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, 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 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 political resignation. Kim Fortun, author of Advocacy after Bhopal, describes Mining Capitalism as “A much-needed contribution to our contemporary historical moment.” Anna Tsing, author of Friction, calls it “Engaged anthropology at its very best.” Arjun Appadurai, author of Modernity at Large, says that Mining Capitalism provides “a vivid account of the globalization of nature.”
Professor Kirsch has consulted widely on indigenous land rights and the environment, 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 collaborated with Amerindian communities in Guyana and Suriname on indigenous land rights and the impacts of bauxite and artisanal gold mining. His most recent project was a study of mining and violence in El Salvador. These projects are the subject of his next book, Anthropology beyond the Text: The Politics of Engaged Research, which he hopes to complete next year (2016-2017).
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 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 Agrarian Studies at Yale University, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Economic and Social Research Council in the U.K., 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.