James D. Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science
Didier Fassin is an anthropologist and a sociologist. Initially trained as a physician at Paris University Pierre et Marie Curie, he practiced internal medicine and taught public health at the Hospital of La Pitié Salpétrière, before turning to the social sciences. Having completed a Master’s degree at La Sorbonne and a PhD at EHESS, the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, he became Professor at the University of Paris North and later Director of Studies at EHESS, a position he still holds. At CNRS, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, he was the founding director of IRIS, the Interdisciplinary Research Institute in Social Sciences. In 2009, he was appointed at the Institute for Advanced Study as the James D. Wolfensohn Professor. In 2019, he was elected to the Annual Chair in Public Health at the Collège de France, where his inaugural Lecture was titled “The Inequality of Lives.”
At the crossroads of two disciplines, he initially conducted studies in medical anthropology, focusing on issues of power and inequalities, successively in Senegal, Ecuador and France. 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. A former vice-president of Médecins Sans Frontières, he launched a scientific program on humanitarianism 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.
Laureate of the program Ideas of the European Research Council, he developed an approach to political and moral anthropology which he put to work through a ten-year ethnography of the French state, conducting fieldwork on police, justice and prison. His most recent inquiry is a critical engagement with philosophical approaches to punishment, which was the matter of his Tanner Lectures on Human Values at the University of California, Berkeley, and to life, which was the topic of his Adorno Lectures, at the Goethe University of Frankfurt. Occasionally writing for newspapers and news magazines and participating in radio and television programs on issues related to his research, he 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 Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The Nomis Distinguished Scientist Award he has been granted will allow him to conduct a multi-sited research exploring the ubiquitous notion of crisis and its multiple meanings from a global perspective.