My current research focuses on (1) new forms and problems of democratic association; (2) community-based entomology for arboviral disease prevention, using the assembly-based social and software platform DengueChat; (3) insurgent cities and urban citizenships; (4) associational life in Danish cities in the wake of Covid-19; and (5) the development of application software at the Social Apps Lab.
I am a political anthropologist. My research investigates the city as a strategic site for the emergence and erosion of citizenship, popular sovereignty, and democracy. I have conducted fieldwork projects in Brazil, Denmark, Nicaragua, and the United States. My current work focuses on new forms of direct democracy and the development of application software for different kinds of democratic assembly. My books, research articles, and software development engage these issues as an anthropology of critique and experiment. My books include The Modernist City: An Anthropological Critique of Brasília, Cities and Citizenship, and Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil. A recent research article from 2019 concerns metropolitan rebellions and the politics of commoning the city. Another in 2021 presents the results of a pilot study I conducted with a team of researchers and residents in Managua. It implemented a social and software platform for citizen entomology that mobilizes community-based mosquito control to prevent dengue, chikungunya, and Zika. I am also the founding director of the Social Apps Lab at UC Berkeley. At the Lab, I lead the development of software platforms for mobile and web-based applications that address the terms and scales of democratic assembly, civic action, and urban knowledge. My software projects include AppCivist.org and DengueChat.org which engage people in assembly-based direct democracy. Various instances concern participatory budgeting (Vallejo, CA), master planning (São Paulo), and community-based arbovirus vector control (Managua).
2021 James Holston, Harold Suazo, Eva Harris, and Josefina Coloma. DengueChat: a social and software platform for community-based arbovirus vector control. American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (forthcoming).
2019 Metropolitan rebellions and the politics of commoning the city. Anthropology Theory 19(1): 120-142 .
2018 Art practice and citizenship at Park Lek, Sundbyberg. In Public Enquiries, 99-110. Mick Wilson, Helena Selder, Somewhere and Giorgiana Zachia, editors. London: Black Dog Press.
2016 Rodrigo Ochigame and James Holston. Filtering dissent: social media and land struggles in Brazil. New Left Review 99: 85-108.
2016 James Holston, Valérie Issarny, and Cristhian Parra. Engineering software assemblies for participatory democracy: the participatory budgeting use case. In Proceedings of the 38th International Conference on Software Engineering, Companion (ICSE ’16), 573-582. Piscataway, NJ: IEEE Press.
2014 Come to the street: urban protest, Brazil 2013. Anthropological Quarterly 87(3): 889-902.
2011 Contesting privilege with right: the transformation of differentiated citizenship in Brazil. Citizenship Studies 15(3-4): 335-352.
2009 Dangerous spaces of citizenship: gang talk, rights talk, and rule of law in Brazil. Planning Theory 8(1): 12-31.
2009 Insurgent citizenship in an era of global urban peripheries. Cities and Society 21(2): 253-277.
2007 Citizenship in disjunctive democracies. In Citizenship in Latin America, 75-94. Joseph S. Tulchin and Meg Ruthenburg, editors. Boulder: Lynne Reinner.
2005 Teresa Caldeira and James Holston. State and urban space in Brazil: from modernist planning to democratic interventions. In Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems, 393-416. Aihwa Ong and Stephen J. Collier, editors. London: Blackwell.
2001 Urban citizenship and globalization. In Global City-Regions, 325-348. Allen J. Scott, editor. New York: Oxford University Press.
1999 Teresa Caldeira and James Holston. Democracy and violence in Brazil. Comparative Studies in Society and History 41(4): 691-729.
1999 Alternative modernities: statecraft and religious imagination in the Valley of the Dawn. American Ethnologist 26(3): 605-631
1995 Spaces of insurgent citizenship. Planning Theory 13: 35-51.
1991 Autoconstruction in working-class Brazil. Cultural Anthropology 6(4): 447-465.
1991 The misrule of law: land and usurpation in Brazil. Comparative Studies in Society and History 33(4): 695-725.