Arthur Kleinman: "Anthropology’s Critique and Defense of Humanitarianism"

Departmental Seminar Series features Arthur Kleinman,  Professor of Anthropology and Psychiatry at Harvard University.

The seminar is followed by informal gathering, at which refreshments are served. All are welcome!


Social inquiry was originally committed to building knowledge and practices to improve the lives of people who experience social suffering. But the approach to the study of society changed: some argued that it should be undertaken for the production of knowledge for its own sake and that its practitioners should operate from a position of moral detachment. The lecture will provide a critical commentary on how studies of human social life have moved from an original concern with social suffering to dispassionate inquiries and argues for an engaged social science that connects critical thought with social action and caregiving and that operates with a commitment to establish and sustain humane forms of society. Indeed, the ethnography of care can be a form of producing knowledge that is useful to the people studied and for the ethnographer’s own emotional and moral development. That contribution when it happens at the level of a community or society is what Hannah Arendt called social care. By making these points this talk will include a critique of the anthropological critique of humanitarianism.

Research profil

Arthur Kleinman is the Esther and Sidney Rabb Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology, Professor of Medical anthropology in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Physician and anthropologist Arthur Kleinman is now in his 39th year at Harvard. A graduate of Stanford University and Stanford Medical School, with a master’s degree in social anthropology from Harvard and trained in psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Kleinman is a leading figure in several fields, including medical anthropology, cultural psychiatry, global health, social medicine, and medical humanities.

Since 1968, Kleinman has conducted research in Chinese society, on the emotional and moral lives of people as they adjust to the challenges of modernity. His current collaborative projects include a comparative study of eldercare for dementia in six Asian settings; an ethnographic study of trust in the doctor-patient relationship in China; planning for a major meeting on global mental health services delivery; and development of Southeast Asia studies at Harvard.

Kleinman’s numerous publications have included works on social suffering, mental health, stigma, moral experience, and caregiving. He has published six single authored books: “Patients and Healers in the Context of Culture”, “Social Origins of Distress and Disease: Depression, Neurasthenia and Pain in Modern China”, “Rethinking Psychiatry”, “The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, And The Human Condition”,  “Writing at the Margin”, and “What Really Matters”. Publications

Published Dec. 14, 2018 10:04 AM - Last modified Aug. 8, 2019 3:37 PM