Ian Whitmarsh, PhD

Phone: 415-476-6164
Fax: 415-476-6715

Associate Professor

Director, Medical Anthropology Ph.D. Program

My work explores structural, religious, and psychoanalytic logics in new forms of care.  Over the past decade I have carried out research in the Caribbean on the transnational science of genomic research on the African diaspora; asthma as a modern condition in its ambiguity; and pleasures and dangers construed around diabetes and violence. These projects focus on biomedical links made between desire and suffering and the ethics and aesthetics of being healthy. My anthropological interests are in resonances between anthropology and psychoanalysis and the religious dimensions of “the secular.” I have used Lacan to write about the idea of American race science as a “cathartic science”; Gregory Bateson to explore compliance techniques as a “medical schismogenics”; and Claude Levi-Strauss to explore the “environment” as a supplementarity in gene-environment research. I am Director of the UCSF side of the joint-UC Berkeley/UC San Francisco PhD. Program in Medical Anthropology


Research Projects

The Protestant Subject of Biomedicine

I am currently writing a book on the intersection between Protestantism and biomedical techniques of the self. This work engages recent work on the underacknowledged religious character of what has been taken to be “secular”: that the secularisms of humanitarian ethics, biopolitical governance, and instrumentalized individualism have religious roots. The book draws on research on asthma, diabetes, and obesity to examine historical and contemporary ties between Protestantism and biomedical ethics around food, parenting, and medical asceticism.


Volatile Pleasures: KFC, Violence, and the Vulnerable Home in Trinidad

Diabetes and obesity have become urgent global health issues, resulting in medical research and state policies on modes of beauty, sexuality, and parenting. These domains are now considered matters of “health,” and, as such, have become the object of intense scientific and governmental expertise. Volatile Pleasures relies on ethnographic research conducted among medical researchers, practitioners, and diabetics from 2008-2012 in  the Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago and northern California. By following this expertise from America to Trinidad and back, the book suggests new ways to understand Americanization, parenting, and contemporary asceticism.


 Rehabilitating Desire: Technologies of Care for Pedophilia 

This project  follows the technologies used in the US to prevent sex crimes against children. This research explores the juridical use of in child molestation convictions of the pharmaceutical medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) (so-called “chemical castration”).  Relying on ethnographic research among convicted sex offenders and California state employees, the project examines new concepts of pedophilia as a neurochemical condition, creating novel forms of state intervention on sexuality and masculinity. What was originally a side-effect of the pharmaceutical on the male libido has become the basis for a rethinking of how sex offenders can become rehabilitated members of society. By examining the use of registries and pharmaceuticals to prevent sex crimes, the project analyzes how biomedical interventions on sexuality are creating new forms of the “neighbor.”


Biomedical Ambiguity: Race, Asthma, and the Contested Meaning of Genetic Research in the Caribbean. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 2008

What’s the Use of Race: Modern Governance and the Biology of Difference.  Ian Whitmarsh and David S. Jones, eds.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 2010


Recent Articles


Whitmarsh, Ian 2014 The No/Name of the Institution. Anthropological Quarterly 87(3): 855-881.

Adams, Vincanne, Nancy J. Burke, and Ian Whitmarsh 2014 Slow Research: Thoughts for a Movement in Global Health. Medical Anthropology 33: 179–197

Whitmarsh, Ian 2013 Troubling “Environments”: Postgenomics, Bajan Wheezing, and Lévi-Strauss. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 27 (4): 489–509.

Whitmarsh, Ian 2013 The Ascetic Subject of Compliance: The Turn to Chronic Diseases in Global Health.  In When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health, Joao Biehl and Adriana Petryna, eds.  Princeton: Princeton University Press. (302-324).

Whitmarsh, Ian “American Genomics in Barbados: Race, Illness, and Pleasure in the Science of Personalized Medicine.“ Body and Society 17:2 and 3: 159-182. 2011

Whitmarsh, Ian “Asthma and the Value of Contradictions.“ Lancet 376: 764-765. 2010

Whitmarsh, Ian “Hyperdiagnostics: Postcolonial Utopics of Race-Based Biomedicine.” Medical Anthropology 28(3): 285-315. 2009

Whitmarsh, Ian “Medical Schismogenics: Compliance and ‚Culture‘ in Caribbean Biomedicine.” Anthropological Quarterly 82(2): 453-482. 2009

Whitmarsh, Ian “Biomedical Ambivalence: Asthma Diagnosis, the Pharmaceutical, and other Contradictions in Barbados.” American Ethnologist 35(1): 1-15. 2008


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Last modified: October 1, 2014