Susan Greenhalgh
John King and Wilma Cannon Fairbank Professor of Chinese Society
Professor of Anthropology, Social Anthropology Program

Harvard University
Tozzer Anthropology Building 308
21 Divinity Ave.

Cambridge MA 02138

(617) 495-7826 |

Curriculum Vitae

Research and Teaching Interests

• Social Studies of Science, Technology, and Medicine
• The Politics of the “Obesity Epidemic” and the “War on Fat”
• The Politics of Reproduction/Population/Life Itself
• Gender Studies; Modernity and Globalization
• Anthropology of the State, Governance, and Public Policy
• Socialism and Post-SocialismcPeople’s Republic of China, Taiwan; Selected interested in U.S. Society

Making War on Fat – and Creating New Kinds of Biocitizens

In all the public talk about how the epidemic of childhood obesity is undermining the nation by boosting health costs and eroding economic productivity, the voices of those targeted for fat reduction have gone largely unheard. In my just-finished book manuscript, Making War on Fat: The Human Story of America’s Anti-Obesity Campaign, I draw on the narratives of 250 young Californians, former students at the University of California, Irvine, to uncover the hidden workings and effects of what began as a public health campaign to combat obesity but has now mushroomed into a society-wide war on fat. The book illuminates how the fight against fat seeks to create a new kind of thin, bit biocitizen, and how it conscripts other subjects – the good doctor, the good parent, the good teacher, the good coach – into the campaign. It highlights the productivity of this new weight-centric field of biopower – the production of new fat and skinny subjects, the creation of new forms of fat culture, and so forth. It also tallies up some of the rarely noted costs of the war on fat to young Americans, and argues the need for a rethinking of the issue of weight in American culture.

Analytically, this project reflects my broader interests in the emergence of new forms of scientific governance that are reshaping individual bodies and whole populations in ways that can hardly be imagined. Over the last couple of years I’ve shared the results of this project with colleagues at Harvard, the University of California Santa Barbara, and UC San Diego. During 2013-14 I’ll be presenting more findings at the New School, Harvard’s Kennedy School, and Harvard’s Science and Technology Studies Circle.

My newest project, launched in the fall of 2013, explores the emerging epidemic of childhood obesity in the People’s Republic of China. Growing numbers of single kids in China’s cities are overweight or even fat, but does that constitute an epidemic of childhood obesity? Who gets to decide how to label it and what should be done? Again, I’m interested in the science and governance of the heavy body, but the focus this time is on how this newly named epidemic is connecting China to global systems of health governance. For a decade now, organizations such as the World Health Organization and the International Obesity Task Force have been warning about a global crisis of childhood obesity. How active have they been in China? What kinds of influence have run in each direction? What cluster of sciences and government bureaucracies is involved in framing the issue and its solution? Through field research in Beijing, this project seeks answers to such questions.

Making One-Child Families
This work on public health builds on my earlier research on Chinese projects of social modernity – state efforts to transform China’s “backward masses” into the modern workers and citizens needed to make China a prosperous, globally prominent nation. For many years, my empirical focus was the state’s project to optiermize the size and “quality” of China’s population by limiting all couples to one child. Aside from the basic policy of economic reform and opening up, no policy has been more consequential to reform-era China than the one-child policy. These interests are reflected in three books. Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng’s China (California 2008) uncovers the origins of the notorious one-child policy in early reform-era population science and politics. Governing China’s Population: from Leninist to Neoliberal Biopolitics (Stanford 2005, co-authored with political scientist Edwin A. Winckler) examines how China has governed its population during the 50-plus years since the Communist revolution of 1949, and with what effects on Chinese society, politics, and global position. And Cultivating Global Citizens: Population in the Rise of China (Harvard 2010) traces the connections between the state’s massive project to govern its population and cultivate its society, and the nation’s rise to global power.

Just One Child was awarded the 2010 Joseph Levenson Prize of the Association for Asian Studies, the 2010 Rachel Carson Prize of the Society for the Social Study of Science, and Honorable Mentions in the 2010 Senior Book Prize of the American Ethnological Society and the 2009 Gregory Bateson Book Prize of the Society for Cultural Anthropology.

Before joining Harvard’s anthropology department, I taught anthropology at the University of California, Irvine and, before that, worked as senior research associate at the New York-based Population Council.

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