Campus Box 1114
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
Broadly speaking, I’m keen on understanding what forms of human existence take shape amid the powerful influence of corporations and industries, moral and emotional movements in the civil society, cultural framings of citizenship and the family, public health governance and medicalization, social and historical constructions of race, and waves of transnational labor migration. Working in the United States and Latin America, my goal has been to produce ethnography that is richly informed by historical and archival research, critically attendant to political economy, and deeply appreciative of subjective 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, 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, I draw 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 this most harmful commodity.
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.
As of 2012, I am engaged in several new projects, including a study of how the tobacco consumption marketplace has evolved in the United States in the past decade amid the introduction of supposedly "safer" tobacco products. In addition, I am working on a new book on the tobacco industry and cultures of nationalism, imperialism, and militarism in the United States during the historical period stretching roughly from the Spanish-American War to World War I. I am also engaged in a collaborative project, based at Washington University Medical School's Siteman Cancer Center, looking at various aspects of health policy and cancer prevention in contemporary Guatemala.
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 Public 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)