Julia Kowalski is an assistant professor of global affairs and a concurrent faculty member in Notre Dame’s Gender Studies Program. A cultural anthropologist by training, she completed her PhD in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago. She has been conducting fieldwork in north India since 2007, focusing on issues of gender, kinship, women’s rights, personhood, gendered violence, and everyday institutional practices.
Kowalski’s research draws upon methods and theories from cultural, medical, and linguistic anthropology to understand how people work for social change. Her current book project, “Counseling Kinship: Women’s Rights and the Politics of Interdependence in Jaipur,” is an ethnographic study of family counselors employed at women’s rights nongovernmental organizations, based on fieldwork conducted between 2007 and 2017.
Although transnational women’s rights discourse frames kinship as a static structure that harms women, counselors relied on kinship as a flexible set of arguments about how to live well in a world of interdependent relations with others. By analyzing counselors’ interactions with clients, “Counseling Kinship” argues that rights-based claims are not always rooted in liberal models of independent personhood. Instead, counselors demonstrate the power of claims about interdependent relations for authorizing women’s access to rights, equality, and autonomy.
Kowalski’s research has been funded by Fulbright-Hays, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the American Institute for Indian Studies. Her work has been published in American Ethnologist, Political and Legal Anthropology Review, and Social Politics. She writes and edits features online for Somatosphere and Anthropology News. Her future work will consider how counseling and other pedagogical practices address sexuality and intimacy among youth in contemporary India, as well as further exploring the history of practices like counseling and mediation in South Asia.