Richard Wilk received his BA from New York University, and his MA and PhD from the University of Arizona. He came to IU in 1988 after appointments at UC Santa Cruz and New Mexico State University and was promoted to associate professor in 1992, professor of anthropology in 1997, professor of gender studies in 2003, and was named Provost Professor in 2011. He was a rural sociologist for USAID in Belize City and has held visiting appointments at the University of Gastronomic Sciences (Italy), Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (France), University of Göteberg (Sweden), the University of London, and University of California, Berkeley.
Rick Wilk is considered among the leading anthropologists of households, consumption, and food studies in the world. Grounded in extensive fieldwork, his research rests on rigorous and systematic investigation of individual and household level experiences, with attention to how people's daily lives are entwined with broader socioeconomic, political and environmental processes. His early examination of household settlement patterns among the ancient Maya "was pivotal in the emergence of this area of interdisciplinary study" and has implications for understanding the success of immigrant groups, gendered power relations, and the unintended impacts of ethnic traditions, especially under changing conditions of modernity.
"He is one of the two leading scholars in the world in the burgeoning topic of the anthropology of consumption, and one of the most important in consumption studies across all disciplines." His groundbreaking book Economies and Cultures, described as the most important work in this subfield in three decades, has been translated into Chinese, Greek, Italian, Korean, Polish, Vietnamese, and Uzbek, and was conceived as an integrative discussion of the major puzzles, theories and approaches in economic anthropology. His edited volumes, Households: Comparative and Historical Studies of the Domestic Group (w. Eric Arnould), and The Household Economy: Reconsidering the Domestic Mode of Production, are considered classics.
These works demonstrate that individual consumption behaviors are tied to multi-faceted, sometimes contradictory and often obscure aspects of historical experience, cultural values, and perceptions of need as well as the unique circumstances of places and peoples.
Wilk has also been described as "perhaps the key figure in a growing interest in the anthropology of food." His major monograph, Home Cooking in the Global Village, examined how food choices and preferences in Belize have emerged through historical processes of globalization. The book won the prestigious Society for Economic Anthropology Book Prize.
His publications include 5 monographs, 13 edited volumes, over 160 articles and book chapters, and 40 book reviews and encyclopedia entries, and he has presented more than 220 conference papers. Academia.edu ranks Rick Wilk in the top 0.1% of the scholars viewed on its website, where his publically accessible works have been viewed over 71,000 times and climbing. He received an Honorary Degree from Lund University in 2012, the Leverhulme Fellowship from the University College London in 2008, the ESRC Fellowship under the "Cultures of Consumption" Program from the University of London in 2004, and multiple teaching awards from Indiana University.
Wilk received the IU Bicentennial Medal in September 2020 in recognition of his distinguished contributions to Indiana University.