Campus Box 1114
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
My research looks at the role that big industries and corporations play in shaping culture and society, with a specific focus on tobacco in the United States. I am interested in the politics of health and the environment as they relate to the production and consumption of harmful products such as tobacco. I am also concerned with the rise of “corporate social responsibility” campaigns in harmful or hazardous industries and the ways that businesses address and influence ethical issues. My scholarship draws on medical anthropology and critical studies in global health and engages conversations in social theory and cultural studies. My goal has been to produce ethnography that is richly informed by historical and archival research, critically attendant to political economy and biopolitics, and deeply appreciative of human experience as inspired by my fascination with existentialism and phenomenology.
My primary research project is a study of tobacco agriculture and Mexican farm labor migration. My latest book, entitled Tobacco Capitalism: Growers, Migrant Workers, and the Changing Face of a Global Industry, was awarded the 2013 Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff Memorial Prize for the Critical Study of North America from the Society for the Anthropology of North America, as well as the 2012 James Mooney Award from the Southern Anthropological Society, and was a finalist for both the 2012 Book Prize from the Society for the Anthropology of Work and the 2013 Julian Steward Award from the Anthropology and Environment Section of the American Anthropological Association. Tobacco Capitalism tells the story of the people who live and work on U.S. tobacco farms at a time when the global tobacco industry is undergoing profound changes. Against the backdrop of the antitobacco movement, the globalization and industrialization of agriculture, and intense debates over immigration, the book draws on years of field research to examine the moral and financial struggles of growers, the difficult conditions that affect Mexican migrant workers, and the complex politics of citizenship and economic decline in communities dependent on tobacco leaf, this commodity that is linked to grave human and environmental health problems.
In addition, I completed a major collaborative research project on structural adjustment, export agriculture, and political violence in highland Guatemala, which culminated in a coauthored book, Broccoli and Desire: Global Connections and Maya Struggles in Postwar Guatemala. Tracking the commodity chain of the global broccoli trade, this book connects affluent American consumers concerned about their health and diet with Maya farmers desiring and struggling for something better. Broccoli is a starting point for a broader analysis of the social production of power and desire at multiple levels, such as shifting frameworks of international trade, discourses about health and nutrition, and the vastly uneven worlds that consumers and producers inhabit.
My current projects include a study of the evolving tobacco consumption marketplace amid the rise of e-cigarettes, a comparative study of “corporate social responsibility” campaigns, and a book that reflects on social relationships and ethical stakes in my fieldwork with tobacco growers and some of the interesting methodological and philosophical issues related to conducting ethnography in the United States and in the context of a problematic industry.
Peter Benson (2015) Teaching the Experience and Ethics of Consumption and Food Supply. In: Teaching Food and Culture, pp. 99-111. Candice Lowe Swift and Richard R. Wilk, eds. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Peter Benson (2015) Assessing “Corporate Social Responsibility” in the Tobacco Industry. In: Corporate Social Responsibility?: Human Rights in the New Global Economy. Charlotte Walker-Said and John D. Kelly, eds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Peter Benson (2014) Philip Morris, the FDA, and the Paradoxes of Corporate Social Responsibility. In: Cash on the Table: Markets, Values, and Moral Economies, pp. 211-226. Edward F. Fischer, ed. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press.
Peter Benson (2014) Corporate Paternalism and the Problem of Harmful Products. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 37(2):218-230.
Peter Benson (2012) Biopolitical Injustice and Contemporary Capitalism. American Ethnologist 39(3):488-490.
Peter Benson (2012) Tobacco Capitalism: Growers, Migrant Workers, and the Changing Face of Global Industry. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Matthew Kohrman and Peter Benson (2011) Tobacco. Annual Review of Anthropology 40:329-344.
Peter Benson, Kedron Thomas, and Edward F. Fischer (2011) Guatemala's New Violence as Structural Violence: Notes from the Highlands. In: Securing the City: Neoliberalism, Space, and Insecurity in Postwar Guatemala. Kevin O'Neill and Kedron Thomas, eds. Durham: Duke University Press.
Peter Benson (2010) Tobacco Talk: Reflections on Corporate Power and the Legal Framing of Consumption. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 24(4):500-521.
Peter Benson and Kedron Thomas (2010) After Cultural Competency: Research Practice and Moral Experience in the Study of Brand Pirates and Tobacco Farmers. Qualitative Research 10(6): 679-697.
Peter Benson (2010) Giants in the Fields: Agribusiness and Farm Labor Politics in the United States. Anthropology of Work Review 31(2):54-70.
Peter Benson and Stuart Kirsch (2010) Capitalism and the Politics of Resignation. Current Anthropology 51(4):459-486.
Peter Benson and Stuart Kirsch (2010) Corporate Oxymorons. Dialectical Anthropology 34(1):45-48.
Peter Benson (2010) Safe Cigarettes. Dialectical Anthropology 34(1):49-56.
Peter Benson (2008) El Campo: Faciality and Structural Violence in Farm Labor Camps. Cultural Anthropology 23(4):589-629.
Peter Benson (2008) Good Clean Tobacco: Philip Morris, Biocapitalism, and the Social Course of Stigma in North Carolina. American Ethnologist 35(3):357-379.
Peter Benson, Edward F. Fischer, and Kedron Thomas (2008) Resocializing Suffering: Neoliberalism, Accusation, and the Sociopolitical Context of Guatemala's New Violence. Latin American Perspectives 35(5):38-58.
Peter Benson and Kevin L. O'Neill (2007) Facing Risk: Levinas, Ethnography, and Ethics. Anthropology of Consciousness 18(2):29-55.
Arthur Kleinman and Peter Benson (2006) Anthropology in the Clinic: The Cultural Competency Problem and How to Fix It. PLoS Medicine 3(10):e294.
Edward F. Fischer and Peter Benson (2006) Broccoli and Desire: Global Connections and Maya Struggles in Postwar Guatemala. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Peter Benson (2005) Rooting Culture: Nostalgia, Urban Revitalization, and the Ambivalence of Community at the Ballpark. City and Society 17(1):93-125.
Arthur Kleinman and Peter Benson (2004) La Vida Moral de los que Sufren Enfermedad y el Fracaso Existencial de La Medicina. Monografías Humanitas 2:17-26.
Peter Benson (2004) Nothing to See Hear. Anthropological Quarterly 77(3):435-467.
2011 Cornerstone Mentor/Teacher Award, Washington University in St. Louis
2010 Outstanding Transdisciplinary Scholar Award, Institute for Public Health, Washington University in St. Louis
2009 Advanced Seminar co-organizer, School for Advanced Research (SAR), Santa Fe, New Mexico
2007-2008 Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Program in Agrarian Studies, Yale University
Introduction to Global Health (L48/L58 3283)
Pharmaceutical Personhood (L48/L58 3875)
Anthropology and Existentialism (L48 4114)
Tobacco: History, Culture, Science and Policy (L48/L58 4135)
Capitalism and Culture (L48 4392)
Advanced Social Theory (L48 5712)