Paul Brodwin



PhD, Anthropology, Harvard University, 1991

Other Activities

Adjunct Professor, Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, Medical College of Wisconsin

Courses Taught

Anthro 104 - Introduction to Anthropology
Anthro 440 - Medical Anthropology
Anthro 445 - Psychological Anthropology
Anthro 460 - Anthropological Theory
Anthro 560 - Introduction to Research Methods in Anthropology


I am a broadly trained medical anthropologist with research experience in the US (community psychiatry, human population genetics, and chronic pain) and internationally (religion and healing in Haiti and the French West Indies). My fieldwork has been supported by the National Science Foundation, National Human Genome Research Institute (an R01 grant), National Institute of Mental Health, Fulbright Foundation, and the Wenner-Gren Fund for Anthropological Research. For over two decades I have studied the ethical dimension of health care chiefly from the standpoint of front-line professionals. My published ethnographies explore how local moral orders are produced and disrupted in the face-to-face encounters of clinical work. What ordinary people say about ethics illustrates on-going debates about the meaning, and proper limits, of care.

My recent book, Everyday Ethics: Voices from the Front Lines of Community Psychiatry (University of California Press 2013), explores the moral lives of mental health clinicians serving the most marginalized individuals in the US healthcare system. Drawing on fieldwork in a psychiatric case management team, the book traces the ethical dilemmas and everyday struggles of front line providers. On the street, in staff room debates, or in private confessions, these psychiatrists and social workers confront ongoing challenges to their self-image as competent and compassionate advocates. This in-depth study exposes the fault lines in today's community psychiatry. It shows how people working deep inside the system struggle to maintain their ideals and manage a chronic sense of futility. The experiences of these clinicians pose a single overarching question: how should we bear responsibility for the most vulnerable among us?

The needs of people with severe psychiatric symptoms and profound social marginality call for more resources and greater moral imagination. My research is devoted to answering this call, and my current fieldwork addresses mental health reform, particularly some promising programs to reduce the number of severely ill people in jails and prisons. This project also addresses the anthropology of care and the on-going dialogue between bioethics and qualitative social science.

Other Relevant Activities


  • Co-editor of a book series at New York University Press: Anthropologies of American Medicine: Culture, Power and Practice
  • Editorial board member: Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry and AQ: Anthropological Quarterly
  • Consultant in qualitative methods, Center for AIDS Intervention Research, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Medical College of Wisconsin


  • Board of Directors member, Grand Avenue Club (psychosocial rehabilitation center)
  • Steering Committee member, MC3: Milwaukee Co-occurring Competency Cadre (coalition of mental health and substance abuse services providers)
  • Participant, Milwaukee Mental Health Task Force (advocacy group for equity, access, and services for people with lived experience of severe mental illness)


  • Advisory board, Certificate Program in Global Health

Selected Publications

Brodwin, P. E.(2017) Commentary: Technologies of the Self and Ethnographic Praxis.Zhang, L. (Ed). Medical Anthropology Cross-Cultural Studies in Health and Illness, Taylor and Francis, 36(1), 77-82.
Brodwin, P. E.(2016) Justice, Respect, and Recognition in Mental Health Services: Theoretical and Testimonial Accounts.Rivkin-Fish, M. (Ed). Understanding Health Inequalities and Justice: New Conversations Across the Disciplines, 185-209. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
Brodwin, P. E., & Velpry, L. (2014) Introduction: The Practice of Constraint in Psychiatry: Emergent Forms of Care and Control.Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry/Springer, 38(4), 524-526.
Brodwin, P. E.(2014) The Ethics of Ambivalence and the Practice of Constraint in US Psychiatry.Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 38(4), 527-549.
Brodwin, P. E.(2013) Everyday Ethics: Voices from the Front Line of Community Psychiatry.Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Brodwin, P. E.(2011) Futility in the practice of community psychiatry.Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 25(2), 189-208.
Brodwin, P. E.(2010) The Assemblage of Compliance in Psychiatric Case Management.Anthropology and Medicine, 17(2), 129-143.
Brodwin, P. E.(2008) The Coproduction of Moral Discourse in U.S. Community Psychiatry.Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 22(2), 127-147.
Brodwin, P. E.(2005) “Bioethics in Action” and Human Population Genetics Research.Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 29(2), 145-178.
Brodwin, P. E.(1997) Politics, practical logic, and health development in rural Hait.Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 11(1), 69-88.