Lesley A. Sharp

Barbara Chamberlain & Helen Chamberlain Josefsberg ‘30
Professor of Anthropology

Lesley Sharp is also a Senior Research Scientist in Sociomedical Sciences in the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University.

As a medical anthropologist by training, Professor Sharp is most concerned with critical analyses of the symbolics of the human body, where her research sites range from cosmopolitan medical centers within the United States to urban centers in sub-Saharan Africa. From 1986 until 1995, her work as an Africanist was based in a polycultural plantation community of northwest Madagascar, where initial research addressed spirit mediumship and the gendered nature of healing. She later returned to the same site in the mid 1990s to examine other forms of affliction, most notably the effects of the state's short-lived socialist project in shaping the historical and political consciousness of Malagasy school youth.

In 1991, she initiated research focusing on organ transplantation, procurement, and donation in the United States. Key foci include medical ideologies, body commodification, and the transformative properties of organ transplants specifically in reference to the social construction of the self. Her current research focuses on scientists engaged in generating new, non-human sources of transplantable organs, including mechanical heart devices and xenotransplantation (where animals, and more particularly swine, define potential sources of usable parts). This project is most concerned with how scientists imagine the promises and moral consequences of their work. Lesley Sharp is the recipient of numerous external grants and four teaching awards. Sharp has received numerous awards, including the 2008 New Millennium Book Award from the Society for Medical Anthropology for her book Strange Harvest; at Barnard she is the recipient of the Tow Family Award for Innovative and Outstanding Pedagogy, a Presidential Research Award, and she currently holds an Ann Whitney Olin endowed chair.

Selected Publications:


BioInsecurity and Vulnerability, edited with Nancy N. Chen (SAR Press, Santa Fe, 2014)

The Transplant Imaginary:  Mechanical Parts, Animal Hearts, and Moral Thinking in Highly Experimental Science (University of California Press, 2013)

Bodies, Commodities, and Biotechnologies: Death, Mourning, and Scientific Desire in the Real of Human Organ Transfer (Columbia University Press 2007, based on the 2004 Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures)

Strange Harvest: Organ Transplants, Denatured Bodies, and the Transformed Self (University of California Press, 2006); awarded the 2008 New Millennium Book Award by the Society for Medical Anthropology.

The Sacrificed Generation: Youth, History, and the Colonized Mind in Madagascar (University of California Press, 2002)

The Possessed and the Dispossessed: Spirits, Identity, and Power in a Madagascar Migrant Town (University of California Press, 1993)


2011 "Hybrid Bodies of the Scientific Imaginary,” for entry on "Hybridity," Companion to the Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment, Frances Mascia-Lees, ed., Companion to Anthropology Series, pp. 262-275, Wiley-Blackwell.

2011 “Monkey Business,” for special collection on "Interspecies," Social Text, April, 106:43-69. 

2011 “The Invisible Woman: The Bioaesthetics of Engineered Bodies,” Body & Society 17:1:1-30.

2009 "Bioengineered Bodies and the Moral Imagination," The Lancet (Art of Medicine column), September 19, 374:970-1.

2001 "Commodified Kin: Death, Mourning, and Competing Claims on the Bodies of Organ Donors in the United States," 103:112-133.

2000 "The Commodification of the Body and its Parts". Annual Review of Anthropology.

1999 "A Medical Anthropologist's View on Posttransplant Compliance and the Underground Economy of Medical Survival" Transplantation Proceedings.

1995 "Organ Transplantation as Transformative Experience: Anthropological Insights into the Restructuring of the Self" Medical Anthropology Quarterly

2016  “Sharing Amidst Scarcity:  The Commons as Innovative Transgression in Xeno- and Allotransplant Science,” IN Bodily Exchanges, Bioethics and Border Crossing:  Perspectives on Giving, Selling and Sharing Bodies, E. Malmqvist and K. Zeiler, eds., pp. 87-101,  London and New York:  Routledge.
2015 “Ethnographic Burnout, Spirited Curiosity, and the Search for the Uncanny in Realms of Human Organ Transfer,” Biosocieties 10:264-7.


Academic Focus: 

Anthropology and bioethics
Symbolics of the human body
Youth and identity politics
Africa, including Madagascar
Human organ transfer
Body commodification




Ph.D., Joint Degree: University of California, Berkeley, and University of California, San Francisco

M.A., University of California, Berkeley

B.A., Brandeis University

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