Stuart Kirsch is professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan. He works in the Pacific and the Amazon on indigenous rights and the environment, including long-term research and advocacy with the people living downstream from the Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea and political refugees from West Papua, Indonesia. His research interests include the corporation and corporate strategy, political ecology, property, questions about loss, and social movements.
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 the global economy, and the predicament of being divided by two nation-states. The book asks whether culture continues to matter in the face of such overwhelming power disparities.
His most recent 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 better understanding the dialectical relationship between corporations and their critics offers a partial antidote to the politics of resignation.
Professor Kirsch has consulted widely on indigenous land rights and environmental conflicts, 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 Solomon Islands. He has collaborated with Amerindian communities in Suriname and Guyana on indigenous land rights and the impacts of bauxite and artisanal gold mining, including two cases in the Inter-American Court system. His most recent collaboration examined mining and violence in El Salvador. These projects are the subject of his next book, Engaged Anthropology: Politics beyond the Text, completed while a visiting fellow at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame and currently under review.
Works in progress include a long-term study of diplomacy as practiced by West Papuan political leaders, a crossover text entitled “Welcome to the Anthropocene,” and a set of papers on contradiction that draw on life writing rather than ethnography or psychology.
Professor Kirsch earned his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991 and taught at Mount Holyoke College before coming to the University of Michigan in 1995. He has held visiting appointments at the University of Cambridge, Goldsmiths College in London, and Yale University. He has also participated in collaborative research projects on cultural property in Melanesia and resource conflict in the Andes. His work has been supported by fellowships and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Economic and Social Research Council, Fulbright-Hays, a Michigan Humanities Award, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale, the Royal Anthropological Institute, the Social Science Research Council, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation. At the University of Michigan, he teaches courses on engaged anthropology, indigenous political movements, political ecology, and property.