Alexander Edmonds

Alexander Edmonds
Professor Alexander Edmonds
Professor of Social and Medical Anthropology
Social AnthropologySchool of Social and Political ScienceUniversity of Edinburgh
3.24 18 Buccleuch Place Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
+44 (0)131 650 9920
Research Interests
Medical anthropology; plastic surgery and beauty; military cultures; international development; race; visual anthropology; mental health and psychological expertise

Short Bio

Alexander Edmonds is a social and medical anthropologist with regional specializations in the United States and Brazil.  His research has investigated a range of topics: plastic surgery and medical enhancement; mental health and well being; military culture; appearance and sexuality; and health in international development.  

Edmonds earned a BA with distinction in philosophy and religion from Stanford and a PhD with distinction in anthropology from Princeton.  He was also a Woodrow Wilson Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles. He currently holds a second appointment at the Centre for Social Science and Global Health at the Unviersity of Amsterdam.  


A focus of Edmonds' research is therapeutic work on the self and body in consumer societies.  His book, Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex and Plastic Surgery in Brazil, explores the commercial, erotic and intimate aspects of beauty in a multiracial nation with extremes of wealth and poverty. Pretty Modern was awarded the Diana Forsythe prize from the American Anthropological Association, the Eileen Basker Memorial prize from the Society for Medical Anthropology, and honorable mentions in the Sharon Stevens and Roberto Reis book prizes.  His research in Brazil also received the David Edge prize for best journal article in science and technology studies.

His current work is an anthropological study of reintegration, resilience and mental health among soldiers after combat.  It also examines clinical reasoning about war syndromes over the last decade.  Funded by a five-year “Starting Grant” from the European Research Council, this study is being conducted in the United States, the Netherlands and Israel. His other work has been supported by the Social Science Research Council, the Woodrow Wilson Society at Princeton, the European Union 7th Framework Program, and the Andrew Mellon Foundation. 

Edmonds has written about his research for news media, including the New York Times series, “The Stone.”  He has been interviewed about his work by BBC Radio, the Associated Press, and other media outlets in Europe and the Americas.    

Publications: books

2010. Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex and Plastic Surgery in Brazil. Durham: Duke University Press.    

Read the introduction to Pretty Modern

Pretty Modern book cover










Journal articles and book chapters (selected)

Edmonds, A and Mears, A. (in press). "Managing Body Capital."  In Fat Planet. E. Anderson-Fye and A. Brewis Slade (eds.) Santa Fe: SAR Press.

(w. Nelson E, Ballestros M, Ecalada Soto D, Rodriguez O.) 2014. The Unintended Consequences of Sex Education: An Ethnography of a Development Intervention in Latin AmericaAnthropology & Medicine. 21(2):189-201. 

Edmonds, A and E. Sanabria. 2014. Medical Borderlands: Engineering the Body with Plastic Surgery and Hormonal Therapies in Brazil. Anthropology & Medicine. 21(2):202-16. 

Edmonds, A. 2014. Surgery-for-Life: Aging, Sexual Fitness and Self-Management in Brazil. Anthropology & Aging Quarterly 2014: 34 (4) 

Edmonds, A. 2013. Can Medicine be Aesthetic? Disentangling Beauty and Health in Elective Surgeries. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 27(2):233-52.

Edmonds, A. 2013. The Biological Subject of Aesthetic Medicine. Feminist Theory 14(1):65-82.

Edmonds, A. 2012. A Right to Beauty. Anthropology Now 4(1):3-9

Edmonds, A. 2012. Body Image in Non-Western Societies. The Encyclopedia of Body Image and Human Appearance. T. Cash (ed.) Elsevier. pp.238-242.  

Edmonds, A. 2011.  “Almost Invisible Scars”: Medical Tourism to Brazil. Signs 36 (2):297-302.  

Edmonds, A. 2009.  Learning to Love Yourself: Esthetics, Health and Therapeutics in Brazilian Plastic Surgery. Ethnos 74(4):465-489.  (Awarded David Edge Prize)

Edmonds, A. 2009.  'Engineering the Erotic': Aesthetic Medicine and Modernization in Brazil. In C. Heyes and M. Jones (eds.) Cosmetic Surgery: A Feminist Primer, pp. 153-169.  Farnham, UK: Ashgate.

Edmonds, A. 2008. Beauty and Health: Anthropological PerspectivesMedische Antropologie 20(1):151-162.

Edmonds, A. 2007.  'The Poor Have the Right to be Beautiful': Cosmetic Surgery in Neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13(2): 363-381.

Edmonds, A. 2007. 'Triumphant Miscegenation': Reflections on Race and Beauty in Brazil. Journal of Intercultural Communication 28(1): 83-97.

Edmonds, A. 2002. No Universo da Beleza. In M. Goldenberg (ed.) Nus & Vestidos. Rio de Janeiro: Record.

Teaching and research supervision

Edmonds has taught courses and supervises theses on medical anthropology, mental health and emotion, visual anthropology, international development, reproduction and sexuality, and the ethnography of Brazil and Latin America.


Read  'A Necessary Vanity.'  The New York Times.  

Read La beauté pour tous.” Courrier International

Listen to rountable discussion on vanity on BBC World Service, "The Forum"

Listen to interview on BBC Radio 4, “Thinking Allowed”

If you are interested in being supervised by Alexander Edmonds, please see the links below for more information:

PhD in Social Anthropology; MSc (R) Social Anthropology