Drawing on archival research in Brazil and Germany, oral histories, material culture, and photography, Biehl is chronicling how a transplanted Germanist bourgeoisie used the natural and medical sciences, media, and institutionalized religion to stigmatize and eventually eradicate a popular medical and religious movement derided as Mucker (literally, those who dig muck: who are false saints, sanctimonious and hypocritical) in southern Brazil in the 1870s. In this new book project, Biehl is interested in how European notions of belief, rationality, and progress migrated to and became culturally ingrained in this frontier zone, and in how social life, political order, and human values there were remade through war. The particulars of this violent intra-ethnic can help elucidate how, historically, transcendental values have been banished from political life in Southern borderlands. Biehl also reads the story of the Mucker as an enduring secular myth to be reckoned with, erupting as a symbol of the inexplicable, undesired, or intolerable in contemporary events, be they personal or collective.
João Biehl is Susan Dod Brown Professor of Anthropology and Woodrow Wilson School Faculty Associate at Princeton University. He is also the Co-Director of Princeton’s Global Health Program. Biehl’s main research and teaching interests center on medical and political anthropology, ethnography and critical theory, the social studies of science and technology, global health, affect and agency, and religion and German colonialism (with a regional focus on Latin America and Brazil). Biehl is the author of the award-winning books Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment and Will to Live: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival. He co-edited the books Unfinished: The Anthropology of Becoming, When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health, and Subjectivity: Ethnographic Investigations. He is also co-editor of the book series Critical Global Health at Duke University Press. Biehl received Princeton’s Presidential Distinguished Teaching Award in 2005 and Princeton’s Graduate Mentoring Award in 2012.