Julia Kowalski

Areas of Expertise

My research brings together anthropological perspectives on language, law and personhood in order to examine how arguments about human rights are mediated through interactive practices in north India. I am currently preparing a book, Counseling Kinship: Rights and the Politics of Dependence in Jaipur, that examines family counseling in Jaipur, Rajasthan, in the context of a global turn towards human rights in women’s rights activism. As counselors incorporated human rights-based categories like domestic violence into their practice, they also mobilized seemingly patriarchal arguments about interdependent personhood, presenting their clients with a new set of arguments about claiming rights. By examining counseling as a vernacular practice that uses kinship as a therapeutic tool, I contend that counselors refashion family in a rights-based world, using arguments about rights rooted in both kinship and women’s rights discourse to help women better depend on their families.

I am currently developing two new research projects, one based in India and the other in the United States. Both examine shifting arguments about intimacy, injury, and expertise. One project, based in India, examines the development of expert interactive practices at women’s rights NGOs. From the “motivation” of the 1960s to the “empowerment” of the present, these efforts frame interaction as a mechanism that can resolve dilemmas between coercion and consent in development practices. I trace the effects of this history by combining analysis of contemporary interactive practices with archival work on the development of interactive expertise surrounding social welfare. Another project pursues interaction, coercion and consent in the United States, examining how American expert claims about the developmental status of students and the role of the university intersect with sexual assault policies meant to protect students’ rights to gender-equal education.


Scholarship/Creative Work


2015. Rethinking Translation in Feminist NGOs: Rights and Empowerment across Borders. With Susan Gal and Erin Moore. Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State, and Society 22(4).

Ordering Dependence: Care, Disorder, and Kinship Ideology in Antiviolence Counseling in North India. American Ethnologist 43 (1), forthcoming.

Writing on the web

Ethnography Labs: Unpacking Ethnographic Narrative. Solicited contribution for series Experiments with Pedagogy, on Somatosphere: Science, Medicine, and Anthropology, January 8 2015. http://somatosphere.net/2015/01/ethnography-labs.html