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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 and 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.

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.

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.

My second book project, tentatively titled Cutting Cures, focuses 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.

I am also completing a short book about “remote anthropology” during acute crises like the 2013-15 West African Ebola outbreak.

Other 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

Forthcoming, Whose security? Ebola, military and the securitization of public health, In The Politics of Fear: MSF and the West African Ebola Epidemic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Forthcoming, Ebola at a distance: a pathographic account of anthropology’s relevance, Anthropological Quarterly.

Forthcoming, African Expatriates and Race in the Anthropology of Humanitarianism, Critical African Studies, special issue on Studying Up in Africa.

2016 “Even war has rules:” On Medical Neutrality and Legitimate Non-Violence, with Sa’ed Atshan, Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 40(2): 151-58.

2016 Surgery and the cultural politics of global health, Routledge Handbook of Medical Anthropology. London: Routledge Press, edited by Lenore Manderson, Anita Hardon, and Elizabeth Cartwright.

2016 Risky business: Race, nonequivalence and the humanitarian politics of life, Visual Anthropology 29(2): 187-203.

2015 International Political Economy and the West African Ebola Outbreak, African Studies Review, with Kim Yi Dionne, 58(1): 223-236.

2012 Exceptional suffering? Numbers and narrative as modifiers of the HIV+ experience in Sierra Leone, Medical Anthropology, 31(4): 310-28.

Selected commentary and essays

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.

The Epidemic Will be Militarized: Watching Outbreak as the West African Ebola Epidemic Unfolds, Field Sights: Hot Spots, Cultural Anthropology Online, October 7, 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.

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