Stuart Kirsch is the Roy A. Rappaport Collegiate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. His research asks questions about the environment and sustainability. He has worked in the Pacific and the Amazon on indigenous land rights, including long-term research and advocacy with the people living downstream from the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea and political refugees from West Papua, Indonesia. His current interests include climate change, industrial ethnography, open futures, political ecology, and property. Much of his work has been undertaken in collaboration with interlocutors located beyond the academy, including indigenous activists, lawyers, and engineers. He is regularly asked to provide advice and serve as an expert witness in legal cases about indigenous rights and the environment. His current research on Transitions: Pathways to a Post-Carbon Future is supported by the NOMIS Foundation in Switzerland. He is a recipient of the Berlin Prize and was the fall 2023 Mercedes-Benz fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, where he studied carbon accounting.

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 people draw on their cultural resources to interpret and respond to contemporary challenges, including pollution from the mine, participation in the global economy, and being divided between two states. The book asks whether culture continues to matter in the face of such overwhelming power disparities.

His next book, Mining Capitalism: The Relationship between Corporations and Their Critics (University of California Press, 2014), examines corporate responses to critique by comparing mining conflicts in Melanesia. It analyzes the strategies corporations use to counter opposition from NGOs and indigenous groups. Kirsch argues that attention to the relationship between corporations and their critics can help to overcome the politics of resignation, in which the status quo is seen as natural or inevitable.

Professor Kirsch has consulted widely on indigenous land rights and environmental conflicts, including compensation for damage to persons and property caused by nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands, conservation and development in Papua New Guinea, and mining and property rights in the Solomon Islands. He has collaborated with Amerindian communities in Suriname and Guyana on indigenous land rights and the impacts of bauxite and gold mining, contributing to several cases at the Inter-American Commission on and Court of Human Rights. He also co-authored a report on corporate social responsibility and violence in El Salvador. These projects are the focus of Engaged Anthropology: Politics Beyond the Text (University of California Press, 2018), which encourages anthropologists to help solve the problems facing the world.

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 (University of London), Notre Dame, and Yale, and has been a guest professor at the Arctic University in Tromsø, the University of Bern, and most recently L’École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris. He has participated in collaborative research projects on cultural property in Melanesia and resource conflicts 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, the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, a Michigan Humanities Award, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, the Program in Agrarian Studies, the 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 co-convenes the ethnography lab for postfieldwork students writing their dissertations and offers seminars on the Anthropocene, climate change, environmental anthropology, and the anthropology of property. His doctoral students have conducted research from Sierra Leone to Ukraine, and from Kathmandu to Pasco, Peru, and Quintana Roo.

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