Jessica Cooper

Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow


Jessica Cooper is the Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Anthropology and School of Law at Cornell University and a member of the Society of Cornell Fellows. Working at the intersection of medical, legal, and political anthropology, Jessica’s research and teaching engages questions of poverty, race, and inequality; affect, care, and ethics; madness, psychoanalysis, and critical psychiatry; liberalism, punishment, and the state; critical theory; and ethnographic methods and modes of representation.  Grounded in ethnographic fieldwork at sites of criminal justice reform, public health clinics, and homeless encampments in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jessica's research explores connections between systems of inequality, care, and social justice. Rather than rely on structural explanations for persistent racism and poverty in the United States, Jessica examines how intimate socialities manage to refract, reify, and also refuse coordinates of broader systems of social inequality.  Her first book project, Unaccountable: Surreal Life in California’s Mental Health Courts, reveals the ways in which relationships between criminal justice professionals and their clients unravel state power by inhabiting care as an alternative to the individualizing discourse of liberal responsibility. Drawing on observations of and participation in relationships among staff, clients, and clients' families in mental health courts, Unaccountable explores emergent ethics elicited by the demand to provide care for mentally ill individuals as a project of social justice amidst absent state services and vast material inequalities. Jessica has published recent work in Cultural Anthropology and Social Justice. Jessica’s research has been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the American Council for Learned Societies, the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Society for Psychological Anthropology/Lemelson Foundation, and the Center for Health and Wellbeing and Program in American Studies at Princeton University.


Research Articles


Unruly Affects: Attempts at Control and All That Escapes from an American Mental Health Court. Cultural Anthropology 33(1): 85-108.


Trapped: The Limits of Care in California's Mental Health Courts. Social Justice: A Journal of Crime, Conflict & World Order. Special Volume: Ethnographic Explorations of Punishment and the Governance of Security. Robert Werth, ed. 44(1): 121-141.


Book Reviews


Review of Everyday Ethics: Voices from the Front Line of Community Psychiatry, by Paul Brodwin. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 38(1): 160-162.


Public Scholarship


Justice: A Conversation with Jessica Greenberg, Karen Ann Faulk, Jessica Cooper, and Naisargi N. Dave. Cultural Anthropology: Correspondences.

What Does Not Cohere: An Interview with Jessica Cooper. Interview conducted by Marzieh Kaivanara. Cultural Anthropology: Dialogues.


Violence a Long Way Back: An Interview with Angela Garcia (co-authored with Andrés Romero). Cultural Anthropology: Dialogues.