Amy Moran-Thomas

Amy Moran-Thomas
Amy
Moran-Thomas
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Room E53-335B
617-324-7439

Biography

Amy Moran-Thomas is a cultural anthropologist, interested in the human and material entanglements that shape global health and medicine in practice. She received her PhD in Anthropology from Princeton University in 2012, and held postdoctoral fellowships at Princeton and Brown University before coming to MIT. Focusing on metabolic and parasitic disorders, her research bridges the anthropology of health and environment (chronic disease; ecological and agricultural change; metabolism and nutrition) with ethnographic studies of science and technology (medical devices; global health chemicals; epigenetic debates; online health communities; technology and kinship). Professor Moran-Thomas has conducted fieldwork and archival research in Belize, Ghana, Brazil and the U.S, supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, Mellon-American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Woodrow Wilson Society of Fellows, the Rachel Carson Center, the West African Research Association, and the American Philosophical Society. Her forthcoming book project, blending ethnographic stories and science writing with anthropological and historical analyses, offers a humanistic account of the global diabetes epidemic.

Research

The Para-Communicable: An Anthropology of the Global Diabetes Epidemic: A book and set of articles develops the concept of “para-communicable” disease, arguing that diabetes is spreading worldwide in ways that do not fit into the bifurcated paradigm of “infectious” versus “non-communicable” conditions as they have historically been defined by biomedicine. The book version additionally focuses on individuals’ sustained stories, giving a window into people’s material experiences living within the global diabetes epidemic as seen from the Central American country of Belize—including issues of access within local food infrastructures and insulin economies, debates around defining epigenetic exposure, and the uneven presence in homes and clinics of medical technologies such as glucose meters. It examines diabetes’ “problem of maintenance” as an intertwined issue of caring for bodies, technologies, information, infrastructures, and ecosystems.

Medical Technologies in Global Health and Environmental Change: Several additional projects investigate the material culture of global health, and the lively role of medical technologies in both contributing to embodied environmental changes and trying to manage them. This includes 1) “Kinship Electric: Technological Worms & the Parasitism of Americana,” a text based on nine years of engagement with members of a community that took shape online around a contested environmental disease diagnosis; 2) a collection of essays about various interventions for parasitic worms in global health histories; and 3) a book on guinea worm artifacts and the science of eradication, co-authored with anthropologist Adia Benton.

Selected Publications

2016 "Breakthroughs for Whom?: Global Diabetes Care and Equitable Design." New England Journal of Medicine 375; 24: 2317-9.
2016 "I Didn't Bring My Camera." Book Forum - Hervé Guibert's Cytomegalovirus: A Hospitalization Diary. Edited by Eugene Raikhel. Somatosphere.
2013 A Salvage Ethnography of the Guinea Worm." In When People Came First: Critical Studies in Global Health. Edited by Joao Biehl and Adriana Petryna. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
2013 Studying Unformed Objects: Integration.Cultural Anthropology, “Fieldnotes” online series with Michelle Murphy, Kathleen Stewart, and Britt Dahlberg.
2009 "Symptom: Subjectivities, Social Ills, Technologies." Annual Review of Anthropology 38: 267-88 (with Joao Biehl).

Teaching

21A.00
Introduction to Anthropology: Comparing Human Cultures

Through the comparative study of different cultures, anthropology explores fundamental questions about what it means to be human. Seeks to understand how culture shapes societies, from the smallest island in the South Pacific to the largest Asian metropolis, and affects the way institutions work, from scientific laboratories to Christian mega-churches. Provides a framework for analyzing diverse facets of human experience, such as gender, ethnicity, language, politics, economics, and art.

21A.301
Disease and Health: Culture, Society, and Ethics

From a cross cultural and global perspective, examines how medicine is practiced, with particular emphasis on biomedicine.  Analyzes medical practice as a cultural system, focusing on the human and social side of things.  Considers how people in different societies think of disease, health, body, and mind.

21A.305
Drugs, Politics, and Culture

Explores the relationship between drugs and society in a cross-cultural perspective, looking at intersections between drugs and phenomena such as poverty, religion, technology, colonialism, conflict, and global capitalism. Examines histories behind the use and abuse of various substances, including opium, cocaine, and prescription pharmaceuticals. Considers why different societies prohibit and sanction different drugs; the politics of markets and clinical trials; and how social conditions affect the circulation of medicines in global health.

21A.500J/STS.075J
Technology and Culture

Examines the intersections of technology, culture, and politics in a variety of social and historical settings ranging from 19th-century factories to 21st-century techno dance floors, from Victorian London to anything-goes Las Vegas. Discussions and readings organized around three questions: what cultural effects and risks follow from treating biology as technology; how computers have changed the way we think about ourselves and others; and how politics are built into our infrastructures. Explores the forces behind technological and cultural change; how technological and cutural artifacts are understood and used by different communities; and whether, in what ways, and for whom technology has produced a better world.

Awards

2014 Curl Essay Prize, Royal Anthropological Institute   
2011 David Schneider Award, American Anthropological Association    
2011 Elise Clews Parsons Prize, American Ethnological Society
2011 Rudolf Virchow Award, Critical Anthropology of Global Health Group
2011 Science, Technology & Medicine Interest Group SMA Paper Prize
2008 Christine Wilson Prize, Society for the Anthropology of Food & Nutrition