1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences


My interests include the anthropology of moralities and ethics; the intertwining of humans, worlds and situations; political activity and theory; the intersection of anthropology and philosophy; the drug war; artificial intelligence and ethics; and data ethics. These interests are taken up from the perspective of an anthropology strongly influenced by post-Heideggerian continental philosophy and critical theory, the theoretical articulation of which I name critical hermeneutics.

I am the Director of the Bioethics Program, and the Founding Director of the Center for Data Ethics and Justice, both at the University of Virginia.

Recently, I have started to think the possibility of ethics in the advent of artificial intelligence, including how this arrival forces us to rethink the human. Not unrelated, I have started to think the question of ethics and justice in data-driven worlds. Prior to this, I conducted research for over a decade with the globally networked anti-drug war movement, in an attempt to rethink some of our most closely held ethical and political assumptions and conceptualizations. My anthropological research career began in Russia, where I ethnographically examined Russian Orthodox Church drug rehabilitation programs as spaces for moral training, and did life-historical research on moral experience in times of post-Soviet social and political change.

My latest book, A War on People: Drug User Politics and a New Ethics of Community (2019), is an ethnographically-informed critical hermeneutic exploration of how the anti-drug war movement is politically building new worlds and creating a new ethics of community through the enactment of freedom as letting-be and attuned care. I also recently published Disappointment: Toward a Critical Hermeneutics of Worldbuilding (2018), which addresses the ethical, political and ontological grounds of the disappointment many feel today, offering an alternative vision of what a future could be and how to achieve it. I have authored several other books: Morality: An Anthropological Perspective (2008), Making the New Post-Soviet Person: Narratives of Moral Experience in Contemporary Moscow (2010), and HIV is God’s Blessing: Rehabilitating Morality in Neoliberal Russia (2011), and edited a volume titled, Multiple Moralities and Religion in Contemporary Russia (2011).

I received my Ph.D. in anthropology from the City University of New York, Graduate Center (2006) and M.A. in liberal arts, with a focus on moral and political philosophy, from St. John’s College (1998). I have been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, a visiting scholar at Columbia University, and a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. My research has been funded through a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship, The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), and the European Research Council (ERC), among others.

First Name: 
William & Linda Porterfield Chair in Biomedical Ethics and Professor of Anthropology
Computing ID: 
Office Address: 

Brooks Hall, 301

Office Hours: Wednesdays 3:30-5:00pm

Sub Discipline/s: 

Anthropology of moralities and ethics; the intertwining of humans, worlds and situations; political activity and theory; the intersection of anthropology and philosophy; critical hermeneutics; drug war; artificial intelligence and ethics; data ethics and justice.

Selected Publications: 

2019 A War on People: Drug User Politics and a New Ethics of Community. Oakland: University of California Press.

2018 Disappointment: Toward a Critical Hermeneutics of Worldbuilding. New York: Fordham University Press.

2015 “What is a situation?: an assemblic ethnography of the drug war,” in Cultural Anthropology, vol. 30, no. 3.

2014 “An Ethics of Dwelling and a Politics of World-Building: A Critical Response to Ordinary Ethics,” in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 20, 746-64.

2014 “Maintaining the ‘Truth:’ performativity, human rights, and the limitations on politics,” in Theory and Event, vol. 17, no. 3.

2014 “Temporalization and Ethical Action,” in Journal of Religious Ethics, vol. 42, no. 3.

2014 “Attunement and Fidelity: Two Ontological Conditions for Morally Being-in-the-World,” in Ethos, vol. 42, no.1.

2014 “Moral Experience – Introduction,” in Ethos, vol. 42, no. 1 (co-authored with Jason Throop).

2013 “Human Rights as Moral Progress? A Critique,” in Cultural Anthropology, vol. 28, no. 4.

2013 “On Love: remaking moral subjectivity in post-rehabilitation Russia,” in American Ethnologist, vol. 40, no. 1.

2011 “HIV Is God’s Blessing”: Rehabilitating Morality in Neoliberal Russia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

2009 “Morality Within a Range of Possibilities: A Dialogue with Joel Robbins,” in Ethnos, vol. 74, no. 2.

2007 “Moral Breakdown and the Ethical Demand: A Theoretical Framework for an Anthropology of Moralities,” in Anthropological Theory, vol.7, no.2.