Adriana Petryna

Professor of Anthropology; Director, MD-PhD Program in Anthropology

University Museum Room 334


Adriana Petryna is Professor in Anthropology and directs the MD-PhD program in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. In her ethnographic studies in Eastern Europe and the United States, she probes the socio-political natures of science, how populations are enrolled in experimental knowledge-production, and what becomes of citizenship and ethics in that process. She is the author of the award-winning books, including Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl and When Experiments Travel: Clinical Trials and the Global Search for Human Subjects, and is co-editor of Global Pharmaceuticals: Ethics, Markets, Practices and When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health. Petryna’s concepts of biological citizenship, ethical variability, and experimentality have advanced the critical social scientific study of environmental disasters, biomedical research and equity, and global health. Her new book, Horizon Work: At the Edges of Knowledge in an Age of Runaway Climate Change, examines the climate crisis through the lens of “horizoning,” a mode of reckoning that considers unnatural disasters against horizons of expectation in which people and societies can still act. She focuses on experiments probing planetary points of no return as well as the stories of wildland firefighters, for whom trust in patterns becomes an occupational hazard. A Guggenheim Fellow, Petryna’s research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the School for Advanced Research. She was a Member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study and a Faculty Fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values. At Penn, Dr. Petryna also directs the undergraduate concentration in Medical Anthropology and Global Health.




Ph.D. Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley; M.A. Anthropology & M.Arch., University of California, Berkeley; B.S. Architecture, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.


Selected Publications

Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl (Princeton University Press, 2002. Tenth Anniversary paperback edition with a New Introduction, 2013).

  • Sharon Stephens First Book Prize, American Ethnological Society, American Anthropological Association, 2003 
  • New Millennium Book Award, Society for Medical Anthropology, 2006 
  • The Wellcome Medal for Anthropology as Applied to Medical Problems, Royal Anthropological Institute, 2014

Global Pharmaceuticals: Ethics, Markets, Practices, Edited by Adriana Petryna, Andrew Lakoff, Arthur Kleinman (Duke University Press, 2006).

When Experiments Travel: Clinical Trials And The Global Search For Human Subject (Princeton University Press, 2009).

  • Diana Forsythe Prize, Honorable Mention, Society for the Anthropology of Work and the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing, American Anthropological Association, 2014

When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health, Edited by João Biehl & Adriana Petryna (Princeton University Press, 2013).  

  • See the When People Come First website here.
  • Read a review of When People Come First here.

Horizon Work: At the Edges of Knowledge in an Age of Runaway Climate Change (Princeton University Press, 2022).

  • Diana Forsythe Prize, Society for the Anthropology of Work and the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing, American Anthropological Association, 2022.


Selected Essays

“De-occupation as Planetary Politics: On the Russian War in Ukraine.” American Ethnologist, Jan 27, 2023:1–9.

Autocracy and Planetary Harm.” October 28, 2022. piauí/Folha de S.Paulo

Wildfires have changed, firefighting hasn’t.” July 10, 2022. LA Times.

"What Russia Is Stirring Up at Chernobyl." March 2, 2022. The Atlantic.

"The COVID Horizon: An Introduction." co-authored with Sara Rendell. Medicine Anthropology Theory 8(1), 1-7. April 23, 2021.

"Wildfires at the Edges of Science: Horizoning Work amid Runaway Change," 2018, Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 33, Issue 4, pp. 570-595.

"Searches for Livability: An Interview with Adriana Petryna," Cultural Anthropology. Feb 6, 2019. Interview by Pablo Seward Delaporte and Sonia A. P. Grant (supplement to research article "Wildfires at the Edges of Science: Horizoning Work amid Runaway Change," published in Cultural Anthropology in November 2018).

"On the Nature of Catastrophic Forms" with Paul W. Mitchell. BioSocieties. 2017. 2(3):343-366.

What is a Horizon? Navigating Thresholds in Climate Change Uncertainty,” Modes of Uncertainty: Anthropological Cases. P. Rabinow and L. Samimian-Darash, eds. Chicago University Press. 2015:147-164.

"Risks of Citizenship and Fault Lines of Survival" with K. Follis. Annual Review of Anthropology. 2015. 44:401-417.

How Did They Survive?” New Introduction for Tenth Anniversary paperback edition of Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013:1-19.

"Peopling Global Health" (with J. Biehl), Revista Saúde e Sociedade. 2014. 23 (2):376-389.

"The Right of Recovery," Current Anthropology (based on Wenner-Gren Symposium, The Anthropology of Potentiality). 2013, 54(S7):S67-S76.

"The Origins of ExtinctionLimn, 2013:50-53.

Paradigms of Expected Failure,” Dialectical Anthropology, 2010, 34:57–65.

"Ethical Variability: Drug Development and the Globalization of Clinical Trials.” American Ethnologist, 2005, 32(2):183-197. 

"Clinical Trials Offshored: On Private Sector Science and Public Health." BioSocieties, 2007, 2:21-40.

"Biological Citizenship: The Science and Politics of Chernobyl-Exposed Populations." Osiris, 2004, 19: 250-265.

"Chernobyl's Survivors: Paralyzed by Fatalism or Overlooked by Science?" Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. March/April 2011 67: 30-37.

Nuclear Payouts: Knowledge and Compensation in the Chernobyl Aftermath,” Anthropology Now, 2009, 1(2):30-40.

Read an interview with Dr. Adriana Petryna about When Experiments Travel

Read an interview with Dr. Adriana Petryna about Chernobyl and the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident

Read about "Philly as lab, classroom, and collaborator"

Read about the MD-PhD Program in Anthropology


Recently Taught Courses


Introduction to Medical Anthropology; Cultures of Science and Technology; Local Biologies: Interactions between Biological and Cultural Systems; Pharmaceuticals and Global Health; Global Health: Anthropological Perspectives; Anthropology of the Environment


Planetary Health; Advanced Topics in Science and Technology; Theory in Contemporary Ethnography; Cultures of Medicine: Care at the Limits of Life and Death; Rethinking Healing; Contemporary Approaches to the Study of Culture and Society; Formations of the Public


Courses Taught

Courses Taught:

ANTH2060 Cultures of Science and Technology

ANTH1238 Introduction to Medical Anthropology

ANTH5540 Truth, Politics, Ethics: Anthropological Cases

ANTH6010 Contemporary Approaches to the Study of Culture and Society

ANTH2730 Global Health: Anthropological Perspectives

ANTH3429 Anthropology of the Environment


Anthropology Department Faculty; Faculty Mentor and Associate, Penn Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP); Faculty Associate, History and Sociology of Science; Faculty Advisor, Penn Program in Environmental Humanities; Affiliated Faculty, Russian and East European Studies; Director, MD-PhD Program Anthropology.




Faculty Status