Joao Biehl

Professor of Anthropology and Woodrow Wilson School Associated Faculty

128 Aaron Burr Hall
Lindsay Woodrick
External Website:


  • Global Health
  • Medical Anthropology
  • Science and Technology
  • Law and Justice
  • Brazil


João Biehl is Susan Dod Brown Professor of Anthropology and Woodrow Wilson School Faculty Associate at Princeton University. Biehl is the Co-Director of Princeton’s Program in Global Health and Health Policy.

In recent years, Biehl authored "Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment" (University of California Press) and "Will to Live: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival" (Princeton University Press). These books are ethnographic studies of the experience and treatment of mental illness and AIDS, respectively. Both "Vita" and "Will to Live" explore new geographies of access and marginalization that have emerged alongside pharmaceutical globalization. They also elaborate on networks of care that poor urban patients create in their daily struggles to survive. Biehl is also the co-editor of "When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health" (Princeton University Press) and "Subjectivity: Ethnographic Investigations" (University of California Press). He is the co-editor of the book series “Critical Global Health” at Duke University Press.

"Vita" garnered seven major book awards, including the J. I. Staley Award of the School for Advanced Research and the Margaret Mead Award of the American Anthropological Association. "Will to Live" was awarded the Wellcome Medal of Britain's Royal Anthropological Society and the Diana Forsythe Prize of the American Anthropological Association. Biehl received the Rudolph Virchow Award for his articles "The Activist State" and "Pharmaceuticalization." Biehl's research has been supported by grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Princeton’s Health Grand Challenges Initiative, and Princeton’s Council of International Teaching and Research.Biehl held the Harold Willis Dodds Presidential University Preceptorship at Princeton University and was a Member of both the School of Social Science and the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study. He has also been a Member of the Center for Theological Inquiry and a Visiting Professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales.

Before joining the Princeton faculty in 2001, Biehl was a National Institute of Mental Health postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University in the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine (1998–2000). He earned a doctorate in Anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley (1999) and a doctorate in Religion from the Graduate Theological Union (1996). He received a master's degree in philosophy and undergraduate degrees in theology and journalism from academic institutions in Brazil.

Biehl is currently writing the history of the Mucker War, a religious war that took place among German immigrants in 19th century Brazil. He is also working on a book titled "The Anthropology of Becoming." His present research explores the social impact of large-scale treatment programs in resource-poor settings and the role of the judiciary in administering public health in Brazil. Biehl is coordinating a research and teaching partnership between Princeton University and the University of São Paulo centered on global health and the anthropology of health and medicine, and is co-coordinating a collaborative network on “Race and Citizenship in the Americas.”

Biehl received Princeton's Presidential Distinguished Teaching Award in 2005 and Princeton’s Graduate Mentoring Award in 2012.

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