Professor Robert J. Foster

FosterRobert J. Foster is Professor of Anthropology and Visual and Cultural Studies, and Richard L. Turner Professor of Humanities at the University of Rochester. Before coming to Rochester, Professor Foster taught at The College of the University of Chicago as a William Rainey Harper Postdoctoral Instructor.

At the University of Rochester, he has served as Mercer Brugler Distinguished Teaching Professor and in 2008 he was awarded the Goergen Award for Distinguished Achievement and Artistry in Undergraduate Teaching. Prof. Foster has been a visiting professor at the Australian National University, Cambridge University and L’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

He has done research in Papua New Guinea since 1984. His research has been supported by the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, the Australian-American Educational Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Spencer Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


  • PhD, 1988, University of Chicago

Research Focus

  • Social Theory
  • Political Economy
  • Nationalism
  • Globalization
  • Material Culture
  • Consumption
  • Commodity Chains
  • Corporations
  • Mass Media
  • Ethnographic Areas: Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, Oceania.

Selected Awards and Recognition

  • 2017 — 2019, University of Rochester Humanities Project Grant (Lewis Henry Morgan at 200: A Critical Appreciation).
  • 2014—2016, Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (with Heather Horst).
  • 2013, Central New York Humanities Corridor Award, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (with Marina Welker).
  • 2011—2012, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship; American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship.

Selected Publications

Foster, R.J., 2020. The politics of media infrastructure: Mobile phones and emergent forms of public communication in Papua New Guinea. Oceania90(1), pp.18-39.

Foster, R.J. and Horst, H.A. eds. 2018. The moral economy of mobile phones: Pacific Islands perspectives. ANU Press.

Foster, R.J., 2018. Entropy, alchemy and negative pigs: Obviating the matter of wealth. History and Anthropology29(3), pp.292-306.

Foster, R.J. and Leacock, K.H. eds., 2015. Art, artifact, commodity: Perspectives on the PGT Black collection. Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences.

Foster, R.J., 2014. Corporations as partners: “Connected capitalism” and The Coca‐Cola Company. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review37(2), pp.246-258.

Foster, R.J., 2013. Things to do with brands: Creating and calculating value. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory3(1), pp.44-63.

Foster, R.J., 2008. Coca-globalization: Following soft drinks from New York to New Guinea. Palgrave.

Foster, R.J., 2002. Materializing the nation: Commodities, consumption, and media in Papua New Guinea. Indiana University Press.

Foster, R.J. ed., 1997. Nation making: Emergent identities in postcolonial Melanesia. University of Michigan Press.

Foster, R.J., 1995. Social reproduction and history in Melanesia: Mortuary ritual, gift exchange, and custom in the Tanga Islands. Cambridge University Press.

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