting this shared challenge as a collective when responsibility for the crisis, and possibilities to survive, are often unevenly distributed? This course examines these questions from two angles: disaster and adaptation/hope. We will devote significant time to reading contemporary ethnographies from around the world. These texts demonstrate a variety of approaches and outlooks on the current planetary crisis. To prepare to engage with this material, we also devote several weeks at the start of class to read up on the history of the Anthropocene as a concept and scientific descriptor. And we also explore the question of whether the Anthropocene is a concept that means the same thing to every person.

Global Health & Humanitarianism

Undergraduate Seminar. 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

Graduate Seminar. This course is 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.

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.

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

Undergraduate Seminar. 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.

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.

Fieldwork Methods

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.

Andrew J. Strathern

Andrew Strathern received his Ph.D from Cambridge University and is an internationally recognized scholar and social anthropologist with a wide range of interests, including the analysis of political and economic systems, kinship theories, social change, religion and ritual, symbolism, ethnicity, legal anthropology, conflict and violence, the anthropology of the body, and the cross-cultural study of medical systems.

He has carried out long-term fieldwork in the Pacific (especially Papua New Guinea), Asia (especially Taiwan), and Europe (with a focus on Ireland and Scotland) and continues an active research and publication program in these global arenas as well as others. He also conducts research in and teaches on contemporary anthropological theory, linguistic anthropology, and linguistic and social issues in Europe and globally.

For many years he has collaborated with Dr. Pamela J.Stewart and they have published widely on their findings. They are frequently invited international lecturers, discussing their current theoretical perspectives. Several of Strathern and Stewart’s recently published books are “Peace-Making and the Imagination” (Strathern and Stewart, 2011); “Ritual: Key Concepts in Religion” (Stewart and Strathern, 2014); and “Working in the Field: Anthropological Experiences across the World” (Stewart and Strathern, 2014).  Their research work in the Pacific, Asia, and Europe feeds into their Disaster Anthropology project on global climatic change, natural disasters, and human-produced disasters.  They are experts in Ritual Studies; Peace and Conflict Studies; Healing and the Body; and they have developed the Pitt in the Pacific Program with the University of Pittsburgh’s Study Abroad Office.  They work with Material Culture and conduct museum studies around the world.

Research Description

Andrew Strathern and Pamela J. Stewart are a husband and wife research team who have published over 50 books and hundreds of articles on their fieldwork. They have been conducting research (fieldwork and archival work) in Europe for over two decades, focusing on work in Scotland, Ireland, and on the European Union. Their work has included aspects of the study of Scots as a minority language and its Ulster-Scots variant within County Donegal, Republic of Ireland, and in Northern Ireland, and also cross-border relations between the Republic and Northern Ireland as well as issues of devolution within the United Kingdom. They have also been working on Scottish Diaspora Studies, relating to Western Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. A further dimension of their work relates to Heritage Studies in general and the contesting contexts in which the idea of heritage is deployed.  They are the co-editors of the "European Anthropology" Series.  They have also published many books and articles on their fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, Ireland and Scotland.

They are the Co-editors of Journal of Ritual Studies (also see the Journal's Facebook Page!), the Ritual Studies Monograph Series  and the Ethnographic Studies in Medical Anthropology and the European Anthropology Series with Carolina Academic Press. They Co-Edit the Series Anthropology and Cultural History in Asia and the Indo-Pacific for Routledge Publishing and the Series The Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology for Palgrave Publishing. More about Research can be found on our Personal Website

Personhood in Melanesia

Arrow talk (el ik) is a genre of political oratory among the Melpa-speaking people of Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. It is practiced at the end of political events to express how history has crystallized into a state of transactional play between participants in the exchanges that constitute the event, including the sense of the event as a transition between other events and any suggestions of contradictions involved in these transactions.

Strathern, Andrew and Pamela J. Stewart
2000 Arrow Talk: Transaction, Transition, and Contradiction in New Guinea Highlands History. Kent State University Press, p.1.

A whole genre of vampire films designed for viewing by people in Europe and America taps into the same concerns as are exhibited in African contexts today. In general, these phenomena force us to recognize the final demise of the myth that modernity is based on the "triumph of rationality" in human affairs. Witchcraft ideas are themselves rational if we view them as logics of explanation. At the same time, they draw their power from fantasies of guilt and desire that arise from sources that could be labeled as "irrational."

Stewart, Pamela J. and Andrew Strathern
2003 Witchcraft, Sorcery, Rumors and Gossip. Cambridge University Press, pp. 91-2.

Each narrator tends to have an overall way of achieving a presentation of self corresponding to what Caroline Barros (1998) has called the "autobiographical persona." Like personhood, persona is the overall self-characterization that the narrator is attempting to project through the narrative process.

Stewart, Pamela J. and Andrew Strathern
2000 Introduction. In Identity Work: Constructing Pacific Lives,
edited by Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew Strathern. University of Pittsburgh Press, p. 5.

The min (spirit) comes directly from the ancestors, entering into the body during gestation, while noman (mind) develops after birth through the socializing influences of kin and primarily through the ability to speak. The person is therefore a complex amalgam of substances and influence.

Strathern, Andrew and Pamela J. Stewart
1998 Melpa and Nuer ideas of life and death: the rebirth of a comparison. In Bodies and Persons: Comparative Perspectives from Africa and Melanesia, edited by M. Lambek and A. Strathern, Cambridge University, p. 236.

Pigs lined up and tethered to stakes for a compensation payment, Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea, 1998. The occasion brought people from two different language groups together, since a killing had taken place between the Hagen and the Enga peoples, threatening the peace in the town of Mount Hagen itself, where immigrants from Enga live along with Hageners.

Round sweet potato beds in gardens at high altitude on the south road from Mt. Hagen to Tambul, Papua New Guinea, 1998. The sweet potato has been of prime importance in the social evolution of societies in the Highland region.

Large house built on stilts amid secondary regrowth in Hagu settlement among the Duna speakers of the Aluni Valley, Papua New Guinea, 1999. This house was being built for a young pastor of the Baptist church who is from the settlement, and its design reflects the status accorded to this new category of ritual leader.

Taiwan, Politics of Ritual

Two statues of the Deity Mazu sit in the midst of worshipers and tables covered with offerings to honor the Deity on the celebration of her birthday. Kuantu temple in Taipei, Taiwan, 2002.

In "the Mazu [Female Daoist Deity] complex in Taiwan...Mazu is seen as having great power over matters such as fertility and rain, and temples to her are ranked in terms of their putative founding dates and their consequent privileges of precedence in relation to one another...This relationship of precedence is marked by troupes of performers carrying statues of Mazu back to temples from which their own temple or its image originated, in order to renew their power and to show the performers' respect to the founding temples.

Worshiper burning incense at the Kuantu temple in Taipei, Taiwan on the celebration of Mazu's birth date.

Strathern, Andrew and Pamela J. Stewart
2003 Divisions of power: rituals in time and space among the Hagen and Duna peoples, Papua New Guinea. Taiwan Journal of Anthropology 1(1)51-76.

Dr. Pamela J. Stewart stands next to a resting dragon puppet that has just completed a dragon dance through the control of a local temple worship performance troupe. The location is the Kuantu temple, Taipei, Taiwan, 2002. The celebration was to mark the birthday of the Deity Mazu.

Prof. Andrew Strathern (A.W. Mellon Professor of Anthropology, U. of Pittsburgh) stands next to a newly constructed, privately funded, temple dedicated to the Earth God. He holds a fruit that a local worshiper shared with him after the worshiper prayed to the Deity at this temple, 2002. This temple is near to the Institute of Ethnology, where Prof. Strathern and Dr. Stewart are affiliated when they work in Taiwan. Through the Institute of Ethnology they are also studying aspects of historical change, cultural revival movements, and conversion to Christianity among the indigenous Austronesian speaking peoples of Taiwan with special reference to the Paiwan area.

Curing and Healing

In the past, after a corpse had been exposed for the requisite number of days on a platform, the remains (bones) of the corpse would be removed and placed in a cave which would serve as the burial vault and permanent repository for them. This site was considered to be the home for the spirit, tini, of the dead person and had to be taken care of by the kin of the deceased.

Strathern, Andrew and Pamela Stewart
2010 (2nd ed.) Curing and Healing: Medical Anthropology in Global Perspective. Carolina Academic Press, p. 50.

Female mourner among the Ndika people near Mount Hagen, early 1970s. Her hair, face, and body are plastered with white mourning clay, and she carries a cordyline switch. Earth paints are used to mark the body in particular ways (for healing, grief, or celebration, for example), and act to produce a kind of second skin on the person that intimately connects the human body to the ground.

Stewart, Pamela J. and Andrew Strathern, with contributions by Ien Courtens and Dianne van Oosterhout.
2001 Humors and Substances. Ideas of the Body in New Guinea. Bergin and Garvey, Westport.

Europe: Ethnicity, Language, and Identity

Violence: Theory and Ethnography explores the meanings and contexts in which violent actions occur. The authors develop further the concept of ‘the triangle of violence’ - the idea that violence is marked by the triangle between performers, victims, and witnesses – and the proposition that violence is also marked by contests regarding its legitimacy as a social act. Adopting an approach which looks at the negotiated and contingent nature of violent behavior, Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew Strathern stress the powerful unacknowledged associations between ideas of revenge and concepts of justice. These theoretical perspectives are applied to in-depth case studies from Rwanda-Urundi, Sri Lanka and Northern Ireland. The authors also draw on extensive field experience in Papua New Guinea, using ethnographic detail to address broader issues of considerable global importance.

Stewart, Pamela J. and Andrew Strathern
2002 Violence: Theory and Ethnography. New York and London: Continuum Publishing for Athlone Press.

Scots influence and traditions show clearly in these kilted and bagpipe playing marchers at the Orange Order parade, Rossnowlagh, south-west County Donegal, 5 July 2003. The Rossnowlagh marches are known for being peaceful. Near the center of this group one man holds up a huge Lambeg drum, which he is playing.

Strathern, Andrews, Pamela J. Stewart, and Neil Whitehead (eds.)
2006 Terror and Violence: Imagination and the Unimaginable. London and Ann Arbor: Pluto Press.

Minorities and Memories: Survivals and Extinctions in Scotland and Western Europe explores historical expressions of identity in Scotland, based on fieldwork in the Lowlands of Scotland carried out during 1996-2000, mostly in the County of Ayrshire but including materials from all over Scotland. Particular chapters consider Wales and Northern Ireland (where the authors have also conducted research subsequently as well as in County Donegal, Republic of Ireland) in comparison to Scotland. The book continuously weaves together historical narrative with anthropological reflections and analyses, examining the issue of identities through the perspective of both disciplines. The St. Andrew’s flag or Saltire is a mark of the longstanding sense of national identity in Scotland.

Strathern, Andrew and Pamela J. Stewart
2001 Minorities and Memories: Survivals and Extinctions in Scotland and Western Europe. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press.


Ritual: Theories and Cases

This course will examine the broad range of theories on the topic of ritual, an arena of discussion which has long been central to anthropological analysis and has acquired further significance through its overlaps with psychology, history, cognitive studies, and religious studies. The course will utilize selections from the extensive literature on the topic, both historical and contemporary, and will be enhanced by use of audio-visual materials for discussion. Students will be encouraged to bring forward their own themes for discussion throughout the course. The course will be open to students from Anthropology, Religious Studies, Cultural Studies, and related disciplines. This course will be offered on a regular basis in Spring Term.

Contemporary Anthropological Theory

In the last twenty five years, significant theoretical shifts have occurred within cultural anthropology, leading to and beyond the so-called post-modernist approaches. There was first a decline of encompassing "grand theories," followed by a stress on local forms of knowledge and practice as the object of our investigations. Later there have been a series of attempts at reconstructive theorizing either generally or in specific arenas, for example, in political anthropology and in historical anthropology. This course will explore medical anthropology, cognition and culture, the anthropology of religion, gender and modernity, ecology and development studies, globalization, political economy, and practice theory, including theories of violence and assist students critically to evaluate some of these trends. Attention will be paid to current issues of globalization and the creation or assertion of new forms of identity, local and transnational, in geopolitical contexts; as well as to reconstructive theories in general, for example in the sphere of religion and ritual, and studies of “development” and NGOs, environmental issues and disaster studies, and theories in the area of economic anthropology and neo-liberalism, as well as classic exchange theory and ecology. Prerequisites: This course is for 2nd or 3rd year Anthropology graduate students and others interested.

Linguistics Core Course

Language, evolution, and prehistory, world languages. Survey of phonology and phonemics, morphemics, syntax, writing systems and spelling, ethnosemantics, and sociolinguistics. Language and culture, language and power, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, ethnoscience, ethnography of communication, and linguistic pragmatics and meta-pragmatic approaches. Oral history and Oral genres, including poetry and song in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere. Language and movements for indigeneity and nationalism. Language studies and Cultural Anthropology including structuralism, the significance of literacy, cognition and culture, kinship studies, Pidgins and Creoles, Lallans and Ulster-Scots, the politics of minority languages.

Medical Anthropology 2

This course offers a survey of selected topics in contemporary medical anthropology. Topics to be covered may include cross-cultural and biocultural approaches to the study of sickness and healing, critical approaches to the study of biomedicine, interpretive approaches to ethnomedical systems, meaning-centered approaches to understanding the experience of suffering and pain, and the social construction of illness and healing. Special topics investigated include the anthropology of the body and sexuality, and physician-patient communication. Other topics can be added in accordance with student interests.

Human Ecology

This course examines human ecological relations within the environment, paying special attention to the vital contemporary issues surrounding global climate change and its specific manifestations in local ethnographic cases, the vulnerability and precarity that is implicated by it, and in particular how environmental disasters are increasingly being generated and test the resilience and creativity of the populations that experience them, including all life-forms and the landscapes they create and depend on for their life processes.

Kinship and the Family

Kinship in all its historical and contemporary manifestations is a central and enduring topic in the social sciences, ranging from the formal studies of different kinship systems to the intersection of changing gender relations and the construction of ideas of personhood and identity in the post-industrial world. Kinship ties run through all arenas of human life, including politics, economics, and religion, and are vital to the processes of cultural transmission and radical changes in cultural adaptations.

Myth, Symbol and Ritual

Mythology and its symbolism and ritual enactments are vital parts of the lives of many peoples and enter into the struggles of indigenous populations around the world as they seek to recreate the relationship with the environment. Myth remains an important part of religious practices. In addition, myth appears in changing guises in the creation of national and transnational identities in contemporary global society, and mythical sensibilities rest on the human capacity to create and deploy symbols. This course covers and provides insights into the aesthetics and the generative capacity of symbols and how they emerge into mythological and ritual syndromes.

Pacific Cultures

Pacific cultures present us with a fascinating picture of variability and adaptive variation in different parts of the vast area of Oceania. Taking into account long-term patterns of change from archaeological records and the work of comparative linguists, and utilizing a rich range of materials from media sources, this course provides a unique conspectus of insights, drawing on long-term field research, and aims to portray also the charm of these vibrant cultures and their contemporary struggles with problems of modernization and ecological challenges.