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Dominic Boyer 
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Professor and Director 
CENHS (Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences)

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Ph.D. University of Chicago, 2000


Office Location

Sewall Hall 564

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Areas of Interest:

Curriculum Vitae Link
/uploadedFiles/People/Faculty_and_Staff_Profiles/Boyer_Documents/2015 Boyer CV.pdf  

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External Link (to Faculty Profiles not on this Site)  


For a dozen years, my research and teaching interests moved between, on the one hand, anthropological engagement with intellectuals, expertise, professionalism, and knowledge, and, on the other, the study of media, journalism, public culture, and modes of social belonging. These interests intersected in the manuscript for my first book, Spirit and System: Media, Intellectuals, and the Dialectic in Modern German Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2005). Spirit and System is an effort to understand the sociological and phenomenological dimensions of dialectical knowledge in modern German intellectual culture ranging from everyday intersubjective acts and encounters to the formal and technical languages of philosophy and theory.  A second short book, Understanding Media: A popular philosophy (Prickly Paradigm Press, 2007) followed my growing interest in the entanglement of media and knowledge by reflecting on common attentional habits of understanding media and mediation and by suggesting ways in which these habits could diversify and improve. This line of inquiry culminated in my third book, The Life Informatic: Newsmaking in the Digital Era (Cornell University Press, 2013), which explores how digital information and communication technology and late liberalism are remaking the practices and institutions of news journalism in places like Europe and the United States. I continue to be interested in media studies but am coming to refocus my research on the relationship between media and political culture. In particular, I am studying how the increasing centralization of parody and satire in mainstream liberal political culture indexes liberalism's increasing monopolized discourse realm (in which one is formally free but only to hold a certain set of opinions, not unlike the logic of authoritative discourse under late socialism). My recent article on Iceland's Best Party in the journal American Ethnologist is a good example of my analysis of this phenomenon.

Meanwhile, since coming to Rice four years ago, I have developed a second major line of research focusing on the relationship between energy and political power. With my colleague and life partner, Cymene Howe, I have begun a longterm field research project on the politics of wind power development in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. We found the Oaxacan case particularly compelling because of its combination of world-class renewable energy resources and exceedingly complicated on-the-ground politics. Already a relatively weak state, Mexico is struggling with rapidly declining oil production and violence generated by drug cartels, conditions that are generating unease and unrest in many parts of the country. In Oaxaca, where the nation-state has long had limited traction, federal and state officials are struggling to persuade suspicious land-owning indigenous communities in the Isthmus to partner with transnational energy corporations in a development project that will radically transform not only community life but also the energic and political infrastructures of the region. Given the current vulnerability of its carbon resources, Mexico offers an interesting glimpse into the future as more and more petrostates attempt to diversity their energy systems. Inspired by scholars like Hermann Scheer's and Timothy Mitchell's historical analyses of the intimate interrelationship of systems of energic power and political structures, Howe and I have coined the term "energopower" to designate a new area of anthropological inquiry that will explore how the materialities and infrastructures of energy generation and distribution impact the formation of political institutions and practices, and vice-versa. With sufficient ethnographic research and analysis across the world, we imagine that this area will eventually provide an alternative, yet complementary, genealogy of modern power to the extensive research already completed on power and the management of life and population (e.g., "biopower").

It was my great fortune to find colleagues across the humanities and social sciences at Rice who recognized the need for the humanities and social sciences to play a greater role in the analysis of current energy-related issues and in the imagination and realization of alternative energy futures. Over the past two years, we have worked together in the context of the Cultures of Energy Initiative ( to help position Rice as a leader in human scientific research on the energy/environment nexus. In concert with Provost George McLendon's visionary campus-wide Energy and Environment Initiative (E2I), Cultures of Energy has transitioned into a new Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS), the first research center in the world specifically devoted to sponsoring human scientific research on energy and the environment. I am honored to serve as CENHS's founding director.


Classical Social Theory and its Ecologies

Experts and Cultures of Expertise

Media, Culture and Society

Neoliberalism and Globalization

Phenomenological Anthropology

Proseminar in Anthropology

Publications: Books, volumes, pamphlets

The Life Informatic: Newsmaking in the Digital Era. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013 (248p.)  

Understanding Media: A Popular Philosophy. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2007 (103p.)

Spirit and System: Media, Intellectuals, and the Dialectic in Modern German Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005 (323p.)

Journal Articles (peer-reviewed, single and co-authored):

“Aeolian extractivism and community wind in Southern Mexico.” Public Culture, 2016. (with Cymene Howe)

“Anthropology Electric.” Cultural Anthropology 30(4), 2015.

Aeolian Politics.” Distinktion, 2015. (with Cymene Howe)

 “Los márgenes del Estado al viento: autonomía y desarrollo de energías renovables en el sur de MéxicoJournal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, Special Issue, “Energy, Transition and Climate Change in Latin America” 2015. (with Cymene Howe and Edith Barrera).

Wind at the Margins of the State: Autonomy and Renewable Energy Development in Southern Mexico” In Contested Powers: The Politics of Energy and Development in Latin America, J-A McNeish, A Borchgrevink and O Logan (eds.), Zed Books, 2015, 92-115. (with Cymene Howe and Edith Barrera)

 “The Rise of Energy Humanities” (with Imre Szeman) University Affairs March:40, 2014.

 "Energopower: An Introduction." Anthropological Quarterly, 2014 (forthcoming)

Simply the Best: Parody and Political Sincerity in Iceland"  American Ethnologist 40 (2): 276-27, 2011

News Agency and News MediationSocial Anthropology 19(1):6-22, 2011.

"On the ethics and practice of contemporary social theory: from crisis talk to multiattentional method."
Dialectical Anthropology 34(3):305-324, 2010.

(with Alexei Yurchak) "American Stiob: Or, what late socialist aesthetics of parody reveal about contemporary political culture in the West" 
Cultural Anthropology 25(2):179-221, 2010.

"Digital Expertise in Online Journalism (and Anthropology)." Anthropological Quarterly 83(1):73-96, 2010.

“Thinking through the Anthropology of Experts.” Anthropology in Action, 15(2):38-46, 2008.
“Conspiracy, History, and Therapy at a Berlin Stammtisch.” American Ethnologist, 33(3):327-39, 2006.

Ostalgie and the Politics of the Future in Eastern Germany.” Public Culture, 18(2):361-381, 2006.

Turner’s Anthropology of Media and Its Legacies.” Critique of Anthropology, 26(1):47-60, 2006.

Gender and the Solvency of Professionalism: Eastern German Journalism before and after 1989.” East European Politics and Society, 20(1):152-179, 2006.

(with Ulf Hannerz) “Introduction: Worlds of Journalism.” Ethnography, 7(1):5-17, 2006. 

(with Steve Sangren) “Introduction to Turner Special Issue.” Critique of Anthropology, 26(1):5-13, 2006.

“Visiting Knowledge in Anthropology: An Introduction.” Ethnos 70(2):141-148, 2005. 

“The Corporeality of Expertise.” Ethnos 70(2):243-266, 2005.

 (with Claudio Lomnitz) “Intellectuals and Nationalism: Anthropological Engagements.” Annual Review of Anthropology 34:105-120, 2005. 

“Censorship as a Vocation: The Institutions, Practices, and Cultural Logic of Media Control in the German Democratic Republic.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 45(3):511-545, 2003. 

“Foucault in the Bush. The Social Life of Post-Structuralist Theory in East Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg.” Ethnos 66(2):207-236, 2001. 

“Media Markets, Mediating Labors, and the Branding of East German Culture at ‘Super Illu.” Social Text 68(Fall):9-33, 2001.

“Yellow sand of Berlin.” Ethnography 2(3):421-439, 2001. 

On the Sedimentation and Accreditation of Social Knowledges of Difference: Mass Media, Journalism, and the Reproduction of East/West Alterities in Unified Germany.” Cultural Anthropology 15(4):459-491, 2000.

Journal issues edited or co-edited (peer-reviewed)

Anthropology section co-editor, The International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition (with Ulf Hannerz) Reed Elsevier, 2015.

Special section of American Ethnologist "Parody and Sincerity in Political Culture Today" (with Angelique Haugerud), 2013

Special section of Anthropology News (May) " Energy and Energopolitics" (with Cymene Howe), 2011.

Special issue of Ethnography (7:1) “Worlds of Journalism” (with Ulf Hannerz), 2006.

Special issue of Critique of Anthropology (26:1) “For a Critique of Pure Culture: Essays in Honour of Terence Turner” (with Steve Sangren), 2006.

Special issue of Ethnos (70:2) “Revisiting the Anthropology of Knowledge,” 2005.

Journal articles (non-peer-reviewed) and book chapters

"Energy, Anthropology of" In The International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, J Wright (ed.), Reed Elsevier, 2015

“Experts and Expertise, Anthropological Approaches to” In The International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, J Wright (ed.), Reed Elsevier, 2015. 

“Energopolitics” In Fueling Culture: Energy, History and Politics," I Szeman (ed.) Fordham University Press, 2014. 

“Paul Radin” (with Ian Lowrie) In The Sage Encyclopedia of Theory in Social and Cultural Anthropology, J McGee and R Warms (eds.) Sage, 2014.

"Reflexivity Reloaded: from anthropology of intellectuals to critique of method to studying sideways” In Essays in Honor of Ulf Hannerz, C Garsten (ed.) Berghahn, forthcoming. 

"The Necessity of Being a Writer in Anthropology Today” In The Anthropologist as Writer, H Wulff (ed.) Palgrave, forthcoming. 

“Postcard from Berlin: Rethinking the Juncture of Late Socialism and Late Liberalism in Europe” In The Soviet Society in the Era of Late Socialism, 1964-1985, N Klumbytė and G Sharafutdinova (eds.) Lexington, 2013.  "

Media Anthropology and the Anthropology of Mediation
." In The ASA Handbook of Social Anthropology, R Fardon (ed.) Sage, forthcoming. 

"The Institutional Transformation of Universities in the Era of Digital Information." In Making the University Matter, B Zelizer (ed.) Routledge, forthcoming.

"Biopower and cyberpower in online news." In Companion to Anthropology of Bodies and Embodiment, F Mascia-Lees (ed.) Wiley-Blackwell. forthcoming.

"Professionalism between Cooperation and Competition." In Travail Social a l Epreuve des Coopérations Ouvertes et des Coopération Fermées, H Khabbache(ed.) Fes-Saiss Imprimerie, 2010.

"From Algos to Autonomos: Nostalgic Eastern Europe as Postimperial Mania." In Postcommunist Nostalgia, M Todorova and Z Gille (eds.) Berghahn, 2010.

“Making (sense of) News in the Era of Digital Information.” In The Anthropology of News and Journalism: Global Perspectives, L Bird (ed.) Indiana University Press, 2009.

“Of Dialectical Germans and Dialectical Ethnographers: notes from an engagement with philosophy.” In Ways of Knowing, M Harris (ed.), Berghahn, 2007.

“Ostalgie – oder die Politik der Zukunft in Ostdeutschland,” transl. O Hall. Deutschland Archiv 39(4):690-703, 2006.

“The Medium of Foucault in Anthropology.” The Minnesota Review 58-60:265-272, 2003.

“The African Crisis in Context: Comparative Encounters with Educational Rationalization.” African Studies Review 45(2):205-218, 2002.

“The Impact and Embodiment of Western Expertise in the Restructuring of the Eastern German Media after 1990.” Anthropology of East Europe Review 19(1):77-84, 2001.

Commentaries, debates, blogs, interviews and reviews

"Interview with Ulf Hannerz" Public Culture, forthcoming.

"On Business Anthropology" Business Anthropology 1(2):251-4, 2012.

"A tragédia sincera da política americana" Folha de S. Paulo, 9 August 2011: A3.

"A Gallery of Prototypes: Ethnographic Terminalia 2010." Visual Anthropology Review 27(1):94-6, 2011.

"Energopolitics and the Anthropology of Energy." Anthropology News May:5,7, 2011.

 "Divergent Temporalities: On the Division of Labor Between Journalism and Anthropology." Anthropology News April:6,9, 2010.

"Why not Neosocialism?" ( Originally posted February 16, 2010.

"What is driving university reform in the age of globalization?" (debate with Elizabeth Rata). Social Anthropology 18(1):74-82, 2010.

“Postsocialist Studies, Cultures of Parody and American Stiob.” (with Alexei Yurchak) Anthropology News November:8-9, 2008.

“There are Still Thinkers in Germany” in My Idea of the Land of Ideas: How the World Sees Germany, ed T Sommer, pp.44-50. Munich: Droemer Verlag, 2006.

“Do the Humanities Have to be Useful?” in Do the Humanities Have To Be Useful?, eds. GP Lepage, C Martin, and M Mostafavi, pp.1-6. Ithaca: Cornell University Office of Publications, 2006.

“Welcome to the New Europe.” American Ethnologist 32(4):521-523, 2005.

“Vitaler Stau.” Zeitschrift für KulturAustausch 55(3+4):89-91, 2005.

Review of Divided in Unity: Identity, Germany, and the Berlin Police by Andreas Glaeser. Chicago: U Chicago Press, 2000. Ethnography 4(4):556-560, 2003.

Review of Integral Europe: Fast-Capitalism, Multiculturalism, Neofascism by Douglas R. Holmes. American Ethnologist 29(4):1034-5, 2002.

Review of Liquid Modernity by Zygmunt Bauman. Malden, MA: Polity, 2000. Modernism/Modernity 9(2):354-6, 2002.

Summary/Research Interests

Renewable energy and energopolitics; media; knowledge; digital information and epistemology; experts, professionalism, and cultures of expertise; intellectuals and identitarian movements; the politics of affect and belonging; late, post, and neosocialism.