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Adia Benton

Associate Professor

PhD Social Anthropology, Harvard University 2009
Research and teaching interests

Global health, biomedicine, development, humanitarianism, political economy, race, gender, sports, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, US


I am a cultural anthropologist with interests in global health, biomedicine, development/humanitarianism and professional sports. Broadly, I am interested in patterns of inequality in the distribution of and the politics of care in settings “socialized” for scarcity. This means understanding the political, economic and historical factors shaping how care is provided in complex humanitarian emergencies and in longer-term development projects – like those for health. These concerns arise from my previous career in the fields of public health and post-conflict development in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. My interest in professional sports arises from being brought up following collegiate and professional sports, having trained for (and trained others) for endurance events, and applying a critical lens to labor of athletes and others working in sporting industries.

Because I am interested in establishing dialogue with thinkers outside my field, I write frequently about these topics on my blog,, and on twitter (as ethnography911). There, I connect these issues with broader conversations about political economy, race and gender. I also speak to journalists and podcasters about my work.

My first book, HIV Exceptionalism: Development through Disease in Sierra Leone (University of Minnesota, 2015), explores the treatment of AIDS as an exceptional disease and the recognition and care that this takes away from other diseases and public health challenges in poor countries. The book won the 2017 Rachel Carson prize, awarded by the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), and has been reviewed in over a dozen venues.

My second book, The Fever Archive, is under contract with the University of Minnesota Press. It is a series of essays about the 2014-16 West African Ebola epidemic, focusing on the militarization of public health response, US biosecurity and the global war on terror, and what I have called the “racial immuno-logics” of triage and the politics of care.

Future book projects focus on the global movement to improve access to quality surgical care in poor countries, using it as a case study for describing and understanding ideological formations in global public health; global efforts to eradicate dracunculiasis (with Amy Moran-Thomas); and the National Football League.

Recent publications have focused on visual analyses of humanitarian images, race and humanitarian professionals, security and military paradigms during epidemics, and temporality in an era of anti-retroviral therapies for HIV/AIDS.

Selected articles and chapters

Mourning, survival and time: Writing through crisis, in ​Writing Anthropology: Essays on Craft and Commitment​, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, edited by Carole Ann McGranahan. April 2020.

The Words Are Maps. ​World Policy Journal,​ 34, no. 4 (Winter 2017/2018): 28-39.

Temporality and Positive Living in the Age of HIV/AIDS: A Multi-Sited Ethnography,” ​Current Anthropology​ 58, no. 4 (2017): 454-76. With Thurka Sangaramoorthy and Ippolytos Kalofonos.

Risky business: Race, nonequivalence and the humanitarian politics of life, Visual Anthropology​ 29, no. 2 (2016): 187-203. 

Ebola at a distance: a pathographic account of anthropology’s relevance, Anthropological Quarterly​ 90, no. 2 (2016): 501-30. 

African Expatriates and Race in the Anthropology of Humanitarianism,​ Critical African Studies​ 8, no. 3 (2016): 266-77. 

Selected commentary and essays

Imagining Rural Immunity. Anthropology News. website, June 19, 2020. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1439 with Thurka Sangaramoorthy.

Benton, Adia. ​Race, epidemics, and the viral economy of health expertise​, ​The New Humanitarian,​ February 4, 2020.

Benton, Adia. ​Whiteness through its Negation.​ Visual and New Media Review, ​Cultural Anthropology ​Online. December 16, 2019.

When Exceptions Become the Norm. Foreign Affairs. 11 Mar. 2016.

From #EbolaBeGone to #BlackLivesMatter: Anthropology, Misrecognition, and the Racial Politics of Crisis, with Thurka Sangaramoorthy, Savage Minds: Notes and Queries in Anthropology, January 16, 2015.

What’s the Matter Boss, We Sick? The New Inquiry, December 11, 2014.

Race and the Immuno-logics of Emergency Response during the West African Ebola Crisis, Somatosphere, September 19, 2014.

The Not-So-Secret Serum, Dissent, August 16, 2014.