Christian holds a PhD in sociology (co-supervised in geography) from the London School of Economics; he later completed a series of post-doctoral fellowships at the City University of New York Graduate Center where he worked closely with the geographers Neil Smith and David Harvey. He has held fellowships from the Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation. He arrived at SIT in 2011 from a teaching position at Brooklyn College. His current research focuses on the environmental history of state involvement in American economic development, from the earliest days of the republic onward. Most of his previous publications have focused on war, crime, repression, surveillance, and state power.
His latest book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (2011), explores how climate change is already causing violence as it interacts with the social legacies of economic neoliberalism and cold-war militarism. The book involved several years of travel and research in conflict zones of the Global South.
His three earlier books are The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq (2005), a work of analytic and ethnographic reportage on the first years of US military occupation in Iraq; The Soft Cage: Surveillance in America from Slavery to the War on Terror (2002), a history of routine, everyday surveillance that traces the development of political technologies, like fingerprinting and photographic identification, from their origins in the antebellum South to the present; and Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis (2000/2008), Christian’s first book, considered a social science classic. Lockdown explores the history of the US prison and policing buildup since the 1960s and argues that the buildup is rooted in both global-scale economy shifts and national discursive projects of racialized class control and political theater.
As a journalist, he has reported extensively from Afghanistan, Iraq, and various parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. His articles have appeared in Fortune, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Middle East Report, London Review of Books, Mother Jones, and The Nation (where he is a contributing editor). He has also helped make several documentaries and has won numerous journalistic awards, including the 2009 Lange-Tailor Prize and “Best Magazine Writing 2008” from the Society for Professional Journalists. He also received a 2009 Emmy nomination for the documentary Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi.
In addition to teaching at SIT Graduate Institute, Christian is the director of SIT Study Abroad’s new comparative program focused on climate change and the political economy of resources. He splits his time between New York City and Brattleboro and is, quite coincidentally, a native of nearby Putney, Vermont.