Stephen Collier

Research Expertise and Interest

urban vulnerability and resilience, insurance and climate change, Soviet urban planning and post-Soviet urban and social welfare transformation, infrastructure and politics, neoliberalism and governmental rationality, emergency government in the United States

Research Description

Stephen Collier studies city planning and urban governance from the broad perspective of the critical social science of expertise and expert systems. His work addresses a range of topics, including climate resilience and adaptation, emergency preparedness and emergency management, neoliberal reform, infrastructure, and urban social welfare. Collier examines both contemporary and historical topics, and is engaged with a number of sub-disciplinary fields, including science and technology studies, actor-network theory, governmentality studies, and cultural geography. 

Climate Change, Urban Resilience, and Emergency Government

Collier’s current research examines urban resilience as a significant new paradigm and practice in city and regional planning. In a field originally oriented to a future vision of improvement and development, what does it mean—both theoretically and practically—that city planners must increasingly anticipate a future marked by ever more frequent and intense disasters? And how must urban governance and planning practice change in order to take up the challenge of climate adaptation?

Collier has conducted fieldwork on urban resilience in New Orleans and New York, with ongoing comparative projects in other U.S. cities that examine how urban governments are developing and financing resilience interventions. Specific topics of research in this area include: the relationship between city planning and catastrophe insurance for hazards such as floods and fires; the historical development and current uses of catastrophe modeling in urban planning; infrastructure as a focal point for resilience planning and for public participation in climate adaptation; and new intersections between design and resilience planning.

Collier’s ongoing work on resilience builds on longer-term research on the genealogy of emergency government in the United States, which resulted in a co-authored book, The Government of Emergency: System Vulnerability, Expertise, and the Politics of Security (Princeton University Press, 2021). The Government of Emergency examines the emergence of now taken-for-granted problems of emergency management—such as system vulnerability and preparedness—through the interlinked histories of air war and mobilization planning in the mid-20th century. This study connects emergency management to basic problems of modern government, such as the relationship between constitutional liberalism and crisis situations, and the role of technical expertise in democracy. Other publications connected to this project have addressed biosecuritycritical infrastructure protection, the “distributed” model of American emergency preparedness, and the emergence of “vital systems security.”  

Socialist Planning and Neoliberal Reform

Prior to these projects on emergency government, disasters, and resilience, Collier studied Soviet city planning and post-socialist urban transformations in Russia, with a particular emphasis on fiscal mechanisms, infrastructure, and neoliberal reform. His book Post-Soviet Social: Neoliberalism, Social Modernity, Biopolitics (Princeton University Press, 2011) examined the planning and construction of small industrial cities, which Soviet urban planners believed could overcome the pathologies of capitalist urbanization. This research also investigated post-Soviet reforms of these cities that targeted mundane infrastructural and budgetary systems that underpinned the Soviet project of social welfare. Collier’s work in Russia showed that these reforms—often analyzed as “neoliberal”—sought to preserve key norms and systems that comprised the substantive economy of Soviet cities.

An extension of this work on socialist planning and post-Soviet reform has been a series of specific inquiries that reconceptualize neoliberalism by examining how new liberal thinkers have taken up concrete governmental problems. Among these are: the management of disaster risk, the status of technical expertise in democratic government, and social welfare. Collier has also written on methodological approaches to neoliberalism, in particular on Foucaultian alternatives to the critical conventional wisdom about neoliberalism.

Theory and Method

A final area of Collier’s scholarship is theory and methods in the interpretive social sciences. Beginning with Global Assemblages (co-edited with Aihwa Ong) he has explored an emerging body of work on modern science, technology, and expertise at the intersection of geography, sociology, anthropology, and science and technology studies. He has also written on new approaches to governmental rationality suggested by the late work of Michel Foucault and on methods in anthropology and related fields.

Selected Publications


  2021    The Government of Emergency: System Vulnerability, Expertise, and the Politics of Security (with Andrew Lakoff). Princeton University Press. 

  2011    Post-Soviet Social: Neoliberalism, Social Modernity, Biopolitics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Edited Books

  2008    Biosecurity Interventions: Global Health and Security in Question (edited with Andrew Lakoff). New York: Columbia University Press.

  2005    Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (edited with Aihwa Ong). Malden, Mass: Blackwell.

Journal Articles 

  2021    “Design in Government: City Planning, Space-Making, and Urban Politics.” (with Anke Gruendel). Political Geography 97, 1-13.

  2021    “Climate Change and Insurance” (with Rebecca Elliot and Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen). Introduction to special issue on Climate Change and Insurance. Economy and Society 50, 2.

  2021    “Governing Urban Resilience: Insurance and the ‘Problematisation’ of Climate Change” (with Savannah Cox). Economy and Society 50, 2.

  2015    “Vital Systems Security: Reflexive Biopolitics and the Government of Emergency” (with Andrew Lakoff). Theory, Culture, and Society 26, 6, pp. 78-108.

  2014    “Neoliberalism and Natural Disaster: Insurance as Political Technology of Catastrophe.” Journal of Cultural Economy 7, 3.

  2012    “Neoliberalism as Big Leviathan, Or…?” Social Anthropology 20, 1, pp. 186-195.

  2009    “Topologies of Power: Foucault’s Study of Political Government beyond ‘Governmentality.’” Theory, Culture, and Society 26, 6, pp. 1-31.

  2008    “Enacting Catastrophe: Preparedness, Insurance, Budgetary Rationalization.” Economy and Society 37, 2, pp. 224-250.

  2008    “Distributed Preparedness: Notes on the Genealogy of ‘Homeland Security.” With Andrew Lakoff. Environment and Planning D: Space and Society 26, 1, pp. 7-28.

  2004    “Beyond the Deficit Model: Reflections on the Georgian Case.” With Lucan Way. Post Soviet Affairs 20 (July/September), pp. 258-284.

  2004    “Ethics and the Anthropology of Modern Reason.” With Andrew Lakoff. Anthropological Theory 4(4).

  2004    “Biosecurity: Proposal for an Anthropology of the Contemporary” With Andrew Lakoff and Paul Rabinow. Anthropology Today 20(5) October.

Edited Journal and Magazine Issues

  "Urban Riskscapes: Finance, Risk, and Urban Climate Action.” Special issue of Journal of City Climate Policy and Economy (with Harriet Bulkeley, Savannah Cox, et al.). In preparation.

  2021    “Climate Change and Insurance.” Special issue of Economy and Society (with Rebecca Elliot and Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen). 

  2021    “Symposium—Paul Rabinow: An Anthropologist of the Contemporary.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory.

  2018     Limn 9 "Little Development Devices/Humanitarian Goods"

  2016     Limn 7 "Public Infrastructure, Infrastructural Publics"

  2015     Limn 5 "Ebola's Ecologies" 

  2011      Limn 1 "Systemic Risk" 

Short Articles, Comments, and Reviews

  2022    Comment on Dominic Boyer and Mark Vardy, “Flooded City: Affects of (Slow)Catastrophe in Post-Harvey HoustonCurrent Anthropology 63, 6, 628-629.

  2021    “Midst Anthropology’s Problems.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory.11, 2, pp. 715-719.

  2021    “An Anthropologist of the Contemporary” (with Teresa Caldeira) HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 11, 2, 713-714.

  2020    Contribution to “Zirkulation «revisited». Ein Forum zur Aktualität des Konzepts.” (“Circulation Revisited: A Forum on the Actuality of the Concept) Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft 13, 23, 2, pp. 99–127.

  2020    “Global Anthropology and the Art of the Middle Range.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 10, 3, pp. 1052-1054.

  2019    “Designing Urban Futures?” (with Savannah Cox). In “Interventions on Design and Political Geography.” Political Geography 74, October.

  2018    “Security, Economy, Population: A Rejoinder to Jaqueline Best.” Security Dialogue Blog, November 9.

  2018    Preface: Little Development Devices/Humanitarian Goods.” With Jamie Cross, Peter Redfield, and Alice Street. Limn 9: Little Development Devices/Humanitarian Goods (

  2017    “Trump’s Fictional Crises and the Real Threats to American Democracy” (with Andrew Lakoff). The New Republic. February 8, (online).

  2016    “Preface: Public Infrastructure/Infrastructural Publics.” With James Christopher Mizes and Antina von Schnitzler. Limn 7: Public Infrastructure, Infrastructural Publics, (

  2016    “Rebuilding by Design in Post-Sandy New York.” With Savannah Cox and Kevin Grove. Limn 7: Public Infrastructure, Infrastructural Publics (

  2016    “The Bombing Encyclopedia of the World.” With Andrew Lakoff. Limn 6: The Total Archive, (

  2015    “Introduction: Ebola’s Ecologies.” With Andrew Lakoff and Christopher Kelty. Limn 5: Ebola’s Ecologies. (

  2011    “Introduction: Systemic Risk.” With Andrew Lakoff. Limn 1: Systemic Risk (

  2011    “System Vulnerability and the Problem of National Survival.” With Andrew Lakoff. Limn 1: Systemic Risk (

  2009    “Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory” (review). Contemporary Sociology 38(1).

  2006    “Notes on the Anthropology of Neoliberalism.” With Lisa Hoffman and Monca DeHart. Anthropology News. September.

  2006    “Global Assemblages.” In Problematizing Global Knowledge. Theory, Culture, and Society 23(2-3), pp. 399-401.

  2003    “Oikos/Anthropos: Technology, Rationality, Infrastructure.” With Aihwa Ong. Current Anthropology, Summer.

Book Chapters

  2021    “Limn: Experimenting with Collaboration” With Martin Hoyem, Christopher Kelty, and Andrew Lakoff. In Dominic Boyer and George Marcus, eds. Collaborative Anthropology Today. Cornell University Press.

  2017    “Neoliberalism and Rule by Experts.” In Vaughan Higgins and Wendy Larner, eds. Assembling Neoliberalism: Expertise, Practices, Subjects. Palgrave, MacMillan.

  2014    “Pipes and Wires.” With Nino Kemoklidze. In Nigel Thrift, Adam Tickell, Steve Woolgar, and William H. Rupp, eds. Globalization in Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  2010    “Health, Security, and New Biological Threats: Reconfigurations of Expertise.” With Andrew Lakoff. In Chloe Bird, Peter Conrad, Allan Fremont, and Stefan Timmerman, eds., Handbook of Medical Sociology, 6th edition. Vanderbilt University Press.

  2009    “Infrastructure and Event.” With Andrew Lakoff. In Bruce Braun and Sarah Whatmore, eds., The Stuff of Politics: Technoscience, Democracy, and Public Life, University of Minnesota Press.

  2008    "The Vulnerability of Vital Systems: How “Critical Infrastructure” Became a Security Problem." With Andrew Lakoff. In Dunn and Kristensen, eds., The Politics of Securing the Homeland: Critical Infrastructure, Risk and Securitisation. London: Routledge.

  2007    “Distributed Preparedness: Security, Space-Making, and Citizenship in the United States” With Andrew Lakoff. In Deborah Cowen and Emily Gilbert, eds. War, Citizenship, and Territory, Routledge.

  2005    “Budgets and Bio-politics.” In Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems. Aihwa Ong and Stephen J. Collier, eds. Malden, Mass: Blackwell.

  2005    “On Regimes of Living” With Andrew Lakoff. In Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems. Aihwa Ong and Stephen J. Collier, eds. Malden, Mass: Blackwell, 2005.

  2004    “Pipes.” In Patterned Ground, edited by Steve Pile, Nigel Thrift, et al., Reaktion Press.

In the News

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