Stuart Kirsch is an anthropologist who works in the Pacific and the Amazon on indigenous politics and environmental issues. He is professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan. He has carried out long-term ethnographic research with the Yonggom people living on both sides of the border between Papua New Guinea and West Papua (Indonesia). He has also collaborated with the Yonggom and their neighbors in their protests and legal proceedings against the environmental impact of the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine. His research interests include the corporation, social movements, discourse about ‘lost tribes’, mining, political ecology, political violence, property, and ritual and myth.
Kirsch is the author of Reverse Anthropology: Indigenous Analysis of Social and Environmental Relations in New Guinea (Stanford University Press 2006), which examines how the Yonggom draw on their cultural resources to interpret and respond to contemporary political challenges, including pollution from the mine, their participation in new forms of exchange, and the marginalization of West Papuan refugees living in Papua New Guinea. The book asks whether culture continues to matter in the face of such overwhelming power disparities.
His new book examines how corporations respond to critique. Mining Capitalism: The Relationship between Corporations and their Critics (University of California Press 2014) compares mining conflicts in Melanesia and other parts of the world. It analyzes the strategies corporations use to counter opposition from NGOs and indigenous groups. The book argues that understanding the dialectical relationship between corporations and their critics provides an antidote to the politics of resignation.
“A much-needed contribution to understanding our contemporary historical moment.”
—Kim Fortun, author of Advocacy after Bhopal
“Engaged anthropology at its very best.”
—Anna Tsing, author of Friction
“A vivid account of the globalization of nature.”
—Arjun Appadurai, author of Modernity at Large
Professor Kirsch has consulted widely on indigenous rights and environmental issues, including compensation for damage caused by nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands, conservation and development in the Lakekamu River Basin of Papua New Guinea, and mining and property rights in the Solomon Islands. He has also collaborated with Amerindian communities in Suriname on a project concerning the impacts of bauxite mining and as an expert witness in a case on indigenous land rights at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. These projects are the subject of his next book, The Politics of Engagement: Anthropology beyond the Text, which he began writing during a sabbatical in Winter 2014.
Professor Kirsch earned his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991 and taught at Mount Holyoke College for four years before coming to the University of Michigan in 1995. He has held visiting research appointments at the University of Cambridge, Goldsmiths College in London, and Yale University. He has also participated in collaborative research projects on cultural property rights and on extractive conflicts in Latin America. Kirsch has received fellowships and grants from the program in Agrarian Studies at Yale University, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Economic and Social Research Council in the United Kingdom, Fulbright-Hays, a Michigan Humanities Award, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, a Royal Anthropological Institute fellowship for “Urgent Anthropology,” the Social Science Research Council, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. At the University of Michigan, he teaches undergraduate courses and graduate seminars on anthropology and history, engaged anthropology, environmental anthropology, the anthropology of property, indigenous political movements, and the Pacific.