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Joe Dumit


  • Ph.D., History of Consciousness, University of California Santa Cruz, 1995
  • B.A., Anthropology, Philosophy, and Sociology Rice University, 1989


My passion is as an anthropologist of passions, brains, games, bodies, drugs and facts. I love engaging with just how strange we all are in doing what we love and how much we love and live by what we think of as knowledge. My research and teaching constantly ask how exactly we came to think, do and speak the way we do about ourselves and our world. What are the actual material ways in which we come to encounter facts and things and take them to be relevant to our lives and our futures?

My most recent book is on pharmaceutical marketing and clinical trials called Drugs for Life: How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health (Duke, 2012). Previously I wrote, Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity (Princeton, 2004). As the first ethnographic study of brain imaging, it helped define a new field of anthropology of neuroscience, one that engaged with the ongoing concerns of neurosciences and social scientists alike about the relationship between human nature and the brain. I have also co-edited three books: with Gary Lee Downey, Cyborgs & Citadels: Anthropological Interventions in Emerging Sciences and Technologies; with Robbie Davis-Floyd, Cyborg Babies: From Techno-Sex to Techno-Tots, and with Regula Burri, Biomedicine as Culture. For ten years I was an editor of the journal Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry.

Ongoing projects include:

Gaming studies: I’m co-ounder the ModLab through the Davis Humanities Institute for studying gaming and developing games and interfaces. I've been running workshops on rethinking your research through game design, and I'm developing a game on fracking.

Immersive Visualization: I am currently studying how immersive 3D visualization platforms are transforming science at the KeckCAVES. I quickly went from observation to participation and am co-PI on a major grant funding the KeckCAVES and another one bringing dancers and scientists together in it.

Crazy Computers and Logical Neuroses: the early period of computing 1940-1960 fascinates me for how many people then felt that computers were logical and therefore irrational. Because computers did exactly what they were told and didn't know if they were going in endless loops they were ideal to model the craziness of humans, our emotions, neuroses, psychoses, and politics. I am working on a history of the flow charts that underlay them. This has led to a renewed set of collaborations and participation with neuroscientists, including a paper published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience called, "Plastic Neuroscience: Studying What the Brain Cares About."

Anatomies and Bodyminds: anatomy (including physiology) is a surprisingly diverse field, including medical and biomedical systems, so-called alternative medicines (e.g., massage therapies, energy practices, chiropractic, hospice), and body movement practices like dance traditions, contact improvisation, feldenkrais, and meditations. I’ve been running practice-as-research workshops with Kevin O’Connor on the "The senses and sciences of fascia."

On campus I’m also working to foster interdisciplinary research through the Institute for Social Sciences. I'm also in the process of launching an undergraduate program in Data Studies, helping undergrads learn to think critically and computationally about data.

Research Focus

My current research foci use ethnography, STS and performance practice-as-research to study financialized corporate capitalism (pharmaceutical and energy industries); data science and immersive visualization; the history of computational notions of logic, irrationality, brains and personhood; anatomies of agency and movement (fascia, improvisation, and training), and game design as social research. http://dumit.net/joe

Selected Publications

2012  Drugs for Life: Growing Health through Facts and Pharmaceuticals, Duke University Press.

2004  Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity, Princeton University Press

Forthcoming  “Infernal Alternatives of Pharmaceutical Research”, Medical Anthropology.


  • “Sciences and Senses of Fascia: A Practice as Research Investigation,” with Kevin O’Connor, in Sentient Performativities of Embodiment: Thinking alongside the Human, eds. Lynette Hunter, Elisabeth Krimmer, and Peter Lichtenfels
  •  “Plastic diagrams: Circuits in the Brain and How They Got There,” in Plasticity and Pathology: On the Formation of the Neural Subject eds. David Bates & Nima Bassiri. New York: Fordham University Press. Pp. 219-267.


  • “Writing the Implosion: Teaching the World One Thing at a Time.” Cultural Anthropology v.29, no.2: 344-362. http://dx.doi.org/10.14506/ca29.2.09
  • “Plastic Neuroscience: Studying What the Brain Cares About,” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, v.8, n.176, doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00176
  • "How (Not) to Do Things with Brain Images." In Coopmans, Vertesi, Lynch & Woolgar, eds. Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited. Boston: MIT Press. Pp 291-313. 
  • “Curves to Bodies: The Material Life of Graphs” with Marianne de Laet, in Routledge Handbook on Science, Technology and Society, Daniel Lee Kleinman and Kelly Moore (editors), Routledge.


  • “Haptic Creativity and the Mid-Embodiments of Experimental Life,” with Natasha Myers, in A Companion to the Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment, edited by Fran Mascia-Lees, New York: Wiley-Blackwell Publishers


I teach undergraduate courses in medical anthropology and anthropology of science & technology. These include “Drugs, Science & Culture”, “Visualization in Science”, “Medical Anthropology”, “Global Health and Medicine”, and “Introduction to Data Studies.” I teach graduate courses on bodies and embodiment, anthropology and improvisation, conspiracy/theory, and substance as method. I also enjoy teaching small first-year seminars on a variety of subjects including, “Ecology, Technology & Anime”, “Virtual Planet”, “Corporate Tactics and Game Design”, “Mind in Motion: Embodying Attention”, “Fascia Movement Research Lab”, “Mountain Biking: History, Culture and Innovation”, and “Tight Wire Walking and Thinking.”


2013-16 Herbert A. Young Society Deans' Fellow.

2008 Medical Anthropology Student Association (MASA) Graduate Student Mentoring Award. Society for Medical Anthropology.

2006 Rachel Carson Book Prize winner for Picturing Personhood, Society for Social Studies of Science.

2005 The Diana Forsythe Prize winner for Picturing Personhood, American Anthropological Association.