Department Chair:
Erika Hoffmann-Dilloway, Chair

Administrative Assistant:
Judi Davidson

Department Email:

Phone: (440) 775-8970
Fax: (440) 775-8644

King Building 305
10 N. Professor St.
Oberlin, OH, 44074-1019

Office Hours: 730-400

Crystal Biruk

Crystal Biruk

Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Contact Information


King Building 320B
(440) 775-5662

Personal Office Hours:
Or by Appointment

Crystal Biruk

Educational Background

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

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

I am working on a book (The Marketplace of Expertise: The Production and Circulation of AIDS Knowledge in Malawi) that explores how the commodification of health-related data in the global health 'marketplace of expertise' reconfigures local social worlds, producing new political subjectivities and modes of governance. I analyze, for example, the consequences and contradictions of accumulative “giving and taking”—of information, blood tests, informed consent, and so on—in survey research encounters between “insiders” and “outsiders” in Malawi. I also show how research projects that return to Malawi to collect data year after year become important sites of social mobility for the young Malawians they hire as fieldwork supervisors and data collectors. 

I am engaged in a second project 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. Alongside this project, I am working with a local NGO to produce a book of Malawian lesbian life histories. 

Finally, joining other scholars who have illustrated the political and social functions of "African homophobia," I am interested in how homophobia in Malawi is a discourse through which individuals and groups negotiate questions of redistribution, autonomy, governance, and economic dependency. 

At Oberlin, I teach: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Empires of Science, Culture Theory, and Medical Anthropology. In Spring 2015, I will be teaching a seminar titled The Anthropology of Good Intentions. Teaching interests include, generally, global health, humanitarianism, science studies, Africa, and global sexualities. 
I grew up in New Jersey, but I’ve spent most of the past decade in Philadelphia and Malawi. I enjoy running, marine life, and airport ethnography.