As a medical anthropologist, I am fundamentally interested in questions of personhood and the body at times when the body—both its fleshy contours and its social entailments—becomes unsteady. These interests are rooted in my ethnographic fieldwork with grievously injured American soldiers and their family members. They extend to broader questions about the social, cultural, ethical, intimate, carnal, and clinical situations within which such special categories of life, death, and personhood accrue value or are debrided of it in late liberal democracies. In addition to anthropology, in my work I draw on queer and critical theory, critical disability studies, studies of public culture, and the social studies of science, medicine, and technology to address questions of debility and intimacy; personhood and the body; war, trauma, and modern medicine; and the fleshy contours of worthy life in the contemporary United States.
My first book After War: The Weight of life at Walter Reed
(Duke University Press, 2015) is based on fieldwork I conducted in 2007-8 Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., the U.S. army’s flagship medical facility. The book tries to convey the strange tension that characterizes the lives of injured soldiers there—a place that is, on the one hand, a public icon saturated by national ideals of the exceptional worth and status of the soldier, and, on the other, a place where injured soldiers and their families attempt to make lives that are nothing more than ordinary. In doing so, I explore the figure of the soldier in U.S. public culture; embodied experiences of life after war; the intersections of masculinity, sexuality and disability; and the force of heteronormative ideals of the good life, which are particularly amplified in the military context. After War was awarded honorable mention for the 2016 Gregory Bateson Book Prize, awarded by the Society for Cultural Anthropology.
I am a core faculty member in Rice's Program in Medical Humanities and a member of the CSWGS Steering Committee. I also sit on Rice's Strategic Accessibility Committee and in 2019-2020 will be co-organizing Rice's first ever Disability Studies Event Series with CTE Executive Director Josh Eyler
I am currently working on four projects:
Socialities of Care and the Significance of Others
This project exploring questions of “care” in the worlds of post-9/11 U.S. veterans and caregivers (broadly defined) and aims to put these worlds into relation with the worlds of disability community, culture, and practice. I am interested in the collateral effects of capacitating certain (in this case, heteronormative) arrangements and forms of life and care, rather than others. This involves thinking about modes of intimacy and sociality that are supported, and those that are disregarded, in the name of care for and support of veteran’s lives, and the apparent divergence between disability worlds and activism, on the one hand, and the intimate and political lives of injured veterans, on the other. This project beings together the anthropology of care, critical disability studies and crip theory, queer theory, and, increasingly, Black feminist analytics. Socialities of Care is supported by an NSF CAREER award. To stay up to date about this project, check out the Socialities of Care Newsletter
, or contact me to subscribe.
US Military Burn Pits and the Politics of Toxicity
In this project, funded by the VA's War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC), my co-PI Kenneth MacLeish
(Vanderbilt University) and I are exploring the experiences of exposure to massive toxic open-air waste burning pits widely used by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The project focuses on the experiences of exposed veterans and their caregivers and their efforts to seek both recognition and care, but also expands out to questions of military toxicity more broadly, including the toxic legacies of these pits in the Middle East, and the way that thinking about the material specificities of combustion can help us develop new analytics for thinking about war.
A kind of biography of the cortical homunculus (the neurological map of the body in the brain), this project combines my interest in the history of neurology with Science and Technology Studies (STS) and crip theory. Part of a growing field of feminist and disability interventions into STS and neuroscience, Homunculus Revolts traces the place of femme, disabled, and racialized figures at the center of early 20th century knowledge making about the brain. Through archival work, speculative biography, and cultural critique, it also seeks to offer new critiques of the mind-body split embedded in normative models of the person, a split that is central to so the entangled reproduction of so many medicalized and biologized categories of social difference.
Disability and Technology
This project involves creating new and more convivial intersections between Disability Studies and STS. Though interested in many of the same topics and practices, these two fields have remained not only separate, but often hostile to each other. Through research projects, as well as network building and new collaborations, this project is part of a growing effort to speak across this divide and foster what others have recently dubbed Crip Technoscience
. As part of this project, I have been doing collaborative research on the designing of wearable robotics, with co-PIs Marcia O'Malley
(Mechanical Engineering) and Phillip Kortum
(Psychological Sciences), funded by a Rice University Interdisciplinary Excellence Award and with my colleague Stephany Lloyd
(Université Laval) co-organizing a set of panels for the 2019 meeting of the Society for the Social Study of Science called Beyond the Prosthetic Imaginary: New Intersections between STS and Disability Studies.