Carolyn Barnes is a medical anthropologist whose work spans health and medicine, environmental/animal studies, science and technology studies (STS), and violence and inequality—particularly at the intersections of gender, race, and class in rural America.
Barnes' scholarship broadly probes how medicine becomes harnessed by commercial endeavors in ways that differentially undermine entangled human-animal lives. She primarily examines this through the lens of the hyper-medicalized, starkly hierarchized, and ethically fraught world of American Thoroughbred horseracing in central Kentucky, where she was born and raised.
Drawing on long-term ethnographic research in training barns and tracks in rural Kentucky, Barnes' current book project, Horse Power: The Merry-go-round of Kentucky’s Thoroughbred Racing World, details how personalized, medicalized, and highly-valued Thoroughbreds are trained and raced in Kentucky. The book foregrounds the lives of middling horse trainers, poor migrant barn laborers, and racehorses, all of whom are most impacted by economic constriction and encroaching regulations. This offers a unique perspective into how the decline and problematization of horseracing is reshaping human-animal life and health, labor roles and social inequalities, and the present and future of a rural American landscape and culture.
At WashU, Barnes teaches an array of classes in Global Health and Environment that draw diverse students into critical dialogues, engaged research, and collective knowledge-building.