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
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.