Skip to Content

Department of Anthropology


Jonah Steinberg

Title: Associate Professor
Department: Department of Anthropology
College of Arts and Sciences
Office: 411 Gambrell
Photo of Jonah Steinberg


Dr. Jonah Steinberg, Associate Professor of Anthropology, is a sociocultural anthropologist with a focus on public scholarship and engaged ethnography. He earned his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2006. He is the author of two books—one with UNC Press and one with Yale—and the winner of two thematically distinct multi-year, single-investigator National Science Foundation grants. Prior to joining the faculty at USC in spring 2024, Dr. Steinberg served in the Department of Anthropology Program at The University of Vermont.


Dr. Steinberg’s courses draw heavily from—and intellectually feed—his research. He teaches courses on topics ranging from the Romani experience of the Holocaust to street children, from the anthropology of South Asia to global humanitarianism.


Broadly speaking, Dr. Steinberg’s research is on the “extreme social edge” and how it is iterated spatially, and on the subjective, affective, local experience of global forms of exclusion. He looks at the ways macrosocial formations—from the movement of empires to the flow of global capital—translate into lived subjectivities, embodied precariousness, and the constraining of choice. Dr. Steinberg is deeply committed to rendering research more widely visible both to publics and to the communities he works with. Geographically, Dr. Steinberg specializes in South Asia and the Mediterranean rim, with a focus on Romani history and society. His areas of expertise range from the experience of marginality in India to the ethnography of Romani history, from Himalayan Muslim transnationalisms to migrant precarity in the Mediterranean. 

Dr. Steinberg’s first book, Isma’ili Modern: Globalization and Identity in a Muslim Community (UNC Press, 2011) looked at ways that the inhabitants of very remote borderlands in Himalayan Pakistan and Tajikistan engage with citizenship in the context of their membership in a transnational Islamic structure. In 2013, Isma’ili Modern won the inaugural Citizenship Book Prize from the Center for the Study of Citizenship. Dr. Steinberg’s second book, A Garland of Bones: Child Runaways in India, was published to critical acclaim by Yale University Press in 2019. 

The research for A Garland of Bones was supported by Dr. Steinberg’s first National Science Foundation grant (NSF-BCS 0924506, totaling $243,608 between 2009 and 2013), which considered child runaways in postcolonial South Asian contexts from spatial, ethnographic, and historical vantage points, and with a special interest in their place as undesirable subjects in campaigns of urban cleansing and the varied modes of their intimate experience of global histories and forces. In 2016, he was awarded another three-year, single-investigator NSF grant (NSF-BCS 1660323, totaling $299,710 between 2017 and 2022) for a new but thematically-related project on race, space, and segregation in the intersection of European Roma and other groups in the hyperdiverse conurbation of Marseille and elsewhere in southern Europe. This fieldwork built on prior funded research, commenced formally in 2014 and informally in 2011, whose funding through various non-NSF mechanisms has totaled around $50,000. It was in the course of this research that in 2015 Dr. Steinberg approached a major French museum at his fieldsite to propose that the museum enhance their materials and programming on Roma & Sinti people, to the end of greater recognition and representation. 

Dr. Steinberg then became a founding curator (alongside Julia Ferloni, Françoise Dallemagne, and Alina Maggiore of Mucem and The European Roma Institute of Arts and Culture (ERIAC), represented by Anna Mirga-Kruzelnicka and Timea Junghaus) of the Barvalo exhibition, a participatory, collaborative, and community-centered project at Marseille’s Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Mediterranée (Mucem), a French National Tier-1 museum, open from May to December of 2024. The dynamic exhibition was collaborative and participatory both in its mobilization of a transnational committee of experts, activists, and leaders, and in its imbrication with local communities, including associations, schools, and institutions of culture, across Europe, including in Marseille itself. With over 100,000 visitors and extensive coverage in global press, it represented an incarnation of Dr. Steinberg’s commitment to public engagement and collaborative work, and to mobilizing research in the creation of larger conversations on critical concerns. 

Dr. Steinberg is an avid ethnographer and committed to research in difficult, high-pressure settings. With current or former fieldsites in the Pakistan Himalaya, the Tajikistan Pamir, urban India, and Mediterranean Europe, among other locations, he has a fluent command over and maintains literacy in Urdu, Hindi, and French, and is proficient in Balkan and Danube varieties of Romani, the Indic language of the Romani people; and proficient and literate in Persian (Iranian, Tajik and Afghan Dari varieties), and Russian. He speaks fragments of a range of interesting smaller languages, from Magyar to Burushaski, Tamil to Khowar. 

Dr. Steinberg is the creator of the new and recently-funded Early Roma Archaeologies Project, a collaboration with archaeologists Scott Van Keuren, Vasiliki Koutrafouri, and diverse partners—including over a dozen Roma-majority schools in Greece, which will be the first archaeological exploration of an early Roma site anywhere, and the first to explore, through community dialogue and engagement, the potential for a Roma-driven archaeology. He is also engaged in a project to document, with community-driven participation, several highly endangered varieties of the Romani language. 

Selected recent publications 

Books (Monographs): 

Steinberg, J. Garland of Bones: Child Runaways in India. New Haven: Yale University, 2019. 

Steinberg, J. Ismaili Modern: Globalization and Identity in a Muslim Community. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2011. 

Articles/Book Chapters: 

Steinberg, J. “Land of the Ungoverned: On the Historiography of Lawlessness at the Frontiers of Empire.” In Muslim Communities and Cultures of the Himalayas: Conceptualizing the Global Ummah. Jacqueline Fewkes and Megan Sijapati, eds. New York: Routledge Press, 2020. 

Steinberg, J. “Shadowspace: On the Ethnographic Genesis of a Concept.” In Etnografia e Netnografia. Riflessioni teoriche, sfide metodologiche e esperienze di ricerca, Giuseppe Masullo, ed. Napoli: Loffredo, 2020. 

Steinberg, J. “The Social Life of Death on Delhi’s Streets: Unclaimed Souls, Pollutive Bodies, Dead Kin and the Kinless Dead.” Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology, 80, no. 2(2013).

Recent Accomplishments 

Initiator and co-curator, Barvalo Exhibition, Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Mediterranée, Marseille, France 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.