MIT Anthropology Faculty

Stefan Helmreich

Stefan HELMREICH

Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology
Program Head!
Room E53-335Q · 617-253-9343
sgh2@mit.edu

Biography

Stefan Helmreich received his PhD in Anthropology from Stanford University and prior to coming to MIT held fellowships at Cornell, Rutgers, and NYU. His research examines the works and lives of biologists thinking through the limits of "life" as a category of analysis. Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas (University of California Press, 2009) is a study of marine biologists working in realms usually out of sight and reach: the microscopic world, the deep sea, and oceans outside national sovereignty. This book, winner of the 2010 Senior Book Prize from the American Ethnological Society, the 2010 Gregory Bateson Book Prize from Society for Cultural Anthropology, and the 2012 Rachel Carson Book Prize from the Society for Social Studies of Science, charts how marine microbes are entangled with debates about the origin of life, climate change, property in the ocean commons, and the possibility of life on other worlds. An earlier book, Silicon Second Nature: Culturing Artificial Life in a Digital World (University of California Press, 1998) is an ethnography of computer modeling in the life sciences. In 2000, it won the Diana Forsythe Book Prize from the American Anthropological Association. Helmreich's newest research concerns the cultural circulation of such abstractions as "water," "sound," and "waves." His essays have appeared in Critical Inquiry, Representations, American Anthropologist, and The Wire.

Research

anthropology of science and technology, with an emphasis on biology; social studies of race, gender, kinship, sexuality, ability and science; ethnography of information science; maritime and oceanic anthropology; multispecies ethnography; social and cultural studies of sound and the senses

Selected Publications

2012 Sound Studies Meets Deaf Studies (with Michele Friedner). The Senses & Society 7(1):72-86.
2011 From Spaceship Earth to Google Ocean: Planetary Icons, Indexes, and Infrastructures. In "Image as Action, Image in Action," special issue of Social Research 78(4):1211-1242.
2011 What Was Life? Answers from Three Limit Biologies. Critical Inquiry 37(4):671-696.
2011 Nature/Culture/Seawater. American Anthropologist 113(1):132-144.
2010 The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography (with S. Eben Kirksey, co-editor of special issue on "Multispecies Ethnography"). Cultural Anthropology 25(4):545-575.
2010 Life Forms: A Keyword Entry (with Sophia Roosth). Representations 112:27-53.
2009 Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas. Berkeley: University of California Press.
To see a full publication list with links to downloadable PDFs, please click here.

Teaching

21A.859J / STS.250J
Social Theory and Analysis

Major theorists and theoretical schools since the late 19th century. Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Bourdieu, Levi-Strauss, Geertz, Foucault, Gramsci, and others. Key terms, concepts, and debates.

21A.319J / STS.330J
History and Anthropology of Medicine and Biology

Co-taught with Dr. David Jones.
Explores recent historical and anthropological approaches to the study of medicine and biology. Topics might include interaction of disease and society; science, colonialism, and international health; impact of new technologies on medicine and the life sciences; neuroscience and psychiatry; race, biology and medicine. Specific emphasis varies from year to year.

21A.103J / STS.046J / WGS.225J
The Science of Race, Sex, and Gender

Co-taught with Dr. Abha Sur.
Examines the role of science and medicine in the origins and evolution of the concepts of race, sex, and gender from the 17th century to the present. Focus on how biological, anthropological, and medical concepts intersect with social, cultural, and political ideas about racial, sexual, and gender difference in the US and globally. Approach is historical and comparative across disciplines emphasizing the different modes of explanation and use of evidence in each field.

21A.505J / STS.065J
The Anthropology of Sound

Examines the ways humans experience sound and how perceptions and technologies of sound emerge from cultural, economic, and historical worlds. Consider how the sound/noise boundary has been imagined, created, and modeled across sociocultural and scientific contexts. Learn how environmental, linguistic, and musical sounds are construed cross-culturally as well as the rise of telephony, architectural acoustics, sound recording, and the globalized travel of these technologies. Questions of sound ownership, property, authorship, and copyright in the digital age are also addressed.

21A.504J / STS.086J / WGS.276J
Cultures of Computing

Examines computers anthropologically, as artifacts revealing the social orders and cultural practices that create them. Students read classic texts in computer science along with cultural analyses of computing history and contemporary configurations. Explores the history of automata, automation and capitalist manufacturing; cybernetics and WWII operations research; artificial intelligence and gendered subjectivity; robots, cyborgs, and artificial life; creation and commoditization of the personal computer; the growth of the Internet as a military, academic, and commercial project; hackers and gamers; technobodies and virtual sociality. Emphasis is placed on how ideas about gender and other social differences shape labor practices, models of cognition, hacking culture, and social media.

Awards

2012 Rachel Carson Book Prize, Society for the Social Studies of Science, for Alien Ocean
2010 American Ethnological Society Senior Book Prize, American Anthropological Association, for Alien Ocean
2010 Gregory Bateson Book Prize, Society for Cultural Anthropology, American Anthropological Association, for Alien Ocean
2010 Institute for Advanced Studies Distinguished Fellowship, Durham University, and Prowse Fellowship, Van Mildert College, Durham, United Kingdom
2009 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant to fund a 2010-2011 Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures entitled "Sensing the Unseen"(with Heather Paxson)
2009 James A. and Ruth Levitan Award for Excellence in Teaching in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, MIT
2006 MIT's James A. and Ruth Levitan Research Prize in the Humanities

MIT Anthropology
77 Massachusetts Avenue, E53-335, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142
ph: 617.452.2837    fax: 617.253.5363    anthro@mit.edu