Didier Fassin, NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Awardee 2018

Didier Fassin is an anthropologist and sociologist whose work in medical anthropology has illuminated important issues about the AIDS epidemic, social inequalities in health and the changing landscape of global health. Initially trained as a physician, he practiced internal medicine and taught public health before turning to the social sciences. Having completed a Master’s degree at La Sorbonne and a PhD at École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, or EHESS), he eventually became professor at the University of Paris North and director of studies at EHESS, a position he still holds. He was the founding director of the Interdisciplinary Research Institute in Social Sciences (IRIS) at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris. In 2009, he was appointed the James D. Wolfensohn Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, United States.

Fassin initially conducted studies in medical anthropology, focusing on issues of power and inequality. His research on the politics and experiences of AIDS in South Africa led him to develop the conceptual framework of the embodiment of history to account for the reproduction of social disparities and the production of heterodox interpretations of the epidemic. He launched a scientific program on global interventionism in various international contexts of conflicts and disasters, analyzing the implications of speaking of injustice as suffering, violence as trauma and resistance as resilience. He also investigated immigration and asylum policies as part of a collective project on borders and boundaries supported by the French National Agency for Research.

His approach to political and moral anthropology was implemented in a 10-year ethnography of the French state, conducting fieldwork on police, justice and prison, and developing the field of critical moral anthropology. His most recent inquiry is a critical engagement with philosophical approaches to punishment and to life. Fassin developed a theoretical reflection on the public presence of the social sciences, which he presented in his recipient lecture for the Gold Medal in anthropology at the Swedish Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award is enabling Fassin to implement the project Crisis: A Global Inquiry into the Contemporary Moment. The research will examine the ubiquity, in today’s world, of the notion of crisis, which has been applied to most domains of human life — social, economic, political, moral and cognitive. It will analyze how this pervasive presence of the language of crisis signals something about the present that is both objectively identifiable and subjectively experienced. It will explore, through a multi-sited study conducted on five continents and mobilizing different disciplines, the multiplicity of the forms of, and responses to, crises. This inquiry will thus be used as a way to push further the frontiers of the social sciences, both geographically, through an opening toward a global perspective, and epistemologically, through the encounter with neighboring fields.

For more information about Didier Fassin and his work, please see his faculty profile.