School of Humanities and Sciences
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Susan S. and William H. Hindle Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences
Current Research and Scholarly InterestsJames's Ferguson's research has focused on southern Africa (especially Lesotho, Zambia, South Africa, and Namibia), and has engaged a broad range of theoretical and ethnographic issues. These include the politics of “development”, rural-urban migration, changing topgraphies of property and wealth, constructions of space and place, urban culture in mining towns, experiences of modernity, the spatialization of states, the place of “Africa” in a real and imagined world, and the theory and politics of ethnography. Running through much of this work is a concern with how discourses organized around concepts such as “development” and “modernity” intersect the lives of ordinary people.
Professor Ferguson's most recent work has explored the surprising creation and/or expansion (both in southern Africa and across the global South) of social welfare programs targeting the poor, anchored in schemes that directly transfer small amounts of cash to large numbers of low-income people. His work aims to situate these programs within a larger “politics of distribution,” and to show how they are linked to emergent forms of distributive politics in contexts where new masses of “working age” people are supported by means other than wage labor. In such settings of scarce and diminishing employment opportunities, distributive practices and distributive politics are acquiring a new centrality, with social protection, in particular, emerging as a key arena within which fundamental questions are addressed concerning how resources should be distributed, who is entitled to receive them, and why. In this context, new political possibilities and dangers are emerging, even as new analytical and critical strategies are required. A book on this topic (Give a Man a Fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Distribution) was recently published by Duke University Press.
Associate Professor of Anthropology and, by courtesy, of Iberian and Latin American Cultures and of Linguistics
BioI am a linguistic anthropologist in the Department of Anthropology, with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Linguistics, specializing in historical linguistics, linguistic prehistory, and the native languages of the Americas. My research interests are focused on the history of the Mayan and Mixe-Zoquean language families, distant languagec relationships in the Americas and elsewhere, and the decipherment of Maya writing. I am currently working on: a dictionary and grammar of Ayapa Zoque; a treatise on Mayan historical linguistics, a translation of the Quiché mythological epic Popol Vuh and an accompanying multi-media program, a book on the inscriptions of Chichén Itzá, a decipherment project involving ancient Maya star and planetary lore, and a quantitative computer analysis of a newly-discovered sound pattern in Mayan languages. I have recently completed a fourth summer of linguistic fieldwork in southern Mexico, where I worked intensively with a few speakers of Ayapa Zoque, a nearly-extinct language of the Zoquean family, believed to be descendants of the language of the Olmec civilization. This research was first conducted as a part of the Mesoamerican Languages Documentation Project, and later by the Stanford Center for Latin American Studies, of which I was Director from 2001-2004. In Summer 2006 I will be conducting a brief fifth season of field research in Ayapa. I have also conducted archival and field research on various Mayan languages, and on Russenorsk, a mixed Russo-Norwegian language in northern Norway. I have compiled a field checklist for use in preparing for fieldwork. I keep it pretty much up to date and appreciate feedback from folks who have used it in their own preparations. I served as a principal consultant on Patricia Amlin's film, Popol Vuh: Creation Myth of the Ancient Maya , which aired on PBS. In the summer of 1994, I was a consultant for the Stanford Museum of Art's special exhibit on the Mesoamerican ball game. I have also consulted on middle- and secondary-school course materials involving Mesoamerican prehistory. I teach undergraduate and graduate courses at Stanford on linguistic anthropology, historical linguistics, language and culture, the biology and evolution of language, Maya writing and culture, and several Latin American Indian languages, including Nahuatl, Yucatec Maya, and Quiché Maya. I have given two sophomore seminars and one freshman seminar involving my research on the Popol Vuh and multimedia, and will launch a new sophomore seminar spring 2006 on Language and the Brain. I was also one of the developers and first track chair for the Anthropology track of Stanford's full-year Culture, Ideas, and Values courses. I am a frequent lecturer on tours of Mesoamerica and Scandinavia for the Stanford Alumni Association.
Associate Professor of Anthropology
BioI am an anthropologist of science and medicine interested in how social identities, health outcomes, and molecular genetic findings increasingly intersect. In my first book, The Enculturated Gene: Sickle Cell Health Politics and Biological Difference in West Africa (Princeton, 2011), I draw on over a decade of ethnographic fieldwork in the US, France and Senegal. By bringing the lives of people with sickle cell anemia together with how the science about them has been made, The Enculturated Gene weaves together postcolonial genetic science, the effects of structural adjustment on health resources, and patient activism between Senegal and France to show how African sickle cell has been ordered in ethnic-national terms at the level of the gene. This work is situated within a larger conversation on ethics, power, and the ways that human biological material, within the context of culture, is rarely apolitical. The Enculturated Gene has won the Royal Anthropological Institute’s 2011 Amaury Talbot Prize for the most valuable work of African Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association’s 2014 Robert B. Textor and Family Prize for Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology.
Since 2003, I have also conducted multi-sited field research in the United States on emergent technologies that measure human genetic diversity among populations and between individuals. As an outgrowth of this research, I have become particularly interested in how scientists promote civic ideas of “genetic citizenship,” how they enlist participant involvement in specific disease research problems, and how they also contribute to social movements of historical reckoning. In its detail, this second book project explores how U.S. political concepts of diversity, usually glossed as “race,” function in genetic recruitment protocols and study designs for research on complex diseases, “tailored medicine,” ancestry tracing, and personal genomics. This project will also examine the fraught relationship between private property and personal privacy with regards to biogenetic data.
My work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Andrew and Florence White Fellows program in Medicine and the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. I have also been an invited scholar at the Centre de Sociologie de l'Innovation in Paris (1997-1998, 2000 and 2002), a USIA Fulbright Scholar to Senegal, a fellow at the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (2004-2005), and a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at the Harvard School of Public Health (2005-2007). I recently completed a Scholars Award in NSF's Science & Society Program to research my second book called Tabula Raza: Mapping Race and Human Diversity in American Genome Science.