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My research is driven by an abiding interest in redesigning ethnographic critique of progressive political formations such as women’s rights activism, NGO advocacy, and humanitarianism. These are globe-spanning formations that connect people across different social worlds and that challenge us to reenvision a critical anthropological analysis of emerging worlds, global encounters, and transnational regimes of rule. I have conducted ethnographic and autoethnographic research on trans-local women’s rights activism in Ghana, and on medical knowledge, refuge, asylum, and human rights activism in the United States and Europe. My projects aim to reimagine leftist critiques of violence within liberalism and notions of Western responsibility for problems that manifest themselves in the global South.
My courses on the intersections of feminism, global health, human rights, governance, and engaged anthropology address pressing political concerns and pay equal attention to critical theory, ethnographic inquiry, intersectional analysis, and movements for social justice. Recent courses include “Politics Beyond the State: Activism, Advocacy, and NGOs,” “Humanitarian Affects,” “A Global Controversy: How to Study a Human Rights Violation,” “Drugs and Social Justice,” and “Gender, Liberalism, and Postcolonial Theory.”
- Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program
- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies Program
- Africana Studies
- Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender studies
- Institute for African Development
My book, The Twilight of Cutting: African Activism and Life after NGOs, is a result of sixteen years of research on the effects of Ghanaian advocacy against female genital cutting and its transnational dimensions, and is a recipient of the Michelle Rosaldo book prize. I argue that the political and ethical concerns about cutting to which we must seriously attend are not those of Western subjects, but of the African women and men who are most involved in and affected by anticutting efforts. My analysis shows that Ghanaians respond to medical and legal anti-cutting campaigns not by holding onto “tradition,” but by reconfiguring how they are governed. I illuminate how rural women end cutting, while simultaneously critiquing the violence of extraction that has made their bodies vulnerable and I detail how the NGO activists who make anti-cutting laws eventually deem them violent and unjust.
I am currently working on a book titled Affective Encounters: Humanitarianism in Everyday Life, which is based on research at Amnesty International as well as on autoethnographic research with Bosnian refugees and with African women seeking asylum. I am interested in humanitarianism because it uniquely illuminates how rights are diminished under neoliberalism, and yet people find ways to live meaningfully and make new worlds for themselves and others. Blurring the boundaries between analysis of my own experience, observed events, and theory work, Affective Encounters portrays intimate encounters between differently positioned humanitarian subjects.
I have also published on Ghanaian women’s movements for social justice and against domestic violence, on medical knowledge and global health governance, and on questions of violence, war, and refuge.
The Twilight of Cutting: African Activism and Life after NGOs. University of California Press, 2016.
On Critique of Food Scarcity, Neoliberal Violence, and Crisis Discourses
The Ends of Cutting in Ghana: Blood Loss, Scarcity, and Slow Harm after NGOs. American Ethnologist 43(4): 636-649, 2016.
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.
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.
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.
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 and author interview.
Of War, Culture, and Responsibility. Anthropology News. May 2007.
Book Review, Global Health in Times of Violence, Paul Farmer et al., Eds. Journal of Global Public Health 6(3): 678-680.