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, and studies of public culture 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.
I am currently developing two new projects. The first explores questions of “care” in the context of U.S. veterans and their families. This project is particularly interested in biopolitics and the dark sides of care, that is, the way capacitating certain (in this case, heteronormative) arrangements and forms of life posits others as hazardous to life itself. 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.
The second new project is a largely archival one centered on the traumatic flashback as a genre of experience and the aesthetic and medical technologies through which this genre has become clinically legible over the last century and a half. Here, I am interested in tracing the production of the soldier as an exemplary psychosomatic subject and teasing out the tension between seeing as pathological mode of memory and seeing as a privileged mode of bioscientific knowledge—two seemingly opposite epistemic modes that might both correspond to an understanding of the visual as a visceral sense.