Anthropologist Biehl wins major book award

João Biehl, associate professor of anthropology, has won the 2007 Margaret Mead Award, one of the most prestigious honors for anthropological books.

Biehl's book, "Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment," was published in 2005 by the University of California Press, and this is its sixth major award.

The honor, jointly awarded by the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology, goes to a young scholar whose work interprets anthropological data and principles in a manner accessible to the public and brings anthropology to bear on vital social and cultural issues.

"Vita" tells the story of a young Brazilian woman living at Vita, an asylum for the sick, mentally ill and poor. Due to a misdiagnosed neurodegenerative disorder, Catarina becomes paralyzed, is considered insane and is abandoned by her family. Biehl studies the circumstances of Catarina's illness to uncover the forces -- economic, medical, political, familial -- by which Vita and other poorly funded, ungoverned institutions of last resort have proliferated in Brazil.

A faculty member at Princeton since 2001, Biehl this fall published another book, "Will to Live: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival" (Princeton University Press). In this new book, he explores the political economy and ethics underlying Brazil's AIDS policy, considered a model for treating AIDS worldwide.