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Nancy Scheper-Hughes (born 1944, New York City) is a professor of Anthropology and director of the program in Medical Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. She is known for her writing on the anthropology of the body, hunger, illness, medicine, psychiatry, madness, social suffering, violence and genocide. In 2009 her investigation of an international ring of organ sellers based in New York, New Jersey and Israel led to a number of arrests by the FBI.
Scheper-Hughes' first book, Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland (1979), was a study of madness among bachelor farmers, and won the Margaret Mead Award from the Society for Applied Anthropology in 1980. The book established Scheper-Hughes’ ability to provoke controversy through her writing. Especially in Ireland, many readers took umbrage at her portrayal of the disintegration of rural Irish family life due to the collapse of the agrarian economy. In the 20th anniversary edition of the book, Scheper-Hughes provided an update on the transitions the community was undergoing at the time of her original research. She also discussed the challenges and ethics of ethnography, issues that are pushed to the fore as anthropologists increasingly work in communities that can read and critique their work.
In her subsequent book Death without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday life in Brazil (1993), she discusses the violence between mothers refusing to care for their sickly children. Once again, her work had many critics, both inside and outside Brazil, given its depiction of women forced by horrific circumstances to ration their love and favor towards infants and toddlers who seemed to have the best chance of survival, and (even more controversial) her description of mothers "collaborating" and "hastening" the deaths of infants thought to be lacking a will (desejo), a knack (jeito), or a taste (gosto) for life. Death without Weeping has become something of a classic within the field of medical anthropology.
In addition to her full-length monographs, Scheper-Hughes has published on AIDS/HIV in Brazil and Cuba, human rights, death squads, apartheid and shanty town violence in South Africa, and sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, coining or popularizing such terms as the "mindful body" (1987, with Margaret Lock), "political economy of the emotions" (1993a), "life boat ethics" (1993b), "neo-cannibalism" (2001), "sexual citizenship" (1994b), the "genocidal continuum", "militant anthropology" and anthropology "with its feet on the ground" (1995). One of the central themes unifying Scheper-Hughes’ scholarship is how violence comes to mark the bodies of the vulnerable, poor, and disenfranchised with a terrifying intimacy. Her work in Latin America, South Africa, Ireland, and Eastern Europe traces the insidious invisibility of everyday violence, which often makes the vulnerable and exploited into their own wardens and executioners.
Besides her own original research she has helped disseminate the work of scholars such as radical Italian psychiatrist Franco Basaglia, Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, and the Brazilian physician and radical ecologist Josué de Castro, to a wider North American audience.
Scheper-Hughes served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Brazil in the 1960s. She has worked as an activist and with social movements in Brazil (in defense of rural workers, against death squads, and for the rights of street children) in the United States (as a civil rights worker and as a Catholic Worker for the homeless mentally ill, against nuclear weapons research at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) and internationally in defense of the rights of those who sell their kidneys.
In 1999, Scheper-Hughes joined with three other professors to launch Organs Watch, an organization dedicated to research on the global traffic in human organs, tracking the movements of people and organs around the globe, as well as the global inequities that facilitate this trade.
In October 2008, she appeared on the BBC program HARDtalk expressing her strong opposition to the open free buying and selling of organs, even if there were Government oversight through regulation. Her reason for this position is that she feels it will eventually corrupt the entire field because of the inevitability of brokers engaging in satisfying the demands of wealthy buyers for higher quality donors. She is opposed to the Iranian government's regulated organ donor program, involving cash rewards, and predicts it will fail. Her preference is for free voluntary donations from family or friends. She has characterized the efforts of patients waiting for an organ transplant to save their lives through purchasing a replacement organ from a volunteer as just "a new form of commodity fetishism." She deplores the fact that to the dying patients waiting for a transplant, "in the late or postmodern consumer-oriented context, the ancient prescription for virtue in suffering and grace in dying can only appear patently absurd." She recommends instead that the now lethally long waiting lists for organ transplants be trimmed by questioning "the rights of infants and those over 70 to be on the waiting list."
In the 2000s, Scheper-Hughes investigated an international ring of organ sellers based in New York, New Jersey and Israel. She interviewed several hundred third-world organ donors, and reported that they all felt that they had been taken advantage of, and were often left sick, unable to work, and unable to get medical care. Some of them were tricked into donating organs, and threatened at gunpoint when they tried to resist. Some transplants took place at major New York City hospitals, and Scheper-Hughes said that the hospital personnel knew illegal transplants were taking place. She informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which led to arrests several years later. When the events became public, she said that much of the world's illicit traffic in kidneys could be traced to Israel. In a 2008 lecture, she is reported as identifying two motivations of Israeli traffickers as "greed" and "Revenge, restitution—reparation for the Holocaust." She is reported as describing speaking with Israeli brokers who told her "it’s kind of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We’re going to get every single kidney and liver and heart that we can. The world owes it to us.’"
Awards and recognition
Scheper-Hughes' first book, Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland (1979), a study of madness among bachelor farmers, won the Margaret Mead Award from the Society for Applied Anthropology in 1980.
Scheper-Hughes was awarded the first Berkeley William Sloane Coffin Jr. Award  in April 2007. The award recognizes moral leadership among members of the community at University of California, Berkeley. The award is named for William Sloane Coffin, a chaplain at Yale University and an activist in the civil rights and peace movements.
- 2003a Commodifying Bodies. Co-edited with Loïc Wacquant. London: Sage Publications. Series in Theory, Culture, and Society.
- 2001b Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics. Berkeley: University of California Press. 20th Anniversary edition. Expanded and updated with new preface and epilogue
- 1999 Small Wars: The Cultural Politics of Childhood. Co-edited with Carolyn Sargent. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- 1993b Death without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil. Berkeley: University of California Press. (Second edition, paperback).
- 1979 Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- 2007a “On Civil Disobedience and ‘ Freedom from Unreal Loyalties’ ” (William Sloane Coffin Award comments)
- 2007b “Violence and the Politics of Remorse: Lessons from South Africa.” In Subjectivity: Ethnographic Investigations, pp. 179–233. João Biehl, Byron Good, and Arthur Kleinman, editors. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- 2006a “The Tyranny of the Gift: Sacrificial Violence in Living Donor Transplants,” American Journal of Transplant (Ethics Corner), 7: 1-5
- 2006b “Alistair Cooke’s Bones: a Morality Tale. Anthropology Today (December): 22(6):3-8
- 2006c “Death Squads and Democracy in Northeast Brazil”. In Jean and John Comaroff, Eds, Law and Disorder in the Postcolony, pp. 150–187. Chicago: Chicago University Press
- 2005a “Katrina: The disaster and its doubles,” Anthropology Today 21(6): 2.
- 2005b “Disease or Deception: Munchausen by Proxy as a Weapon of the Weak” In Lying and Illness: Power and Performance, edited by Els van Dongen and Sylvie Fainzang, pp. 113–138. Het Spinhuis, Amsterdam.
- 2004a Violence in War and Peace: an Anthology. Edited by Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Philippe Bourgois. London: Basil Blackwell.
- 2004b “The Last Commodity: Post-Human Ethics and the Global Traffic in ‘Fresh’ Organs,” in Global Assemblages, Aihwa Ong and Stephen Collier, eds. London: Basil Blackwell.
- 2004c “Parts Unknown: Undercover Ethnography of the Organs-Trafficking Underworld”. Ethnography 5(1): 29-73
- 2003b “Priestly Celibacy and Child Sexual Abuse,” with John Devine. Forum: The Catholic Church, Pedophiles and Child Sexual Abuse. Sexualities 6 (1): 15-39.
- 2003c “A Genealogy of Genocide”. Modern Psychoanalysis 28(2): 167-197.
- 2001a “Ishi’s Brain, Ishi’s Ashes.” Anthropology Today 17 (1) (February): 12-18.
- 2000 "The Global Traffic in Human Organs." Current Anthropology." 41(2): 191-211.
- 1998 “Bodies of Apartheid: Witchcraft, Rumor and Racism Confound South Africa’s Organ [incomplete reference]
- 1995 “The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a Militant Anthropology.” Current Anthropology 36 (3) (June): 409-20.
- 1994a “Embodied Knowledge: Thinking with the Body in Critical Medical Anthropology,” in Assessing Cultural Anthropology, Rob Borofsky, ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 229–42.
- 1994b “AIDS and the Social Body.” Social Science & Medicine 39 (7): 991-1003.
- 1993a “Life Boat Ethics.” Republished in Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective, pp. 31–37. Caroline Brettell and Carolyn Sargent, eds. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.
- 1991a “The Message in the Bottle: Illness and the Micropolitics of Resistance,” with Margaret Lock. Journal of Psychohistory 18 (4): 409-32.
- 1991b “Virgin Territory: The Male Discovery of the Clitoris.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 5 (1) (March): 25-28.
- 1990 “Three Propositions for a Critically Applied Medical Anthropology.” Social Science & Medicine 30 (2): 189-97.
- 1987a *Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. The Mindful Body: A Prolegomenon to Future Work in Medical Anthropology with Margaret Lock. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. (1): 6-41. pp.
- 1987b Psychiatry Inside Out: Selected Writings of Franco Basaglia. Edited with introductions and essays by Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Anne M. Lovell. New York: Columbia University Press.
- 1987c “A Children’s Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term: Managing Culture-Shocked Children in Brazil.” Human Organization 46 (l): 78-83. Reprinted in Children in the Field: Anthropological Experiences, ed. Joan Cassell, 1987. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, pp. 443–54.
- 1986 “Breaking the Circuit of Social Control: Lessons in Public Psychiatry from Italy and Franco Basaglia,” with Anne M. Lovell. Social Science & Medicine 23 (2): 159-78.
- 1984 “The Margaret Mead Controversy: Culture, Biology, and Anthropological Inquiry.” Human Organization 43 (1): 85-93.
- 2011a "Being radical critical without being leftist", antropologi.info
- 2011b "The global trade with poor people's kidneys", antropologi.info
- 2011c "Writing an anthropological detective story, antropologi.info
- 2004a “Dispelling the Myth. The Realities of Organ Trafficking" Three Monkeys Online
- 2004b “Un Marche Noir Planetaire. Interview with Nancy Scheper-Hughes by Larry Rohter (New York Times), Lillu (Swiss News Magazine), 9 June 2004, No. 24. Pp. 102-105.
- 2004c “The Kidney is Not a Spare Part”, Christian Science Monitor, Wednesday, June 9, 2004, p. 16
- 2002 “Una Especialista de Olho no Brasil: A Frente da Organs Watch.” Carta Capital, January 16, pp. 33–34.
- 2001 “I Broker Globali del Corpo parcellizzato, interview with Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Director, Organs Watch.” Il Manifesto (Rome, Italy), October 30, p. 1.
- 1999 Conversations with History: Conversations with Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Militant Anthropologist
- UC Berkeley, Anthropology Department: Nancy Scheper-Hughes
- Berkeley site
- Department of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley, 3 November 1999, press release
- BBC, HARDtalk, 28 October 2008, Nancy Scheper-Hughes
- Nancy Scheper-Hughes, "Rotten Trade, Millenial Capitalism, Human Values and Global Justice in Organs Trafficking," Journal of Human Rights, vol. 2, p. 198 (2003)
- Scheper-Hughes (2003:200)
- Scheper-Hughes (2003:221)
- Michael Daly: Anthropologist's 'Dick Tracy moment' plays role in arrest of suspected kidney trafficker, Michael Daley, New York Daily News, July 24, 2009
- The Brian Lehrer Show, Illegal Organ Trafficking, Friday, July 24, 2009
- Israeli Organ Trafficking and Theft: From Moldova to Palestine by Alison Weir, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2009, Pages 15-17.
- Media Release 2007
- UC Berkeley, Anthropology Faculty: Nancy Scheper-Hughes
- Nancy Scheper-Hughes awarded the first Berkeley William Sloan Coffin Jr. Award
- Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland (1979)
- Death without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday life in Brazil (1993)