Peter Redfield

Associate Professor
Ph.D. UC Berkeley, 1995
(919) 843-7807
307 Alumni Building

Research interests:
Anthropology of Science and Technology; Colonial History and Postcolonial Relations; Ethics, Nonprofit Organizations and Transnational Experts; Humanitarianism and Human Rights; Europe; French Guiana; Uganda.

Research & Activities:
My first research project focused on the European space program in French Guiana, comparing it to earlier French efforts to develop the region, especially the notorious penal colony known as Devil’s Island. Between 1990 and 1994 I worked in both French Guiana and France, combining ethnographic fieldwork with archival research; the results appeared as a book for U.C. Press in the fall of 2000. At its core the book addresses the greater ecology of modern technology, examining the reconfiguration of French Guiana’s social and natural landscape into a proper habitat for the assembly and launch of satellites into high orbit. My larger goal in writing it was to interrogate the success of a distinctly planetary system with a more local history, one rife with repeated colonial failure and unintended consequences.

Current Research: In my present work I continue to extend a concern for spatial dimensions of science and technology outside the West, but focus on non-state actors along a shifting frontier of global health. My goal is to concentrate more directly on the complicated ethics and politics of intervention, and dilemmas of knowledge and action in modern life. To this end I embarked on a book project about the organization Doctors Without Borders/ Medécins Sans Frontières (MSF). Founded four decades ago as a French effort to establish a more engaged and oppositional form of medical humanitarianism, MSF has grown into a transnational institution, known both for excellent logistics and for outspoken independence. MSF missions now stretch well beyond emergency responses to humanitarian disaster to target specific diseases and structural inequities in global health, always struggling between twin goals of efficacy and advocacy. I began active research on this project in the summer of 2000, and conducted fieldwork both at MSF’s operational headquarters in Europe (especially sections in France, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland), and multiple project sites in Uganda. The book will appear on the University of California Press at the start of 2013.

I also collaborated with Erica Bornstein on an edited volume on Humanitarianism and Anthropology in the SAR Advanced Seminar series, as well as other collective work addressing humanitarianism. My current and future research concerns humanitarian design, and the wider array of efforts to grapple with solutions in a box (examples include nonprofit pharmaceutical production as well as minimalist life technologies).

Read an interview with Peter Redfield about his latest book Life in Crisis: The Ethical Journey of Doctors Without Borders here

Courses Taught:
Anthropology of War and Peace

Anthropology and Human Rights

Anthropology of Science

Politics of Life and Death

Sociocultural Theory and Ethnography

Human Rights and Humanitarianism

Ethics and Anthropology

2013 Life in Crisis: The Ethical Journey of Doctors Without Borders. University of California Press.

2012 “Humanitarianism.” In A Companion to Moral Anthropology (D. Fassin, ed.) Malden, MA: Blackwell, 451-467.

2012 “The Unbearable Lightness of Expats: Double Binds of Humanitarian Mobility.” Cultural Anthropology, 27: 2: 358-382.

2012 “Bioexpectations: Life Technologies as Humanitarian Goods.” Public Culture 24:1: 157-184.

2011 (co-edited with Erica Bornstein) Forces of Compassion: Humanitarianism Between Ethics and Politics. School for Advanced Research Press.

2011 “Cleaning up the Cold War: Global Humanitarianism and the Infrastructure of Crisis Response.” In Gabrielle Hecht, ed., Entangled Geographies: Empire and Technopolitics in the Global Cold War (MIT Press), 267-291.

2010 “The Verge of Crisis:Doctors Without Borders in Uganda.” In D. Fassin and M. Pandolfi, eds. Contemporary States of Emergency: The Politics of Military and Humanitarian Interventions. Zone Books, 173-195.

2009 (with Ed Rackley) “The Explosive Remnants of War. In A. Sarat and J. Lezaun, eds., Catastrophe: Law, Politics and the Humanitarian Impulse. University of Massachusetts Press, 212-235.

2008 “Vital Mobility and the Humanitarian Kit.” In A. Lakoff and S. Collier, eds. Biosecurity Interventions: Global Health and Security in Question. Columbia University Press, 147-171.

2008 “Sacrifice, Triage and Global Humanitarianism.” In T. Weiss and M. Barnett eds., Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, Ethics. Cornell University Press, 196-214.

2008 “Doctors Without Borders and the Moral Economy of Pharmaceuticals.” In A. Bullard, ed., Human Rights in Crisis, Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Press, 129-144.

2006 “A Less Modest Witness: Collective Advocacy and Motivated Truth in a Medical Humanitarian Movement” American Ethnologist. 33: 1 (Feb.), 3-26.

2005 “Doctors, Borders and Life in Crisis.” Cultural Anthropology. 20:3 (Aug.), 328-361. (Winner of the 2006 Cultural Horizons Prize, Society for Cultural Anthropology)

2005 “Foucault in the Tropics: Displacing the Panopticon.” Jonathan Xavier Inda, ed. Foucault and the Anthropology of Modernity. Blackwell Books, 50-79.

2003 (with Silvia Tomaskova) “The Exile of Anthropology.” In Rebecca Saunders, ed. The Concept of the Foreign. Lexington Books (Rowman & Littlefield), 71-90.

2002 “The Half-Life of Empire in Outer Space.” Social Studies of Science (special issue on “Postcolonial Technoscience”) 32: 6 (Dec.), 791-825.

2000. Space in the Tropics: From Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana. University of California Press.

Weatherhead Fellowship, School for Advanced Research Resident Scholar 2007-2008

2006 Cultural Horizons Prize for “Doctors, Borders and Life in Crisis”

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