cultural anthropologist


I am interested in what people do when the systems they rely upon stop working. Whether speaking of the end of political systems like communism, infrastructural systems like the electric grid, economic systems like whaling, or cultural systems like the contemporary university what unites my work is an abiding concern for both the inventive creativity and the normative impulses that systemic collapse begets. What is the nature of renewal, I ask, and what do people, diversely, make of things when all that is solid fades unexpectedly into air.













              The Grid Book                            The Art Book



                                Praise for The Grid


“This book, about our aging electrical grid, fits in one of my favorite genres: ‘Books About Mundane Stuff That Are Actually Fascinating.’ Part of the reason I find this topic fascinating is because my first job, in high school, was writing software for the entity that controls the power grid in the Northwest. But even if you have never given a moment’s thought to how electricity reaches your outlets, I think this book would convince you that the electrical grid is one of the greatest engineering wonders of the modern world. I think you would also come to see why modernizing the grid is so complex and so critical for building our clean-energy future.”

                                                           —Bill Gates’ Five Favorite Books of 2016


"In The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future, Gretchen Bakke dives deep into the history of the electric power grid. Bakke, a cultural anthropologist, also shows how the social sciences help us understand infrastructure and technological management as deeply social qualities."



"The Grid is a lucid and thought-provoking book"          —The Wall Street Journal


" The author keeps the physics and tech talk to the minimum necessary as she leads readers through a history of the grid and a maze of financial, legal, regulatory, and environmental considerations with sprightly good humor. Bakke's analysis is confident and evenhanded; she delivers harsh judgments equally on myopic utility companies, uncomprehending legislators and regulators, and simplistic advocates of renewable energy production for poor planning, lack of vision, and failure to anticipate the consequences of their actions."                                                                         

        —Kirkus Review


   Praise for Anthropology of the Arts: A Reader


“Anthropology of the Arts […] eloquently moves from craft and dance to literature and sound studies without reducing artistic practices to a study of mediums. It chronicles a history of the relation between anthropology and the arts, whilst going beyond a straightforward chronology of publications. It gestures towards a diversity of anthropological writing styles and ethnographic practices, including experimental, pedagogical, and analytical approaches. Anthropology of the Arts, then, provides a relevant and insightful selection of studies on and through Artistic practices, underscoring the significance of anthropology in its capacity to carefully compose research methods.”


                                                          —LSE Review of Books



Gretchen Bakke is a visiting professor of anthropology the at the Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems, Humboldt University, Berlin Germany.


Her e-mail address is




For speaking engagements, represented by: