Nicholas Bartlett headshot

Nicholas Bartlett

Assistant Professor


Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures


321-A Milbank Hall Barnard College (on campus)
M 2:30-3:30pm & by appointment


I am an anthropologist of China with training in medical anthropology and psychoanalysis. My research interests include addiction and recovery, labor, embodiment, historicity, civil society, psychoanalytic practice and theory, and the politics of transmitting psychological knowledge.

My first book, Recovering Histories: Life and Labor after Heroin in Reform-era China (University of California and Columbia Weatherhead 2020), offers a phenomenological account of long-term heroin users’ experiences recovering from addiction in a tin mining city. Members of this generational cohort felt stuck in an earlier moment of the country’s rapid reforms, encountering a world that no longer resembled either the tightly knit Maoist work units of their childhood or the disorienting but opportunity-filled chaos of their early careers. In navigating fraught wedding rituals, performing compulsory labor and emulating later-arriving entrepreneurs, individuals attempting to “return to society” elucidate shared challenges of inhabiting China’s contested present.

My new research explores the introduction of group relations conferences (GRCs) to China. Pioneered in postwar Britain, GRCs teach participants to become better leaders by recognizing and responding to unconscious group processes. In group events designed to provoke phantasy and conflict, everything from geopolitical tensions to intimate dreams is made available for attendees to connect, critique, and reflect upon. My fieldwork in staff and member roles at conferences and in visits to workplaces explores how the negotiation of meanings in and around GRCs contributes to imagining authority and collective life in contemporary China and beyond. I am also co-editing a special issue re-appraising China’s long 1980s and participating in a collaborative book project exploring affective intensities of life during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I did my undergraduate degree at Pomona College and studied and worked in international public health before completing my PhD in medical anthropology at UC Berkeley and UCSF. Prior to coming to Barnard, I taught anthropology courses at USC and UCLA and was a research analyst candidate at the New Center for Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles. Courses I teach include Culture, Mental Health and Healing in East Asia, seminars exploring desire, labor, and methods in China, Body and Society, and Approaching Trauma. I co-chair Columbia’s Modern China Seminar and am affiliated with the medical anthropology track at Barnard.

  • BA: Pomona College
  • MA: Columbia University
  • PhD: University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco

  • Medical and psychological anthropology
  • Addiction and recovery
  • Civil society
  • Psychoanalysis, authority and groups  

  • Recovering Histories: Life and Labor after Heroin in Reform era China. University of California Press and Weatherhead Columbia Press 2020.
  • “The Ones Who Struck Out: Entrepreneurialism, Heroin Addiction, and Historical Obsolescence in Reform Era China." positions: asia critique 26.3 (2018): 423-449.
  • “On knowing addiction: A review essay of works by Hansen, Raikhel, and Shukla.” Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 2018.
  • “Idling in Mao’s Shadow: Heroin Addiction and the Contested Therapeutic Value of Socialist Traditions of Laboring." Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry (2018) 42.1: 49-68.
  • Nicholas Bartlett, William Garriott, Eugene Raikhel. “What’s in the ‘treatment gap’? Ethnographic perspectives on addiction and global mental health from China, Russia and the United States.” Medical Anthropology, 2014 33(6), 457-477.

  • EAAS UN3230 Labor, Love and Leisure in Contemporary China
  • EAAS UN3844 Culture, Mental Health and Healing in East Asia
  • EAAS GU4840 China and the Politics of Desire
  • EAAS GU4236 China’s Long 1980s (with Prof. Ying Qian)
  • FYS BBC1740 Approaching Trauma

In The News

For AAPI Heritage Month (May), Barnard professors educate us on the remarkable contributions of lesser-known Asian American women from history.

May 7, 2021