Sean T. Mitchell

Sean T. Mitchell


seantm [at]



Office Location

Hill Hall 631

I am a cultural anthropologist. My ethnographically-based work focuses on the politics of inequality, particularly in Brazil. My work also touches on science and technology studies; race and ethnicity; war and violence; governance and citizenship; social movements; and the politics of expertise. My major research and writing projects include:

Constellations of Inequality

Constellations of Inequality: Space, Race, and Utopia in Brazil was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2017 and received the 2018 Sergio Buarque de Holanda Social Science Book Prize from the Latin American Studies Association Brazil Section. The book is an ethnographic study of the three-and-a-half-decade-old strife surrounding Brazil’s spaceport. The site stands at the center of competing projects of social and material transformation, each aimed at redressing inequality, though on very different scales, and in very different ways. The spaceport was conceived as part of a project to make Brazil a world technomilitary power. It is today populated by two Brazilian space programs and by differing projects for a space program that might confront global political and economic inequalities. Another project is concerned not with international inequalities, but Brazil’s internal inequalities of class and race. Mobilizing as escaped-slave descendants (quilombolas), villagers (and their allies) aim to resist the expansion of the spaceport and to win the villagers rights of wellbeing and citizenship long denied them. Through this case, Constellations of Inequality analyses Brazil’s changing politics of inequality and advances an ethnographic approach to understanding the relationships between inequality and politics at multiple scales.

Mobility, Precarity, and Politics in Urban Brazil​

With two colleagues, I recently completed data collection on a collaborative long-term research project, supported by the National Science Foundation.  The research investigates changing class relations in Brazilian cities and how they are impacting political subjectivity and action.  The project began as an examination of political-subjectivity among Brazil’s so-called “new middle class”—the estimated 40 million people who, against the backdrop of economic growth, rising wages, and redistributive social-welfare policies, exited official poverty classifications between 2000 and 2013. In recent years, matters have turned for the worse for much of this population, as Brazil has been beset by economic contraction, austerity policies, and the rise of far-right politics. While this is not the situation my colleagues and I imagined when we conceived this project, Brazil’s current situation of tumult and economic decline for the “new middle class” provides an important site for this study on the relation between political subjectivity and class. The first publication to emerge from this project, "Naming Brazil’s Previously Poor: 'New Middle Class' as an Economic, Political, and Experiential Category." (co-authored with Charles Klein and Benjamin Junge), was awarded the 2019 Sergio Buarque de Holanda Social Science Article Prize from the Latin American Studies Association Brazil Section

Anthropology and War

I have also worked on issues of war, violence, and on developing anthropological approaches to global politics. My co-edited volume, Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency (University of Chicago Press, 2010), stems from this work.  It contains essays that explore the historical and contemporary relationships between anthropology and war.  As a whole, the volume offers an anthropological analysis of war-making, violence, and power in the era of the so-called "War on Terror."

Courses Taught

  • Economic Anthropology
  • Anthropological Theory and Methods
  • Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
  • Peoples and Cultures of Latin America
  • Anthropology of Inequality
  • Urban Ethnography
  • Anthropology Seminar: Political Anthropology
  • Graduate Seminar: Ethnographic Methods
  • Graduate Seminar: Contemporary Social Theory
  • Graduate Seminar: Urban Theory and the Contemporary City
  • Graduate Seminar: Peace, Conflict, Security and Development

  • Honors Seminar: Anthropology and Politics
  • Honors Seminar: Technology, Politics, and Society


Selected Recent Awards


Ph.D. Anthropology, University of Chicago.
B.A. Philosophy, Rutgers University.



Edited Journal Issues

Articles and Chapters

Review Essays


Selected Other Publications

Selected Lectures, Interviews, and Media Appearances

Associated Programs

  • Core faculty member, Graduate Program in Peace and Conflict Studies.
  • Core faculty member, Graduate Program in Global Urban Studies.
  • Affiliate faculty member, Department of African American and African Studies.
  • Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights.
  • International Institute for Peace.