2014 Ph.D., Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley
2007 M.A., Cultural and Social Anthropology, Stanford University
2006 B.A., Cultural and Social Anthropology, Stanford University
Dr. Bharat Jayram Venkat is an Associate Professor at UCLA with a joint appointment spanning the Institute for Society & Genetics, the Department of History, and the Department of Anthropology. He is also affiliated with the UCLA Center for India & South Asia, the Program in Digital Humanities, the Urban Humanities Initiative, and the Luskin Center for Innovation. His research draws on the intellectual and methodological traditions of history and anthropology to study questions related to science, medicine, environment, race, and design.
His first book, At the Limits of Cure (Duke University Press, 2021; Bloomsbury India, 2022), is the winner of the Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences. Through an historical and ethnographic study of tuberculosis treatment in India, this book asks: what does it mean to be cured, and what does it mean for a cure to come undone? Venkat details the unraveling of cure across a variety of sites: in idyllic hill stations and crowded prisons, aboard ships and on the battlefield, and through research trials and clinical encounters. In confronting our present moment—marked by fading antibiotic efficacy—this work argues that cures have almost never been as final as we might hope. This research was supported by the American Council for Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the American Institute for Indian Studies, and the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation.
Dr. Venkat is currently writing a book on the existential and planetary crisis posed by extreme heat, tentatively titled “Swelter: A History of Heat in an Unequal World.” Through a surprising history that connects beer and bananas to heat stress experiments on soldiers and redlining in American cities, this work explains what we know about heat and how we came to know it. By tracing the lines that connect body heat to global warming, this book demonstrates how the negative effects of heat came to be unequally distributed—what Venkat refers to as “thermal inequality.” In our age of anthropogenic climate change, “Swelter” argues that the science of climate and the science of the body can’t be held apart—if they ever could.
Dr. Venkat’s work on heat has been funded by the Berggruen Foundation, the George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation Fellowship, the UC President’s Faculty Research Fellowship in the Humanities, and a five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Award, which is the NSF’s most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty.
In conjunction with this research, Dr. Venkat also directs the UCLA Heat Lab, a diverse group of students invested in researching thermal inequality and justice from a variety of disciplinary perspectives—from biology and history to architecture and urban planning. Students in the lab have worked on a range of projects across Los Angeles, including mapping the distribution of greenspace in Westlake, eliciting oral histories about thermal experience in Watts, and measuring the occupational heat exposure of food truck workers on UCLA campus. In collaboration with the UCLA TIE-INS Program, the UCLA Heat Lab has also created and taught climate-focused curriculum for elementary and high school students in LAUSD. In recognition of his teaching and mentorship, Dr. Venkat was awarded the UCLA Life Sciences Excellence in Educational Innovation Award in 2023.
Dr. Venkat has published extensively in both academic journals and public-facing venues. His work on science and medicine includes essays on ethical reasoning in the clinic, the history of evidentiary paradigms in antibiotic research, the idea of radical cure, extreme drug resistance in India, the history and possible future of the sanatorium, iatrogenesis and zoonotic disease, the idea of a TB-free India, and the graphic imagination of triage in the face of antibiotic failure.
His published work on heat includes essays on anthropological approaches to studying heat, how colonial-era knowledge about climate was produced through racialized bodies, the relationship between redlining and thermal inequality, and why thermal comfort has been largely organized around the needs of men in suits.
Prior to arriving at UCLA, Dr. Venkat held a postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton University’s Global Health Program and was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Oregon. Due to the unexpected proximity of archives related to Rajneeshpuram (an intentional community/“cult”) to his office in Oregon, he has also written an essay on the relationship between immigration law, sham marriage, and the study of cults.
You can find much of his work collected here.