Phone: 919 962-2683
Phone: 919 962-2683
Office: 409G Alumni Building
Areas of Interest
Political Anthropology; South Asian Political Cultures; Recognition, Belonging, and Autonomy; the State; Affect and Anxiety; Logistics and Infrastructure; Plants & Chemicals; Colonialism and Postcolonial Theory; South Asia; Himalayas; India.
PhD 2010 Cornell University, Sociocultural Anthropology
MA 2002 University of Chicago, The Master of Arts Program in Social Science
BA 1999 University of Virginia, Anthropology
Research & Activities
I am a sociocultural anthropologist of South Asia, who specialized in the political cultures of India. I research, write, and teach on a variety of topics of critical concern to the communities I work with in India and to my students and audiences in the United States and beyond. My work focuses broadly on questions of the state, power, politics, and post/coloniality—themes I explore through various combinations of ethnographic and historical techniques. To date, I have remained persistently attentive to how colonial pasts shape and reshape contemporary life and politics at the margins of India. For example, my first book, The Demands of Recognition: State Anthropology and Ethnopolitics in Darjeeling (Stanford University Press, 2015), examined the uncanny ‘lives’ of colonial anthropology in present-day communities’ ongoing quests for subnational autonomy and tribal recognition in India. Working with aspiring tribes and the government anthropologists adjudicating their claims, I explored how anthropology can be both a technology of rule and a resource for communities seeking rights, recognition, and belonging.
My new book project, The Quinine Chronicles, follows similar themes to examine the history and afterlives of quinine in India. Harvested from cinchona, the fabled ‘fever tree’, quinine was once the only remedy for malaria. As such, quinine proved vital to colonial health and power. But with no market for Indian quinine today, what is to become of this once-vital industry—and the 50,000 people who inhabit its remains—is unclear. My new research tracks this alkaloid from the frontlines of colonial medicine to the precarity and politics of the industry today. Through quinine, I am asking two fundamental questions of our times: First, how do human beings make history—and empires—with plants and chemicals? And crucially also, what do we make of life once they’ve run their course?
Beyond these concerns, I am a founding member of the NSF-supported Chokepoints Collective—an interdisciplinary groups of ethnographers studying sites that constrict or ‘choke’ the flows of people, resources, and information upon which contemporary life depends. This collaboration has produced a number of publications engaging broader themes of security, circulation, logistics, and infrastructure. I’ve recently published a co-edited volume, Darjeeling Reconsidered: Histories, Environments, Politics (2018), which brought together indigenous, local, and international scholars to explore this often-visited, but seldom-understood corner of India. Before that, I co-led a collaborative project titled, Fieldwork(ers): Research Assistants, Researchers, and the Production of Ethnographic Knowledge, which brought ethnographers and research assistants into critical dialogue with one another to reflect on the practice of ethnography. Beyond these interests, I continue to research and write on a variety of topics, including: affirmative action, anxiety, assassination, autonomy, borders, belonging, colonial rule, frontiers, internal colonialism, logistics, plantations, political violence, popular culture, post/coloniality, security, the history of anthropology, and social theory.
Teaching & Mentoring
Working with students, I try to teach anthropology as a means to knowledge of the world and critically-aware living within it. Whenever possible, my classes incorporate student ethnography into their design so as to give students the chance to ‘do’ anthropology and gain first-hand knowledge of our subject matters and craft. I offer courses on general topics within the discipline, as well as more specialized courses pertaining to my research interests. I serve as our department’s Undergraduate Career Advisor and the faculty advisor to our Society of Undergraduate Anthropologists. I am also centrally involved in our graduate program. I am currently (though selectively) accepting graduate students whose interests productively dovetail with my own. I am particularly interested in working with students from the Global South.
ANTH 63-001: The Lives of Others: Exploring Ethnography (first year seminar)
ANTH 142: Local Cultures/Global Forces (large lecture; 180 students)
ANTH 259 “Culture and Identity”. Anthropology, UNC-CH (Fall) Enrollment 30
ANTH 461: Colonialism & Postcolonialism (medium size class; 36 students)
ANTH 499 “Community in India and South Asia” (medium size class; 36 students)
ANTH 691H: Honors Thesis Project Seminar (for senior honors thesis writers)
ANTH 701-001: Sociocultural Theory and Ethnography (graduate proseminar)
ANTH 898: State. Power. Politics (graduate seminar)
2019 “Frontier 2.0: The Recursive Lives and Death of Cinchona in Darjeeling, India” in Frontier
Assemblages: The Emergent Politics of Resource Frontiers in Asia. Michael Eilenberg & Jason Cons, Eds. London: Wiley Blackwell.: Antipode Book Series. 195-212
2019 “The Art of In/Detectability.” Limn Ten – Chokepoints. Ashley, Carse, Jason Cons, Townsend Middleton, Eds.
2019 (with Ashley Carse and Jason Cons) “Chokepoints: Preface.” Limn Ten – Chokepoints. AshleyCarse, Jason Cons, Townsend Middleton, Eds.
2019 Edited (with Ashley Carse and Jason Cons, Eds). Limn Ten-Chokepoints.
2018 “The Afterlives of a Killing: Assassination, Thanatos, and the Body Politic in South Asia.”Public Culture 30 (1): 85-112.
2018 “Unwritten Histories: Difference, Capital, and the Darjeeling Exception in Darjeeling Reconsidered: Histories, Politics, Environments. Townsend Middleton & Sara Shneiderman, Eds. New Delhi: Oxford University Books, India. 27-52
2018 Edited (with Sara Shneiderman). Darjeeling Reconsidered: Histories, Politics, Environments. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, India.
2018 (with Sara Shneiderman) “Reconsidering Darjeeling: An Introduction” in Darjeeling Reconsidered: Histories, Politics, Environments. Townsend Middleton & Sara Shneiderman, Eds. New Delhi: Oxford University Books, India. 1-26
2015 The Demands of Recognition: State Anthropology and Ethnopolitics in Darjeeling. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
2015 “Ethnography and Social Theory: A Dialectic to Hang Our Hats On.” In Theory Can Be More Than It Used To Be: Learning Anthropology’s Method in a Time of Transition. Dominic Boyer, James Faubion, & George Marcus, Eds. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 197-203
2014 Edited (with Jason Cons). Fieldwork(ers): Research Assistants, Researchers, and the Production of Ethnographic Knowledge. A Special Issue of Ethnography 15 (3).
2014 (with Eklavya Pradhan) “Dynamic Duos: On Partnership and the Possibilities of Postcolonial Ethnography.” in Fieldwork(ers). Special Issue of Ethnography 15 (3): 355-374.
2014 (with Jason Cons) “Coming to Terms: Reinserting Research Assistants into Ethnography’s Past and Present.” Introduction to Fieldwork(ers). Special Issue of Ethnography 15 (3): 279-290
2013 “Anxious Belongings: Anxiety and the Politics of Belonging in Subnationalist Darjeeling.”American Anthropologist 115 (4): 608-621
2013 “States of Difference: Refiguring Ethnicity and its ‘Crisis’ at India’s Borders.” Political Geography 35. (Special Issue: Geographies at the Margins: Interrogating Borders in South Asia): 14-24.
2013 “Scheduling Tribes: A View from Inside India’s ‘Ethnographic State’.” FOCAAL: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 65. (Special Issue: Affirmative Action in South Asia): 13-22.
2011 “Across the Interface of State Ethnography: Rethinking Ethnology and its Subjects in Multicultural India.” American Ethnologist 38 (2): 249-266.
2011 “Ethno-logics: Paradigms of Modern Identity” in Modern Makeovers: A Handbook of Modernity in South Asia. Saurabh Dube, Ed. Oxford University Press. 200-213