Philippe Bourgois



Philippe Bourgois is a medical anthropologist best known for his ethnographic research with drug abusers. He is professor of Anthropology and Family and Community Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. His research encompasses medical anthropology, cultural production, political economy, urban anthropology, substance abuse, HIV prevention, violence, ethnography, ethnicity and immigration, and inner city social suffering. He has devoted much of his research to the prevalence of violence and diseases among homeless drug abusers in San Francisco (University of Pennsylvania Almanac 2007).

Research and work

Philippe Bourgois conducted fieldwork in various places. His early research in Central America (Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Belize) addressed political mobilization of ethnicity, immigration and labor relations, political violence, popular resistance, and the social dislocation of street children. For instance, Bourgois conducted research in Nicaragua during which he investigated the Nicaraguan government policies consequences on minority population like the Miskitu (Bourgois 1986). He explored the ethnic hierarchy of two Amerindian communities, the Kuna and Guaymi, working in a United Fruit Company banana plantation in Central America. Bourgois also investigated the political violence among revolutionary peasants in El Salvador during the 1980s.
His research in the United States confronts inner-city social suffering and critiques the political economy and cultural contours of U.S. apartheid. He conducted ethnographic analyses of the processes that render undocumented Latino immigrants structurally vulnerable to ill health and how undocumented day laborers' social context affects their risk for occupational injury, and the ways in which these workers' social context influences their experience of disability. He is also addressing gender power relations, and the intersections between structural and intimate violence in research during which he investigated the development and maintenance of heterosexual couples' intimacy when the male partner is incarcerated. He wrote about the experience of poverty and ethnic segregation in Harlem, New York.
His most recent work focuses on substance abuse, violence, homelessness, and HIV-prevention that he transcribed in his book Righteous Dopefiend (2009)( Bourgois conducted participant observation among homeless heroin injectors, and illustrated how background Street-based heroin injectors represent an especially vulnerable population group subject to negative health outcomes and social stigma. He also gave an ethnographic perspective on the ways street-based heroin addicts experience methadone that reveals the quagmire of power relations that shape drug treatment in the United States. In another study, he examined the reasons for the high incidence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection among young injection drug users.
Bourgois’s work illustrates how ethnographers should rise to the intellectual and political challenge of understanding and adequately representing social problems in urban life.


Philippe Bourgois was born in 1956. He is currently a Perry University Professor of Anthropology and Family and Community Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Bourgois received a bachelor's degree in Social Studies from Harvard College in 1978. He was awarded a master's degree in Development Economics (1980) and a Ph.D. in Anthropology (1985) from Stanford University. He spent a year as a postdoctoral fellow at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris in 1985-1986.
He has occupied different teaching and research positions. From 1998 to 2007 he was Professor and Vice-Chair at the department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine at the University of California. From 2003 to 2004 he worked at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. He was Professor at San Francisco State University from 1988 to 1998, and professor at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Costa Rica, Heredia. He was an assistant Professor at the Department of Anthropology at Washington University, Saint Louis, between 1985 and 1988. From 1979 to 1984 he occupied a research position in Nicaragua.
In 2008, he received the Virchow Award from the Society of Critical Medical Anthropology for his book In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. In 1998, he obtained the Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology. He obtained many other awards: Victor Turner Award for Ethnographic Writing, the Anthony Leeds Prize, the Robert Park Award, and the Association of American Publishers Scholarly Publishing Division prize in 1996.

Major Publication


2009 Righteous Dopefiend. Berkeley: University of California Press.
2003 In search of respect: selling crack in El Barrio. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
1989 Ethnicity at work: divided labor on a Central American banana plantation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.


2010 Recognizing Invisible Violence: A Thirty-Year Ethnographic Retrospective. In Global Health in Times of Violence, Barbara Rylko-Bauer, Linda Whiteford, and Paul Farmer, eds. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press. Pp. 17-40.
2010 Useless Suffering: The War on Homeless Drug Addicts. In The Insecure American: How We Got Here and What We Should Do About It. Hugh Gusterson and Catherine Besteman, eds. Pp 238- 254
2008 The Mystery of Marijuana: Science and the U.S. War on Drugs. Substance Use & Misuse. 43:581-583.
2008 Understanding Illicit Substance Use in the Real World. Medical Education. 42:532. (Ciccarone, Dan, Sharad Jain, and Philippe Bourgois)
2007 Intimate apartheid: ethnic dimensions of habitus among homeless heroin injectors. Ethnography. 8:1:7-32. (Bourgois, Philippe and Jeff Schonberg)
2006 Reinterpreting Ethnic Patterns among White and African American Men Who Inject Heroin: A Social Science of Medicine Approach. PLoS Medicine. 3:10:e452. (Multiple authors)
2005 Missing the Holocaust: My Father's Account of Auschwitz from August 1943 to June 1944. Anthropological Quarterly 78:1:89-123.
2005 Social Structural Production of HIV Among Injection Drug Users. Social Science & Medicine 61:5:1026-1044 . (Third author with Tim Rhodes, Merrill Singer, Samuel Friedman, Steffanie Strathdee).
2004 Everyday Violence and the Gender of Hepatitis C Among Homeless Drug-Injecting Youth in San Francisco. Human Organization . 63:3:253-264. (Multiple authors.)
2004 Masculinity and Undocumented Labor Migration: Injured Latino Day Laborers in San Francisco. Social Science and Medicine . 59:6:1159-1168. (Multiple authors.)
2003 Explaining the Geographic Variation of HIV among Injection Drug Users in the United States. Substance Use and Misuse. 38:14:2049-2063 (Co-authored.)
2003 Crack and the Political Economy of Social Suffering. Addiction Research and Theory . 11:1:31- 37.
2002 Ethnography’s Troubles and the Reproduction of Academic Habitus. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education. 15:4:417-420.
2002 Understanding Inner City Poverty: Resistance and Self-Destruction Under U.S. Apartheid. In Exotic No More: Anthropology on the Front Lines, Jeremy MacClancy, ed. Pp. 15-32. Chicago, Il: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
2002 The Politics of Photographic Aesthetics: Confronting the HIV Epidemic among Heroin Injectors in Russia. International Journal of Drug Policy . 13:387-392. (Co-authored.)
2002 Cross-Methodological and Theoretical Dialogue: Anthropology and Epidemiology on Drugs. International Journal of Drug Policy . 13:259-269.
2002 Social Context of Work Injury among Undocumented Day Laborers in San Francisco. Journal of General Internal Medicine . 17:221-229. (Multiple authors.)
2002 Hepatitis C Virus Seroconversion Among Young Injection Drug Users: Relationships and Risks. Journal of Infectious Diseases. 186:11:1558-64. (Multiple authors)
2001 The Power of Violence in War and Peace: Post-Cold War Lessons from El Salvador. Ethnography 2:1:5-34.
2000 Disciplining Addictions: The Bio-politics of Methadone and Heroin in the United States. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 24:2:165-195.
1998 The Moral Economies of Homeless Heroin Addicts: Confronting Ethnography, HIV Risk and Everyday Violence in San Francisco Shooting Encampments. Substance Use and Misuse 33:11:2323-2351.
1996 Confronting Anthropology, Education, and Inner-City Apartheid. American Anthropologist 98:2:249-258.
1990 Confronting Anthropological Ethics: Lessons From Central America. International Journal of Peace Research 27:1:43-54.
1989 Crack in Spanish Harlem: Culture and Economy in the Inner City. Anthropology Today 5:4:6-11.
1988 Conjugated Oppression: Class and Ethnicity Among Kuna and Guaymi Banana Workers on a Corporate Plantation. American Ethnologist 15:2:328-348.
1986 The Miskitu of Nicaragua: Politicized Ethnicity. Anthropology Today 2:2:4-9.
1981 Class, Ethnicity and the State Among the Miskitu Amerindians of Northeastern Nicaragua. Latin American Perspectives 8:2:22-39.

Online Resources

Philippe Bourgois
University of Pennsylvania