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Kenneth MacLeish

Associate Professor of Medicine, Health, and Society
Associate Professor of Anthropology


Office Hours

Tuesdays, 11:00am-12:00pm, Wednesdays, 12:00pm-1:00pm



PhD, University of Texas Austin


Ken MacLeish, PhD, is an associate professor of Medicine, Health & Society and Anthropology. His research focuses on bodily and emotional experiences of contemporary war; the emergence and contestation of war-related injury categories, from mental illness to toxic exposure; and the framing of “disorderly” military life in policy, veteran care practices, and American public culture. His scholarship has appeared in the journals Medical AnthropologyBioSocietiesHistory of the Human Sciences, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Critical Military Studies, and Ethnos. He is the author of the award-winning Making War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community (Princeton University Press, 2013), explores how the biopolitics of contemporary war-making take shape in the everyday and intimate lives of the servicemembers, veterans, families, and care providers whose labor produces post-9/11 US wars. His new book, Veteran Disorder: On Care and Ex-Military Life in a Veteran Treatment Court (Princeton University Press), centers the experiences of veterans in the criminal justice system and shows how structural forces intersect with lay and medical ideas about normalcy to shape veteran lives, especially when veterans themselves become figured as sources of social disorder. MacLeish’s work also examines the globalization of psychiatric knowledge, the medicalization of mass shootings, and environmental health and infrastructure.

MacLeish teaches  classes on medical anthropology, health politics, war and embodiment, trauma and memory, housing and the culture of home, and research methods. He is a member of the interdisciplinary Somatosphere editorial collective and a former chair of the Vanderbilt University Press editorial committee.


  • Cultural and medical anthropology
  • War, psychiatry, and military biopolitics
  • Trauma and affect
  • Contested illness and toxicity

Current Projects

  • Veteran Disorder is an ethnographic monograph examining the complex everyday pressures and structural underpinnings of post-military life for veterans in a military community in the US south. Centered on a veteran treatment court—a local civilian court in which veterans charged with minor offenses can forego jail time by participating in a supervised therapeutic program—the book traces ethnographically grounded ideas about care, violence, intimacy, and the good life through individual veterans’ and veteran advocates’ narratives and trajectories.
  • The Global Psyche is a collaborative project with fellow faculty member Prof. Dominique Béhague that brings together cutting-edge anthropological engagements with the globalization, adaptation, and refusal of psychiatric knowledge. Beginning with a competitively funded 2017 workshop hosted at Vanderbilt, the project has now taken the form of linked special issues of the journals Medical Anthropology Quarterly and Theory, Culture & Society collecting globally diverse, cutting-edge scholarly work on this topic.
  • Burn Pits: Illness and the Toxic Infrastructure of War is a collaboration with Prof. Zoë Wool (Department of Anthropology, Rice University) and a team of undergraduate researchers at Vanderbilt examining the experiences of veterans and workers exposed to the fumes from burning waste disposal pits on US installations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Exposees, along with their advocates and survivors, confront ambiguous diagnostic status, patchy environmental data, and bureaucratic reticence in their search for official recognition and compensation, and the practice of burning war zone waste raises fundamental questions about the nature of war-related violence and injury.

Representative Publications

  • 2019    Damaged and Deserving: On Care in a Veteran Treatment Court. Medical Anthropology. Forthcoming.
  • 2019    How To Feel About War: On the politics of military psyches in the age of counterinsurgency. Biosocieties 14(2): 272-99.
  • 2018    (with Zoë Wool) US Military Burn Pits and the Politics of Health. Critical Care blog, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, August 1.
  • 2018    On “Moral Injury”: wounds, politics and personhood in US military behavioral health. Journal of the History of the Human Sciences 31(2):128-146.
  • 2018    Drive Carefully. In American Interiors, by Matt Casteel. Pp.91-95. London: Dewi Lewis.