He is professor and director of the Center for Social Medicine and Humanities of the Semel Institute of Neuroscience in the Department of Psychiatry of the University of California, Los Angeles’ David Geffen School of Medicine. He holds a BA in Social Studies from Harvard University, two MAs in Anthropology and Development Economics from Stanford University, a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Stanford University and a post-doc from L’École Normale Supérieure of France.
He conducted fieldwork at the height of the revolutionary conflicts in Central America (1979-1985) on the political mobilization of ethnicity, immigration, labor relation, human rights violations and the intimate experience of political/structural violence. Since 1985 he has worked primarily in the urban United States on social inequality, substance use disorders, homelessness, violence, and HIV. He is currently focused on the political economy of U.S. inner-city apartheid and the carceral and psychiatric mismanagement of poverty and unemployment. He has been the PI on dozens of National Institutes of Health grants since 1996 including a 21-year continuous study of the inner-city HIV risk environment faced by indigent, street-based drug users and sellers. He seeks to build a more productive dialogue between qualitative, epidemiological and clinical approaches in public health to advance a more critical understandings of the social determinants of health to develop upstream interventions to improve social equality/quality of life.
Currently, Bourgois has been publishing on incarceration, the US opioid epidemic, firearm violence, homelessness, mental illness, and HIV-prevention.
With Laurie Hart-UCLA, George Karandinos-Harvard, Fernando Montero-Columbia he is co-authoring a book entitled Cornered (under contract with Princeton University Press) based on almost a dozen years of collaborative participant-observation fieldwork in a violently-policed, segregated Puerto Rican neighborhood in North Philadelphia dominated by open-air narcotics markets that became an epi-center of fentanyl, police malfeasance, homelessness, and overdose.