Stefan Helmreich

Professor of Anthropology

Stefan Helmreich is the Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research has examined how biologists think through the limits of “life” as a category of analysis. Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas (University of California Press, 2009) is a study of marine biologists working in realms usually out of sight and reach: the microscopic world, the deep sea, and oceans outside national sovereignty. This book, winner of the 2010 Senior Book Prize from the American Ethnological Society, the 2010 Gregory Bateson Book Prize from Society for Cultural Anthropology, and the 2012 Rachel Carson Book Prize from the Society for Social Studies of Science, charts how marine microbes are entangled with debates about the origin of life, climate change, property in the ocean commons, and the possibility of life on other worlds. An earlier book, Silicon Second Nature: Culturing Artificial Life in a Digital World (University of California Press, 1998) is an ethnography of computer modeling in the life sciences. In 2000, it won the Diana Forsythe Book Prize from the American Anthropological Association. Helmreich’s newest book, Sounding the Limits of Life: Essays in the Anthropology of Biology and Beyond (Princeton University Press, 2016) asks after changing definitions of life, water, and sound. He is at work on a new book about wave science, in domains ranging from oceanography to cosmology to medicine to acoustics to social theory. Helmreich’s essays have appeared in Critical Inquiry, Representations, American Anthropologist, Cabinet, and The Wire.