Anand Pandian

Anand Pandian

Professor and Department Chair

Mergenthaler 454
Tuesdays, 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

para1Pronouns: He/him/his

My work concerns the ecological horizons of human aspiration. The tension between these spheres, human and ecological, seems to have reached a breaking point. And yet it remains the case that human beings owe their potential for change to environmental elements and relations of countless kinds. The sudden cry of a songbird, an ominous hum in the air, the tug of an image on a screen: these things of the world, in all their force and frailty, are knotted into the architecture of our minds and bodies. Such convolutions—inside and outside, matter and spirit, human and nonhuman—challenge us to think with the unpredictable life of the worlds in which we find ourselves. Anthropology can help with this task, for we rely on a method of experience, a continuous deflection of thought through the vicissitudes of earthly life.

Pandian2Over the last decade or so, I've had the chance to pursue a few such experiments in living and thinking with others. Just published by Duke University Press is a small book of essays on problems of method, A Possible Anthropology: Methods for Uneasy Times, while a new book manuscript, Walled In, examines walls, boundaries and other containers, big and small, in the cultural life of the contemporary United States. A recent book based on years of fieldwork with Tamil filmmakers, artists, musicians, and craftsmen, Reel World: An Anthropology of Creation grapples with the turbulent ecology of creative process. Ayya's Accounts: A Ledger of Hope in Modern India (2014; also in Tamil) takes my grandfather's life in Burma and India as an aperture for a century of tremendous aspiration and upheaval. Crooked Stalks: Cultivating Virtue in South India (2009) explores postcolonial landscapes, and the ethical lives of those who tend them, as fields of moral and agrarian cultivation. What these projects have in common is a concern for the openness and malleability of human nature, and the means of its transformation in ethical, material, and historical terms.

Pandian3Claude Levi-Strauss says that structuralism first struck him one Sunday afternoon in 1940, as he was lying in a patch of grass and contemplating the seedheads of a dandelion. I can't think of a better image for the wildly collaborative nature of anthropology, which seems always to be drifting along from place to place with stowaway friends and ideas. Published in 2017 by Duke University Press is Crumpled Paper Boat, a book of ventures in experimental ethnographic writing, based on a workshop that I organized with Stuart McLean at the School of American Research. Cymene Howe and I have co-edited Anthropocene Unseen: A Lexicon, an open-access book published in 2020 from Punctum Books. I worked closely with Tamil film director M. Sasikumar to publish an English translation of his pathbreaking screenplay Subramaniyapuram in 2014, accompanied by a series of critical essays. I co-edited Ethical Life in South Asia (2010) with medieval historian Daud Ali, while Race, Nature, and the Politics of Difference (2003) was co-edited with Donald Moore and Jake Kosek. For the Society for Cultural Anthropology, I organized the 2018 SCA Biennial, as an international virtual conference called Displacements. At JHU, I also direct the newly-established Hopkins Ecological Design Initiative.

Research and writing depend on an ecology of support. I’m grateful to these institutions for their generosity and encouragement.

  • Infosys Prize in the Social Sciences, Infosys Science Foundation, 2019
  • Engaged Scholar Faculty Fellowship, JHU Center for Social Concern, 2019
  • Global Initiatives Grant, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, 2018
  • Second Prize, Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing, Society for Humanistic Anthropology, 2017
  • Johns Hopkins Catalyst Award, JHU Office of the Provost, 2016
  • Exploration of Practical Ethics Award, JHU Berman Institute of Bioethics, 2016
  • Second Prize, Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing, Society for Humanistic Anthropology, 2014
  • Seed Grant, JHU Environment, Energy, Sustainability and Health Institute, 2014
  • Advanced Seminar in "Literary Anthropology," School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, 2013
  • Engaged Anthropology Grant, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, 2012
  • Stirling Prize, Society for Psychological Anthropology, 2011
  • Senior Research Grant, Cultural Anthropology Program, National Science Foundation, 2009
  • Post-PhD Research Grant, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, 2009
  • Senior Long Term Research Fellowship, American Institute of Indian Studies, 2009
  • Exploratory Workshop on "Genealogies of Virtue," Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, University of British Columbia, 2007
  • Hampton Fund Research Grant, University of British Columbia, 2006
  • Townsend Fellowship, Townsend Center for the Humanities, UC Berkeley, 2003
  • Simpson Memorial Research Fellowship, Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley, 2003
  • Graduate Research Fellowship, National Science Foundation, 1997
  • Truman Scholarship for Public Service, Truman Scholarship Foundation, 1993


A book talk on A Possible Anthropology (2020)

Lessons of #displace18 (2019)

In the library of Lévi-Strauss (2018)

Ursula K. Le Guin, interplanetary anthropologist (2018)

Seaside lament (2018)

Liquid cinema (2018)

Wine dark plastic sea (2016)