João Biehl

2007 Margaret Mead Award Recipient

mead_biehl.jpgThe Boards of the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology have selected Prof. João Biehl to receive the Margaret Mead Award for 2007.  Biehl was selected for his book Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment, published by the University of California Press in 2005.  Biehl is currently an Associate Professor of Anthropology on the faculty of Princeton University.

The Award will be formally presented at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology in Memphis, Tennessee, on March 28, 2008.

Vita is an ethnography of social death and care in a globalizing Brazil.  It tells the story of a young woman living at Vita, an asylum for the sick, mentally ill and poor in the southern city of Porto Alegre. Due to a misdiagnosed neurodegenerative disorder, Catarina becomes paralyzed, is considered insane and is abandoned by her family. Through intense listening and proceeding like a detective, Biehl reconstructs Catarina's life history and uncovers the multiple forces -- economic, medical, political, familial -- that brought her to Vita and that make such ungoverned institutions of last resort proliferate in Brazil and beyond. As Biehl assesses the moral and technological failures of the broader, industrialized society, he also illuminates the edges of human imagination that Catarina and others at Vita keep expanding. Biehl's analysis is beautifully complimented with a series of extraordinary photographs (by Torben Eskerod), prompting a comparison with the collaboration between James Agee and Walker Evans in the classic Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

The Margaret Mead Award is sponsored jointly by the two associations and presented annually.  The Award is presented to a young scholar for a particular accomplishment which employs anthropological data and principles in ways that make them meaningful and accessible to a broadly concerned public.

The Award honors the memory of Margaret Mead who in her lifetime was the most widely-known woman in the world and arguably the most recognized anthropologist.  Mead had a unique talent for bringing anthropology into the life of public attention.  The Award was initiated in 1973 by the Society and with Mead's approval.  It has been presented jointly with the American Anthropological Association since 1983.

Before joining the Princeton faculty in 2001, Prof. Biehl was a National Institute of Mental Health postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. He earned a doctorate in anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley (1999) and a doctorate in religion from the Graduate Theological Union (1996). He earned undergraduate degrees in theology and journalism and a master's degree in philosophy from academic institutions in Brazil. Vita has received five other major book awards, including the Basker Prize from the Society for Medical Anthropology and the Stirling Prize from the Society for Psychological Anthropology.  Biehl's research and writing has been supported by grants from the MacArthur and the Wenner-Gren Foundations. He wrote Vita while a member of the School of Social Science of the Institute for Advanced Study. He was a Visiting Professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes and received the President's Award for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton in 2005.

Prof. Biehl authored numerous articles and book chapters and co-edited the volume Subjectivity: Ethnographic Investigations (University of California Press). He recently published a new book, Will to Live: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival (Princeton University), exploring the polictical economy and ethics of global AIDS treatment initiatives.