Assistant Professor of Global Affairs
2161 Jenkins Nanovic Halls
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556
Assistant Professor of Global Affairs
Gender; kinship; women’s rights; personhood; gendered violence; everyday institutional practices; north India
At the Keough School
Julia Kowalski is assistant professor of global affairs. She also is a faculty fellow of the Keough School’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies, Klau Institute for Civil & Human Rights, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, and Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies.
- Gender, Sexuality, and Development (elective for master of global affairs)
- Culture in/and Development (undergraduate elective)
Research and Publications
Professor Kowalski is a cultural anthropologist who focuses on gender, kinship, and expertise, with a focus on the region of South Asia. Her research relies on ethnographic and historical methods to explore how interpretive frameworks impact both how different development experts understand policy issues as well as how stakeholders work to implement policy goals.
Kowalski’s research explores how people, ranging from women facing household violence in Rajasthan to international experts in development and democracy, use interactive activities such as counseling, training, and capacity building to both create and contest social transformation. Her first book, Counseling Women: Kinship Against Violence in India, investigates the social and communicative processes through which women’s rights projects lead people to reimagine their intimate relations with others, remaking the meanings of both violence and agency. The book was awarded the 2023 Michelle Z. Rosaldo Prize by the Association of Feminist Anthropology and it has won praise for its ethnographic richness and theoretical sophistication. Focusing on counseling services offered by women’s rights groups in Rajasthan, Counseling Women traces how counselors seek to simultaneously sustain and transform family life in the wake of violence as they help women navigate complex legal and familial systems.
Kowalski’s research on the politics of gender, kinship, and interdependence in global women’s rights activism has been published in journals including American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Feminist Anthropology, Political and Legal Anthropology Review, Violence Against Women, and Social Politics. Her most current research follows questions of interaction, kinship, gender, and political transformation along two trajectories. One trajectory draws together the anthropology of policy with science and technology studies in order to examine the history of interactive practices such as counseling and sensitivity training in India, exploring how mid-20th century experts framed community development and social work as tools to cultivate grassroots democracy while also supporting top down development in post-Independence India, and following the impact of these debates into contemporary efforts to quantify democracy and development in the present. This project draws on theories from cultural and linguistic anthropology to help scholars of policy and development better understand the critical role of interactive practices and ideologies in addressing a central tension in contemporary development policy: between a commitment to democratic governance and a reliance on technocratic expertise.
A second trajectory examines rising efforts among multiple transnational organizations to better account for gendered labor via efforts to metricize and measure care work. Spurred by the limitations of mainstream policy frameworks with regard to the value of social reproduction, and accelerated by crises around care revealed by the pandemic, organizations around the world have turned to “care” as a solution to a multitude of social problems. Yet “care” is notoriously difficult to measure. This multi-sited project will explore how different policy experts around the globe seek to develop toolkits and indicators to metricize “care,” and the puzzles about gender, interdependence, and kinship they confront as they seek to merge classic understandings of productivity, progress, and public life with alternate understandings of reproduction and value.
In both her research and in her teaching and advising, Kowalski explores the differing epistemological traditions behind seemingly straightforward categories in order to critically interrogate unspoken assumptions behind policy-making and development practice. She enjoys working with global affairs students to explore ways to integrate critical-interpretive approaches to social science research with the positivist research approaches valued in global policy spaces. In addition, she is a concurrent faculty member in Notre Dame’s Gender Studies Program and Department of Anthropology.
Kowalski’s research has been funded by Fulbright-Hays, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the American Institute for Indian Studies. She graduated with a PhD in comparative human development from the University of Chicago.
- Language beyond labeling: toward a language ideologies analysis of anti-violence interventions (Violence Against Women)
- Between gender and kinship: mediating rights and relations in North Indian NGOs (American Anthropologist)
- Bureaucratizing sensitivity: documents and expertise in North Indian antiviolence counseling (Political and Legal Anthropology Review)
In the Media
- Notre Dame professor launches book on women’s agency and interdependence in India (The Observer)
- Revisiting “Bureaucratizing Sensitivity”: A conversation with Julia Kowalski (Political and Legal Anthropology Review)
News and Blog Posts
- New questions, new policy perspectives – Insights from cultural anthropologist Julia Kowalski (Faculty research video)
- Rethinking independence, adulthood, and dignity amid a pandemic (Dignity & Development)