• Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Contact

Education

  • Bachelor of Arts, Bryn Mawr College, 2003
  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania, 2011

Biography

My research centers on the ethics and politics of intervention in the global South. I take interest in how the growing presence of humanitarian, development, and scientific projects in sub-Saharan Africa reconfigures local social geographies, producing new kinds of status, mobility, expertise, and exclusions.

My book (forthcoming with Duke University Press, 2018), titled Cooking Data: Culture and Politics in an African Research World, is an ethnography of the production of quantitative data by survey projects in Africa. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Malawi with demographic projects in sites ranging from questionnaire design meetings, trainings for data collectors, fieldworker-led data collection in the field, and policy venues, Cooking Data presents a fine-grained analysis of data’s handling by diverse actors to critically examine the criteria and metrics that help numbers in the era of global health attain their legitimacy. The chapters illustrate how on-the-ground dynamics and practices of research cultures mediate the production of numbers. Throughout, the book foregrounds how quantitative data and their social worlds are co-produced and demonstrates the consequences for local economies, formulations of expertise, and lived experience. Cooking Data contends that the lives of data and the lives of those who produce it are impossible to disentangle; data reflect and cohere new social relations, persons, forms of expertise, and expectations. Research for the book project was funded by NSF, Wenner Gren, and SSRC dissertation fieldwork grants.

I am beginning a second book project, tentatively titled “Gay for Pay:” The Labor of LGBT vulnerability in African NGO worlds, that takes interest in the emergence of same-sex identities and activism in Malawi, with particular focus on how 'lesbians' and 'gays' in Malawi come to occupy, perform, and know their vulnerability in the context of transnationally circulating LGBT-rights frames and language amid the AIDS epidemic. This project has been awarded a Wenner Gren Postdoctoral research grant to fund fieldwork in 2017-18. Alongside this project, I am also working with a Malawian NGO to create an archive and ethnographic history of LGBT identities and activism in Malawi.

At Oberlin, I teach Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Culture Theory, Medical Anthropology, Empire and Science, and a seminar titled The Anthropology of Good Intentions. Teaching interests include, generally, global health, humanitarianism, science studies, Africa, and global sexualities. I have also taught courses at Penn, Brown, Haverford, and the University of Malawi.

I have a PhD in Anthropology (concentration in African Studies) from University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Anthropology from Bryn Mawr College. In 2011-12, I held a postdoctoral research fellowship at Brown University's Pembroke Center.

I enjoy travel, running, marine life, and learning about medicinal herbs.

Selected Publications

Cooking Data: Culture and Politics in an African Research World (forthcoming with Duke University Press, 2018)

Biruk, Crystal. 2017. “Ethical gifts?: An analysis of soap-for-information transactions in Malawian survey research worlds.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly.

Biruk, Crystal and Khosi Xaba, eds. 2017. Proudly Malawian: Life Stories of Lesbian and Gender Non-Conforming Women in Malawi. Johannesburg, South Africa: MaThoko’s Books.

Biruk, Crystal. 2016. “Studying up in critical NGO studies today: Reflections on critique and the distribution of interpretive labour.” Critical African Studies 8(3):291-305.

Biruk, Crystal. 2014. “Aid for gays: The material and the moral in African ‘homophobia’ in post-2009 Malawi.” Journal of Modern African Studies 52(3):447-473.

Biruk, Crystal. 2014. “Ebola and emergency anthropology: The view from the global health slot.” Somatosphere. Available at http://somatosphere.net/2014/10/ebola-and-emergency-anthropology-the-view-from-the-global-health-slot.html.

Biruk, Crystal. 2012. “Seeing like a research project: Producing high quality data in AIDS research in Malawi.” Medical Anthropology 31(4):347-366.

Faculty Notes

  • Crystal Biruk Publishes

    June 7, 2017
    Assistant Professor of Anthropology Cal Biruk published Proudly Malawian: Life Stories from Lesbians and Gender Non-Conforming Individuals, which was co-edited with Makhosazana Xaba and published by Ma'Thoko's Books. Biruk also authored "Ethical gifts?": An analysis of soap-for-data transactions in Malawian research worlds" in Medical Anthropology Quarterly and co-authored with Gift Trapence "'Gay for Pay' in an Economy of Harms: Reflections from an LGBTI Rights NGO in Malawi" in Anthropology News.
  • Crystal Biruk Presents

    April 5, 2017

    Assistant Professor of Anthropology Crystal (Cal) Biruk presented a paper on March 31, 2017 at the American Ethnological Society's meetings at Stanford University.

  • Crystal Biruk Delivers Lecture

    April 5, 2017

    Assistant Professor of Anthropology Crystal (Cal) Biruk delivered an invited lecture on their forthcoming book, Cooking Data: Culture and Politics in an African Research World on April 2, 2017 at University of Cincinnati's Taft Research Center.

  • Crystal Biruk Gives Lecture

    February 24, 2017

    Crystal Biruk, assistant professor of anthropology, delivered an invited lecture on her forthcoming book Cooking Data: Culture and Politics in an African Research World at Oxford College of Emory University on February 16, 2017.

  • Crystal Biruk Gives Lecture on Forthcoming Book

    December 16, 2016

    Crystal (Cal) Biruk, assistant professor of anthropology, gave an invited lecture on the forthcoming book Cooking Data: Culture and Politics in an African Research World to the University of Virginia Anthropology Department on October 21, 2016.

  • Crystal Biruk Publishes Article in Critical African Studies

    December 12, 2016

    Crystal (Cal) Biruk, assistant professor of anthropology, published an article in Critical African Studies titled "Studying up in Critical NGO Studies Today: Reflections on Critique and the Distribution of Interpretive Labor."

  • Crystal Biruk Participates in Roundtable

    June 15, 2016

    Assistant Professor of Anthropology Crystal Biruk participated in an invited roundtable on Global Health Trials and Technologies at the joint African Studies Association and American Anthropological Association conference Innovation, Transformation, and Sustainable Futures in Africa held June 1-4 in Dakar, Senegal.

  • Crystal Biruk Presents

    May 17, 2016

    Assistant Professor of Anthropology Crystal Biruk presented the paper "Raw Data and its para-publics in survey worlds in Malawi" at the Biennial meetings of the Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA) in Ithaca, New York, May 13-14.

  • Crystal Biruk Gives Invited Talk

    May 4, 2016

    Assistant Professor of Anthropology Crystal Biruk gave an invited talk on her book project Cooking Data: Culture and Politics in an African Research World on May 4 at Northwestern University's program on African studies.

  • Crystal Biruk Gives Invited Lecture

    April 18, 2016

    Assistant Professor of Anthropology Crystal Biruk gave an invited lecture at a workshop on health and science in the African world on April 15 at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

  • Crystal Biruk Gives Invited Lecture

    March 30, 2016

    Assistant Professor of Anthropology Crystal Biruk delivered an invited lecture to Johns Hopkins University's Critical Global Health Seminar on March 22.

  • Crystal Biruk Gives Invited Lecture

    February 29, 2016

    Assistant Professor of Anthropology Crystal Biruk gave an invited lecture on February 26 at Yale University's Symposium on Gender and Sexuality in Africa.

  • Crystal Biruk Presents Paper

    November 24, 2015

    Crystal Biruk, assistant professor of anthropology, presented her paper "Fixed categories, liminal selves: Becoming "MSM" and "WSW" in Malawi" at the American Anthropological Association Meetings in Denver, Colorado (November 18-22).

  • Crystal Biruk Awarded Grant

    October 22, 2015

    Crystal Biruk, assistant professor of anthropology, was awarded a Wenner-Gren Foundation postdoctoral research grant to fund research in Malawi and South Africa.

  • Crystal Biruk Presents Chapter

    June 25, 2015

    Crystal Biruk, assistant professor of anthropology, presented a chapter of her book in progress at Dreaming of Health and Science in Africa: Aesthetics, Affects, Poetics, and Politics, a conference convened at the Wellcome Trust Conference Center in Cambridgeshire, UK, June 13-15.

  • Crystal Biruk Delivers Invited Lecture

    May 5, 2015

    Crystal Biruk, assistant professor of anthropology, delivered an invited lecture titled "Cooking and Cleaning Data: Embodied Enumeration in a Malawian Research World" on April 30 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies.

  • Crystal Biruk Presents Paper

    March 9, 2015

    Crystal Biruk, assistant professor of anthropology, presented a paper at the Africanizing Technology Conference at Wesleyan University on March 6. The paper was titled "Standards and gifts: Soap as improvisational technology in Malawian survey research worlds."

  • Crystal Biruk Gives Talk at Council on African Studies

    January 26, 2015

    Crystal Biruk, assistant professor of anthropology, delivered an invited talk at Yale University's Council on African Studies in January. The talk was titled "Cooking Data: Culture and Politics in a Malawian Research World."