I am a sociocultural and medical anthropologist with research and teaching interests that span several fields. My research addresses the relationship between activism and governmentality in contemporary movements that take gender and violence as sites of intervention, focusing on mutual entailments of Ghanaian NGOs, global political economy, and humanitarian politics of knowledge and regimes of power. I am particularly interested in productive aspects of political formations whose effects are not simply salutary, the contingencies of governmental regimes, and the unintended consequences of NGOs’ tenuous successes. Regionally, I focus on global connections and mutual entanglements of Africa, especially Ghana, with Europe and the United States.
My early work offers an ethnographic challenge to anthropological and feminist critiques of NGO governance by providing new orientations to the question “what happens when liberalism and rights advocacy travel South?” Building on ethnography of Ghanaian NGOs and their continental and global connections, my work reframes this question by challenging the notion of the West/global North as a self-contained originating force. I highlight Ghanaian political subjectivities and an ethnographic analysis "from the South."
My forthcoming book, How Cutting Ended: An Ethnography of African Activism (University of California Press) examines the logics and effects of surprisingly successful Ghanaian NGO interventions against cutting. This ethnography analyzes the shifting place of African activists and NGOs in international campaigns against cutting, the practices of making and using medical and cultural knowledge as techniques of intervention, NGO’s involvement in law-making and enforcement, and rural women’s reconfigurations of affect and meaning of cutting. Contrary to modernist assumption about knowledge and social engineering, these NGO interventions were successful because of their contingent and performative character as well as the NGOs’ misreadings of cultural forms and practices. I show that the larger effects of NGO governmentality include the reconfigurations of meaning, sovereignty, and global governance, and the emergence of popular critiques of precarity and legal violence.
My third project, Humanitarian Encounters, examines the productive work of affect in forging of global connections, and its circulation and commodification in the name of humanity. This research builds on long-standing ethnographic research on new forms of exchange, indebtedness, relatedness, and subjectification emerging in the politically and economically uneven terrains of transnational responses to violence and destitution that are mediated by appeals to humanity. This multi-sited project spans the analysis of intimate encounters in development projects in Ghana, reconciliation and commemoration practices in post-war Bosnia, and human rights activism at Amnesty International.
A Global Controversy: How to Study a Human Rights Violation.
Proseminar in Anthropology.
Gender, Liberalism, and Postcolonial Theory.
Sex and Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective.
Introduction to Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
Politics Beyond the State: Activism, Advocacy, and NGOs.
On Ghanaian Women’s Rights Advocacy, NGOs, and Gender Violence
Unsettling Power: Domestic Violence, Gender Politics, and Struggles over Sovereignty in Ghana. Ethnos 74(3): 331-360, 2009. Full text.
Seduced by Information, Contaminated by Power: Women’s Rights as a Global Panopticon. Confronting Global Gender Justice: Women’s Rights, Human Lives. Debra Bergoffen et al., eds. Oxford, UK: Routledge, 2011. Full text.
The Logics of Controversy: Gender Violence as a Site of Frictions in Ghanaian Advocacy. Domestic Violence and the Law in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa. Richard Roberts et al., eds. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010. Full text.
Feminist Bastards: Toward a Posthumanist Critique of NGOization. Theorizing NGOs: States, Feminisms, and Neoliberalism. Victoria Bernal and Inderpal Grewal, eds. Duke University Press. 2014.
On Medical Knowledge, Biopolitics, and Global Health Governance
Ascertaining Deadly Harms: Aesthetics and Politics of Global Evidence. Cultural Anthropology. 28(1): 86–109, 2013. Full text. Article website with classroom questions, relevant links, and author interview.
Of War, Culture, and Responsibility. Anthropology News. May 2007. Full text.
Book Review, Global Health in Times of Violence, Paul Farmer et al., Eds. Journal of Global Public Health 6(3): 678-680. Full text.