Congratulations to Peter Benson, newly appointed Director of American Culture Studies, beginning July 1!

posted by Iver Bernstein

on May 2nd, 2018

Peter Benson is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and has served as the Director of Graduate Studies for AMCS since 2016. After graduating from Harvard University in 2007, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale University. Peter is a cultural anthropologist who writes on the cultural, racial, and health politics of commercialized and industrialized harm in the United States. His book, entitled Tobacco Capitalism: Growers, Migrant Workers, and the Changing Face of a Global Industry (Princeton University Press, 2012), combines historical and ethnographic lenses to examine citizenship, racialized farm labor, agricultural industrialization, and economic decline in North Carolina, set against the backdrop of national debates about tobacco-related public health regulation and Latinx immigration. The book was awarded the 2013 Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff Memorial Prize for the Critical Study of North America from the Society for the Anthropology of North America. Peter has also explored the politics of health, injury, ethics, and race in the “corporate social responsibility” campaigns of the tobacco, firearms, and football industries. Apart from this work in the United States, Peter has conducted anthropological research and widely published on agrarian change, neoliberalism, and structural and everyday violences in Guatemala. His current project is about varieties of failure, despair, decline, recovery, and coping in late capitalism. Situated in St. Louis, North Carolina, and Guatemala, this work ethnographically explores social worlds of addiction, mental illness, breakdowns, and fraught intimacies and domesticities. The broad aim is to reread and appropriate postmodern theories and genres as a means of challenging ideologies of development and progress that help to define the Anthropocene paradigm and to emphasize problematic entanglements and complicities between medicine, public health, and global health and harmful political economies and societal arrangements.

Peter has taught courses on global health, the history of tobacco, existentialism, and social theory. He is currently teaching the multidisciplinary AMCS proseminar for graduate students, entitled “Critical Genres and Geographies in American Culture Studies,” looking at how artists, writers, and scholars have sought to grasp diversities and particularities of American experiential worlds through innovative experiments in form and style.

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