Dr Fouzieyha Towghi

PhD, University of California, Berkeley; MA, University of California, San Francisco; MPH, University of Hawaii; BA, Michigan State University
Lecturer in Medical and Socio-Cultural Anthropology at the School of Archaeology and Anthropology, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences

Areas of expertise

  • Medical Anthropology 440106
  • Social And Cultural Anthropology 440107
  • Anthropology Of Development 440101
  • Anthropology Of Gender And Sexuality 440102
  • Feminist Methodologies 440502
  • Public Health 4206
  • Traditional, Complementary And Integrative Medicine 4208

Research interests

My research and teaching interests include: The anthropology of health, medicine, and the body; gender and feminist techno-science/medicine studies; anthropology of reproduction, kinship, and reproductive technologies; decolonial and postcolonial theories; race, gender, and sexuality studies; Childbirth, midwifery, and women's health; critical global health and development studies; histories of colonial medical sciences; transnational feminisms and human rights; Indigenous and "alternative" medicines; ethnographic/feminist research methods; Geographic areas of focus: Bolochistan; Pakistan; India; and South Asia.

As a medical anthropologist and an ethnographer of health, medicine and science, I have examined the socio-cultural, historical and political economic dimensions of health, illness, medicine, biotechnologies, and the technologies of rule. Linking theories from anthropology, feminist techno-science studies and postcolonial feminist theories and methods, I have analysed the entanglements of biomedical and global health development policies to trace the corporeal and social effects of trans-historical and transnational mobilities of bio-scientific ideas, biotechnologies, and human rights policies and experts. I have explicated the impacts of these processes particularly on poor and rural women’s bodies and social material/environmental conditions in South Asian contexts.

I have published on the relationship between the HPV vaccine, local biologies, and the  epigenetics of cervical cancer; cultural politics of reproductive health; debates on the role of Indigenous midwives and traditional medicines in women’s health care; impact of health development policies on local midwifery and women’s access to care consequent to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals outlined for the reduction of global maternal mortality rates; and the risks for poor and rural women of advocating off-label low-tech pharmaceuticals in homebirths in Pakistan. My work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals, Medical AnthropologyEthnos, History & Anthropology  as well as in the books, Negotiating Normativity (2016), Critical Mobilties (2013); and Unhealthy Policy (2004). In 2015, my article, “Normalizing Off-Label Experiments and the Pharmaceuticalization of Homebirths in Pakistan,” was awarded the Rudolph Virchow Professional Award, by the Critical Anthropology for Global Health Caucus of the Society for Medical Anthropology.

In 2019 my 2018 article “Haunting Expectations of Hospital Births Challenged by Traditional Midwives.” Medical Anthropology 37 (8):674-687-- was selected and republished in Medical Anthropology's first curated  edition: “Primary Health Care for Universal Health Coverage? Contributions for a Critical Anthropological Agenda" (eds. C.E. Abadía-Barrero & M. Bugbee 38 (5):427–435).

Recent publications

2021 "The global proliferation of radical gynaecological surgeries: A history of the present." Publishedin  History and Anthropology 32(4):1-25. In this article we ask questions about the resilience of radical gynaecological surgeries, (e.g.  hysterectomy and oophorectomy), from the moment of their widespread use in Western European and American practices of the late nineteenth century, to their renewed increase in the Indian subcontinent and Africa into our own time. You can download the article here: Full article can be found here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02757206.2021.1987232

2021 Book chapter “Forms and Ethics of Baloch Midwifery Contesting the Violations of Biomedicalized Childbirth in Pakistan” in Childbirth in South Asia: Old Paradoxes and New Challenges, Edited by Clémence Jullien and Roger Jeffery (Oxford UP). Globally, childbirth conditions are changing, but not all in the same direction. Whereas women in the global North increasingly press for more home deliveries to escape the increasing over-medicalisation of institutionalised childbirths, in the global South hospital deliveries are rising, and women who deliver at home are stigmatized. The book illustrates the continuing paradoxes and the new challenges surrounding childbirth in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. It brings together anthropologists, historians, and sociologists who reflect on the implications of new techno-medical schemes for women's own experiences. My Chapter traces how dhinabogs’  (Baloch midwives’), ethical stances, and critical outlook concerning the iatrogenic effects of biomedical interventions are non-oppositional forms of everyday resistance. The protective role of dhinabogiri (midwifery) is embedded in the intimate aspects of childbirth that profoundly structure the ethical relationship between the labouring woman and her dhinabog. This relationship is defined not only by dhinabogs’ concern for the well-being of mother and child, but also by their character and ethics, which are inscribed in the vernacular and social authorized praxis of dhinabogskawwas (expert midwives) and balluk (granny midwives). 


Researcher's projects

I am currently involved in three concurrent projects.

1. Finalising my first book: Baloch Midwifery “in the Times of the Lady”: Contesting Allopathic Imaginaries of Childbirth and Indigenous Midwives in Balochistan, Pakistan, 

The ethnography draws on over six years of work and fifteen months of sustained ethnographic research in Balochistan, Pakistan to trace the biopolitics of global reproductive health and rights policies and pharmaceutical globalization as well as the impact of these processes on Baloch women and their culture of midwifery. 

 In the book, I address the epistemological grids through which global South midwives have been construed historically and in postcolonial health development policy frameworks by way of juxtaposing my unexpected meetings of the dhinabogskawwas,and balluks against the normative conceptions of the figure underlying the globalized category of “traditional birth attendant (TBA)” and the South Asian category of the dai. I address how both of these universalized categories have discursively functioned to reduce and reify indigenous midwives’ work, thus failing to adequately represent her. I contrast the British colonial and postcolonial discourses regarding South Asian midwives to delineate how Pakistan’s public health and social development policies—embedded as these are in a global universalized biomedicine and human-rights framework—render Baloch people, practices, and regions as traditional, rural, and tribal in their connotation as backward/outdated, underdeveloped, and perpetually anti-modern. Aided by scholarship on hauntology, ruination, and affective infrastructure I trace the contested “governmentality” of Baloch women and dhinabogs. I argue that Panjguri dhinabogs’ approach to dhinabogiri (midwifery) goes against the grain of the historical and contemporary production of knowledge about South Asian indigenous midwives and Baloch women. In meditating on colonial ruination, the feminist theorist and anthropologist of coloniality, Anne Stoler described the persistence of “imperial formations through material debris,” or the remnants of colonial governance and discourse that continue to degrade the material environments in which people live, and their sensible and moral experiences of the world. I extend this idea to consider the postcolonial continuity and ramifications of the colonial debris—the co-presence of biomedicine (hospitals/clinics, injections, personnel) and the enduring powers of state and transnational institutional discourses about people such as the dais or “traditional birth attendants (TBAs)”—and Baloch women’s and dhinabogs’ affective responses to their contingent materialization.  

2. Shifting Cervical Cancer Care in the Era of molecular medicine and the institutionalization of the human papilloma virus (HPV) preventive technologies.

As a postdoctoral research fellow with the Swiss Network for Mobilities Studies in the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Zürich (2009-2012), I developed my ideas for my second book tentatively titled, Biopolitics of Reproductive Technologies Beyond the Clinic: Remaking Adolescents in the Era of Molecular Biology. For this project, I initiated a new ethnographic research project in India, Switzerland, and the United States to investigate the effects of the globalization of HPV vaccine on Indian women’s health, cervical cancer prevention efforts, and India’s public health care system. Phase one of the project investigated the links between the innovations in the molecular biology of cervical cancer and the rise of the HPV-vaccine and how this is reconfiguring global reproductive health policies and public health care practices in India. My fieldwork in several Indian cities and rural areas in 2009, 2011, and 2012 traced the simultaneous emergence of the HPV vaccine and global health cervical cancer prevention programs, in the context of the shifting nexus between biomedicine, biotechnologies, the state, and population health care there. I examined some of the public health and scientific claims as well as the policy and institutional arrangements crafted to facilitate the flow of the vaccine and localize its distribution in rural and urban Indian locales through the public health system. (For preliminary findings see: Towghi 2013; Towghi and Randeria 2013). I am currently developing Phase II of this research that aims to study how the introduction of the HPV vaccine and HPV screening technologies in clinical settings is mediating pre-existing cervical cancer prevention and therapeutic practices and the hospital preventive services that are inceasinlgy linked to public health community outreach efforts in the global South countries such as India. 

3. Gynaecological Surgeries: An Intercultural History of the Present. With Historian A/Professor Alison Moore (Western Sydney University) and Dr Tinashe Dune (Wester Sydney University) -- see pilot study for this project: doi.org/10.1080/02757206.2021.1987232


 I joined ANU in December 2016 with 10 years of prior undertraduate and postgraduate teaching experience in Anthropology; Gender & Women's Studies; and Ethnic Studies at the University California, Berkeley; Califronia Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco; San Francisco State University; Santa Clara University; and University of Zurich. 

I am currently teaching the following courses: 

 Current Courses:

CHMD 8006: Global Health and Development

CHMD 8021: Indigenous Medicines, Health and Healing 

ANTH 2130/6516: Violence and Terror

            Prior Courses at the ANU

CHMD 8022 Anthropology of Biotechnologies in Practice 

ANTH 2138/6138: Doing Medical Anthropology

Available student projects

I am happy to supervise PhD, MA and Honours students wishing to engage the broad areas of medical anthropology and/or feminist science and technology studies in their respective research. I would also be pleased to mentor students interested in: the transnational application of theories of race and gender; the cultural politics of globalization of biomedicine and biotechnologies; the study of the relationship between kinship, sexuality, and reproductive technologies; developing an expertise in the anthropology of reproduction; indigenous medicines, health, and healing; the role of humanitarianism in international/global health, and the anthropology of South Asia. 

Current student projects

Doctoral Projects

2022 -- Madeleine Dove/ Health and sports science in Australian elite women’s football: An      Anthropological perspective (ANU Research Scholarship)

2021-- Maksuda Khanam/ The experience of middle-class women during and after caesarean deliveries: Bangladesh Context (ANU Scholarship) see ANU University Research Scholarship 

2020-- Mohammad Ibrahim Khalad/ Understanding the perception of masculinity among Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Research Ethics Approval: 2021/117. (ANU scholarship)

2018-- Nur Newaz Khan/ Cultural economy of unlicensed biomedical practices in Bangladesh: Exploring beyond formal-informal dichotomy in relation to policy and pharmaceutical influence. Research Ethics Approval: 2019/609. (ANU scholarship)

2017--Ruonan Chen/ Making hospitals in Tibet. Research Ethics Approval 2018/682. (Co-supervision with Dr Trang Ta)

Panel Member-Associate Supervision

2021 Sirirak Aratrakorn/  Tattooing practice for snakebite in the northeast of Thailand: knowledge transformation and the folk healer’s life in the world of contemporary biomedicine. ANU college of Medicine, Biology and Environment 

Masters Projects 

2021-- Clair Bizhao Zhang/ Nurturing Life: How Empty Nose Syndrome Sufferers Make Live in Post-reform China (Master of Anthropology)

2021 Sabine Kane/ The Impact of Endometriosis on Interpersonal Relationships. (Master of Anthropology)

2021 Kate Eve/ Safety and spiritual care - what do they mean for each other in Australian hospitals? (Master of Culture Health and Medicine) Ethics Approval: 2021/070. 

Past student projects

Doctoral Projects

Principal advisor of following Ph.D. candidates during my faculty tenure in the Department of Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral studies, San Francisco, USA

Cynthia Gonzalez, Ph.D. (2014) Watts, Our Town: 'Nothing About Us, Without Us, Is For US': An Autoethnographic Account of Life in Watts, California

Natalie Cox, Ph.D. (2016) The Burdens of Bureaucracy: African Immigrants and Asylum Seekers in San Francisco

Destiny Thomas, Ph.D. (2016) Black Thrivance and Why #BlackLivesMatter: Interrogating The Black Plight Narrative, Resisting Black Death

 Terri Sé Sullivan. Ph.D. (2016) Conversion Therapy Ground Zero: Interrogating the Production of Gender as a Pathology in the United States

Masters Projects (ANU)

2021 Yugi Zhuang/ High-quality bodies to make up high-quality China? HPV vaccine,corporeal politics, and the neoliberal management of self. Master of Culture, Health, and Medicine—High Distinction. Ethics Protocol: 2019/772.

2020 Jessica Stone/ Mind, body and community: A study of yoga for mental wellbeing in the Syrian refugee settlements of Lebanon. Master of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development. High Distinction. Ethics Protocol: 2019/688 

2020 Kylie Murray/ Research in the down-under-ground: An alter-politics for a liveable future. Master of Anthropology—High Distinction. Ethics Protocol 2019/413 

2019 Susan Braun/ Ethnographic analysis of representations of the ‘Asmat Health Crisis’, Papua Province, Indonesia.Master of Culture Health and Medicine-Ethics protocol 2018/832 & 2019/428

2019 Ali Sweeney/ Constructing the “Risky Other”: How “Anti-vaxxers” are used to define the self. Master of Culture, Health and Medicine- High Distinction Human Research Ethics 2018/832.

2019 Xing Wang/ Enveloped by Hope: “Yiliao Pianju” (Health Fraud Scam), Health Care and Regimes of Living in Post-reform China. Master of Anthropology- High Distinction


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Updated:  26 May 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers