Scholars in our program are committed to ethnographic research as the basis of anthropological knowledge. They explore cultural perspectives and social processes by living and working among the people they study for extended periods of time. For example, volunteering as a physical therapist in Haiti during two years of research on trauma among torture victims gave Erica James an intimate perspective on women's suffering. Becoming an apprentice magician in the French magic world allowed Graham Jones to document tacit rules that regulate the circulation of magicians' secrets as a form of intellectual property. Heather Paxson worked on farms and in creameries making cheese to explore the shifting significance of nature, food, and work in the contemporary United States. The close relationships anthropologists forge with the communities they study transcend individual research projects: in over four decades of working with Kuna Indians in Panama, James Howe has published books and articles on facets of Kuna life ranging from politics to literature and religion.
Anthropology is an inherently comparative field, developing general theories of human experience through cross-cultural analysis. MIT anthropologists' areas of expertise span the globe, from Manduhai Buyandelger's examination of transformations in Mongolian culture and society following the end of socialism to Jean Jackson's work on struggles for self-determination among Colombia's indigenous peoples and the politics of multiculturalism in Latin America more broadly. At the same time, anthropologists in our program conduct research that illuminates global dynamics reshaping an increasingly interconnected world. For instance, Christine Walley explores the ambivalent local effects of global tourism by tracing the genesis of a marine park on a small Tanzanian island.
Our faculty are at the forefront of shaping future directions of anthropological inquiry. In an effort to encompass the full range of human experience, we have pioneered methods for studying science and engineering as cultural practices. Traveling to the bottom of the ocean, Stefan Helmreich examines how deep-sea marine biologists are reimagining the nature of life itself. Approaching the laboratory as a complex and technologically organized workplace, governed by both trust and surveillance, Susan Silbey considers how environmental health and safety management systems reconstruct the everyday routines and rituals of scientific practice. Carrying out fieldwork at the Genome Institute of Singapore and the Human Genome Organization (HUGO), Michael Fisher studies the social and ethical issues associated with genomics and with capacity building generally in the Asia-Pacific region. While research on scientists is a relatively new field of anthropological inquiry, these studies demonstrate the fundamental continuity of science with other cultural activities.