Profile image of Emma Kowal

Prof Emma Kowal



ARC Future Fellow


Faculty of Arts and Education


Alfred Deakin Institute


Melbourne Burwood Campus


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

+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.

You can listen to podcasts that give overviews of my research here and here

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

I tweet at @profemmakowal.

Read more on Emma's profile

Career highlights

• I have received 30 grants and consultancies worth over $22 million AU, including $2.5M as sole/first investigator. These include a National Health & Medical Research Council postdoctoral fellowship, an Australian Research Council (ARC) postdoctoral fellowship, and an ARC Future Fellowship.
• I have authored over 120 publications including 77 peer-reviewed books, articles and book chapters. Approximately two-thirds of my journal articles appear in high-ranked (A/A* ERA 2010/Q1 Scimago) journals. My work is highly cited for my stage of career and discipline, with 2226 Google Scholar citations and an h-index of 26 (as of March 2021).
• I joined the Alfred Deakin Institute at Deakin University in 2014. I established the Deakin Science and Society Network in 2017 and was co-convenor of the newly-formed Culture, Environment and Science Research Stream, Alfred Deakin Institute, in 2018. I was previously co-convenor of the Diversity and Identity Research Stream (2015-2018). In 2020 I became Deputy Director (Research) of the Alfred Deakin Institute.
• I am on the Editorial Boards of American Ethnologist, Science, Technology and Human Values, Social Studies of Science, Emerging Science and Technology Studies, Somatosphere and Melbourne University Press, and the Design Group of the Transnational STS Network.
• My major external appointments include the Expert Advisory Committee of the Genomics Health Future Mission of the Department of Health, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Surveys Advisory Group of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Research Centre for Deep History at the Australian National University, Industry Advisory Board of the Master of Genetic Counselling at the University of Technology Sydney, Indigenous Advisory Committee member and Associate Investigator of the Centre for Excellence in Austrlaian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH), Machado Joseph Disease Foundation Research Advisory Committee.
• I was co-Chair of the international Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) 2018 conference and I am a current Council Member and Chair the Finance Committee and the 2021 Bernal Prize Committee. I founded the TransAsiaSTS Network.
• I have received awards including the 2015 Thomson Reuters Women in Research Citation Award, the 2014 Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia Paul Bourke Award for Early Career Research, a 2013 National Citation for Outstanding Student Learning, and the Australian Financial Review Higher Education Award for Emerging Leader in 2019 (also shortlisted in 2017 and 2018). In 2019 I was elected to the Fellowship of Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and am a member of the Panel A Comittee. 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.
•Key past positions include the Convenor of the Asia-Pacific Science, Technology and Society Network (2012-2014), Editor of Postcolonial Studies journal (2013-2018), and founding Deputy Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Genomics, Australian National University (2014-2017).
•I review for over 65 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 9 PhDs and 15 minor theses/honours students.
•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, Nanjing University, China, 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
  • Applications of genomics and epigenomics with First Nations groups
  • Bioethics, biopolitics and public health


Currently I have three main research projects:

Haunting Biology: Race, Science and Indigeneity in Australia (ARC Future Fellowship)
This research aims to develop an innovative account of how the history of race science matters in the present through investigating: 1) the varied 20th century scientific efforts to understand Indigenous Australians biologically; and 2) contemporary knowledge-making about Indigenous biological difference in the genomic era. Drawing on the tools of anthropology, history, and science and technology studies, this research aims to re-evaluate the role of biology in Aboriginal studies. A monograph entitled Haunting Biology: Science and Indigeneity in Australia is in preparation.

Reconciling Biological and Social Indigeneity in the Genomic Era (ARC Discovery Project)
Advances in genomics will have profound impacts on contemporary identities, including Indigeneity. A focus on social processes since the 1970s has left scholarship on Indigenous identity ill-equipped to grapple with the consequences of the genomic era. Drawing on multidisciplinary expertise, we will examine biological and social influences on Indigeneity in narratives of self- presentation and in two fields currently being transformed by genomics: ancestry testing and repatriation. You can read The Conversation articles related to this project here and here.

Epigenetics and Indigenous Australia (ARC Discovery Project)
This project aims to investigate how epigenetics is being received by Indigenous Australians, and to identify the potential risks and opportunities that narratives of biosocial damage entail. Epigenetics is a rapidly evolving science concerned with how life experiences, such as trauma or stress, can modify DNA and be passed on to descendants. This project will offer an understanding of the relationships between Indigenous health and epigenetics that will help Indigenous researchers and policymakers make well-informed decisions about the application of this new science. The research will make a significant contribution to understanding how the interplay of biology, race, and society unfold at the intersection of different knowledge systems and at the forefront of technological progress. You can read a Discover Society blog piece on this issue here.


No publications found

Funded Projects at Deakin

Australian Competitive Grants

Using museums to counter racism and increase acceptance of diversity among young people

Prof Yin Paradies, Prof Emma Kowal, Dr Naomi Priest, A/Prof Margaret Kelaher, Prof Fethi Mansouri, Dr Moya McFadzean, Ms Carolyn Meehan, Ms Linda Sproul

ARC Linkage - Projects Rnd 1

  • 2014: $63,901
  • 2013: $125,271

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

Prof Emma Kowal

ARC DECRA - Discovery Early Career Researcher Award

  • 2014: $219,610

Reconciling biological and social Indigeneity in the genomic era - Transfer from the University of Melbourne

Prof Emma Kowal, Prof Yin Paradies, A/Prof Cressida Fforde

ARC - Discovery Projects

  • 2017: $43,296
  • 2016: $82,299
  • 2015: $48,101

Haunting Biology: Race, Science and Indigeneity in Australia

Prof Emma Kowal

ARC Fellowships - Future Fellowships

  • 2020: $124,989
  • 2019: $245,558
  • 2018: $240,979
  • 2017: $354,373

The politics of epigenetic hope and hype in Indigenous Australia

Prof Emma Kowal, A/Prof Maurizio Meloni, Asst/Prof Megan Warin

ARC - Discovery Projects

  • 2021: $68,514
  • 2020: $101,759
  • 2019: $91,682

Development and Evaluation of the Summer Internship for Indigenous Peoples in Genomics (SING).

Prof Emma Kowal

ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH)

  • 2019: $60,000

Other Public Sector Funding

Using museums to counter racism and increase acceptance of diversity among young people

Prof Yin Paradies, Prof Emma Kowal, Dr Naomi Priest, A/Prof Margaret Kelaher, Prof Fethi Mansouri, Dr Moya McFadzean, Ms Carolyn Meehan, Ms Linda Sproul

  • 2014: $40,000
  • 2013: $80,000

National Centre for Indigenous Genomics (NCIG)

Prof Emma Kowal

  • 2017: $16,706
  • 2016: $33,412
  • 2015: $50,115

Australian Genomics Grant Program

Prof Kathryn North, Ms Tiffany Boughtwood, Prof Jeffrey Braithwaite, Prof Alex Brown, Prof John Christodoulou, Prof Sally Dunwoodie, Prof Clara Gaff, Prof Jozef Gecz, A/Prof Oliver Hofmann, Prof Emma Kowal, Dr Daniel MacArthur, Prof Julie McGaughran, Dr Cliff Meldrum, Mr Sean Murray, A/Prof Ainsley Newson, Dr Kristen Nowak, Prof Hamish Scott, Prof Amanda Spurdle, Prof Zornitza Stark, Prof Robyn Ward

  • 2021: $65,000

Other Funding Sources

Economies of virtue: the circulation of ethics in AI and digital cultures

Dr Monique Mann, Dr Thao Phan, Prof Emma Kowal

  • 2021: $8,941


Executive Supervisor

Bronwyn Shepherd

Thesis entitled: Making a mission space: Milingimbi Methodist Mission, 1923-1943

Doctor of Philosophy, School of Humanities and Social Sciences


Jehonathan Ben

Thesis entitled: Ambivalent Motions: Eritreans Working Pursuits and Intercultural Connections in Melbourne

Doctor of Philosophy, School of Humanities and Social Sciences