Staff profile - Emma Kowal

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Prof Emma Kowal

Position: Professor
Faculty or Division: Faculty of Arts and Education
Department: Alfred Deakin Institute
Campus: Melbourne Burwood Campus
Phone: +61 3 924 45058 +61 3 924 45058



I am a cultural and medical anthropologist. My previous work as a medical doctor and public health researcher in Indigenous health settings in Australia has led me to pursue two intersecting lines of theory and empirical research:

• Australian racial politics: Indigeneity and Whiteness, settler colonialism and postcolonialism, racism and anti-racism. Part of this research is presented in my book, Trapped in the Gap: Doing Good in Indigenous Australia (Berghahn, 2015). Read a review in the Monthly here.

• Science and technology studies: the anthropology of biomedical research, genomics, bioethics, and public health. Read an example of my scholarly work in this area here and a piece in the Conversation here.

I am interested in supervising postgraduate projects related to these areas. My publications are available on my academia site.

I tweet at @profemmakowal.


  • Bachelor of Arts, University of Melbourne, 2000
  • Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery, University of Melbourne, 2000
  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Melbourne, 2007

Career highlights

•I received the 2015 Paul Bourke Award for Early Career Research, awarded by The Academy of Social Sciences Australia (ASSA).

•I was awarded a National Health & Medical Research Council Postdoctoral Research Fellow in 2007-2012, followed by an ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA) that I recently completed. In June 2014 I joined Deakin University where I am Professor of Anthropology in the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation.

•I have received 21 grants and consultancies worth $4.4 million AU.

•Key positions include the Convenor of the Asia-Pacific Science, Technology and Society Network (2012-2014) Editor of Postcolonial Studies journal (international journal ranked A in 2010 ERA, from 2013- ), and Deputy Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Genomics, Australian National University (2014-).

•I review for over 40 journals and publishers across anthropology, science and technology studies, Indigenous studies, public health, and bioethics.

•I have taught anthropology, Indigenous studies, postcolonial studies and science and technology studies in undergraduate, postgraduate and professional development settings. I have completed 3 PhDs and 13 minor theses/honours students. In 2012, I taught a graduate science and technology studies course at Nanjing University, China. My achievements in teaching were recognised in 2013 by a National Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning, awarded by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.

•I have been a visiting scholar/fellow at Yale University, the University of California, Berkeley, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, and the Universidade Federal de Santa Caterina, Florianopolis, Brazil.


Knowledge areas

My current areas of interest include:

  • Australian racial politics, especially Indigeneity and Whiteness
  • Settler colonialism and postcolonialism, racism and anti-racism
  • Science and technology studies, particularly genomics
  • All aspects of Indigenous health
  • Bioethics, biopolitics and public health


Research projects

I have two main research projects:

  • Trapped in the Gap: Doing Good in Indigenous Australia (Berghahn, 2015)

This project draws on ethnographic research with white, middle-class, left-wing professionals who work in Indigenous health. I produced an analysis of Indigenous governance in the self-determination era which I term 'postcolonial logic'. I argue that the twin desires of equality and difference - to make Indigenous people statistically the same as non-Indigenous people (to 'close the gap') but maintain an essential cultural difference - work in productive tension within the Australian project of postcolonial justice and within other settler states. My book provides an historical, cultural and psychoanalytic understanding of these desires and their effects.

  • From scientific specimen to Indigenous cultural property: The collection and use of Indigenous DNA since the 1960s

Thousands of blood samples collected from Indigenous Australians lie in institutional freezers across the world. Once considered the property of scientists, samples collected for medical research and population genetics are increasingly seen as Indigenous cultural heritage. This transdisciplinary study investigates the provenance and use of Indigenous sample collections held in Australia. Contributing to anthropology, history, science and technology and Indigenous studies, this project addresses problems posed by the collection, storage and use of DNA from Indigenous donors for scientific research and biobanks.



Below is a list of key publications. All publications are available at

Radin, J. and Kowal, E. (forthcoming) The Politics of Low Temperature. In Radin, J. and Kowal, E. (eds). Cryopolitics: Frozen Life in a Melting World. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Kowal, E. (forthcoming) Descent, classification and indigeneity in Australia. In McGavin, Kirsten and Fozda, Farida (eds). Mixed Race Identities in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Routledge, London.

Radin, J. and Kowal, E. (2015) A Comparative Study of Indigenous Blood Samples and Ethical Regimes in the United States and Australia Since the 1960s. American Ethnologist 42(4):749-765.

Kowal, E., Greenwood, A. and McWhirter, R. (2015) All in the blood: a review of Aboriginal Australians’ cultural beliefs about blood and implications for biospecimen research. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics 10(4):347-359.

Kowal, E. and Radin, J. (2015) Indigenous biospecimens and the cryopolitics of frozen life. Journal of Sociology 51(1): 63-80.

Kowal, E. (2015) Time, indigeneity and white anti-racism in Australia. The Australian Journal of Anthropology 26(1): 94-111.

Kowal, E. (2015) Trapped in the Gap: Doing Good in Indigenous Australia. Berghahn, New York. (monograph)

Kowal, E., Radin, J. and Reardon, J. (2013) Mutating Temporalities: Indigenous Body Parts and the Half-Lives of Postcolonial Technoscience Social Studies of Science 43 (4):465-482.

Kowal, E., Franklin, H. and Paradies, Y. (2013) Reflexive antiracism: A novel approach to diversity training. Ethnicities 13 (3): 316-337.

Kowal, E. (2013) Orphan DNA: Indigenous samples, ethical biovalue and postcolonial science in Australia. Social Studies of Science 43 (4): 578-598.

Kowal, E., Pearson. G., Peacock, C., Jamieson, S., Blackwell, J. (2012) Genetic Research and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 9(4): 419-432.

Kowal, E. (2012) Stigma and suffering: White anti-racist identities in Northern Australia. Postcolonial Studies 15(1): 5-21.

Kowal, E., (2012) Genetic research in Indigenous health: significant progress, substantial challenges. Medical Journal of Australia 197(1): 19-20.

Anderson, H. and Kowal, E. (2012) Culture, History and Health: The Case of Utopia, Northern Territory of Australia. Medical Anthropology 31(5): 438-457.

Downing, R., Kowal, E. and Paradies, Y. (2011) Indigenous Cultural Training for Health Workers in Australia. International Journal for Quality in Health Care 23(3): 247-257.

Kowal, E. (2011) The stigma of White privilege: Australian anti-racists and Indigenous improvement. Cultural Studies 25 (3) 313-333.

Kowal, E., (2008) The politics of the gap: Indigenous Australians, liberal multiculturalism and the end of the self-determination era. American Anthropologist 110 (3): 338-348.

Kowal, E., Gunthorpe, W., Bailie, R., (2007) Measuring Emotional and Social Wellbeing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations: An analysis of a Negative Life Events Scale. International Journal of Equity in Health 6:18.

Kowal, E., Gunthorpe, W., Bailie, R., (2007) Measuring Emotional and Social Wellbeing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations: An analysis of a Negative Life Events Scale. International Journal of Equity in Health 6:18.

Kowal, E., (2006) Mutual Obligation and Indigenous Health: Thinking through incentives and obligations. Medical Journal of Australia 184(6): 292-3.

Kowal E., Paradies, Y. (2005) Ambivalent helpers and unhealthy choices: Public health practitioners’ narratives of Indigenous ill-health. Social Science & Medicine 60:1347-1357.

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