Ellen Gruenbaum, Ph.D.
The 2017 Michael Kearney Lecture principle speaker is Ellen Gruenbaum, Department Head - Professor of Anthropology at Purdue University.
Ellen Gruenbaum is a feminist cultural medical anthropologist, whose work has focused on gender and health, engaging with the issues of cultural change and self-determination, human rights, and girls’ and women’s well being in Sudan and elsewhere. Embracing the international human rights discourse as a powerful tool for elevating women’s and girls’ rights to policy and action, her approach grounds the process of change in deeply rooted cultural dynamics that require insight as well as challenge. Her widely-read works have been influential in shifting the discourse from “harmful traditional practices” and “eradication” of “mutilation” toward an approach that more positively engages with the behavioral and political economic complexity that the abandonment of female genital cutting embodies. Her work engages with organizations and movements to develop and document the more positive and inspiring ways to achieve human rights goals—such as the Saleema Initiative—while critiquing the misuse of “human rights violation” accusations in contexts where it has been a blunt instrument used to denigrate cultural and religious traditions. She highlights the larger context of “harmful global practices” that create conditions of human suffering where women’s and girls’ human rights are persistently violated. In an era of unsympathetic blaming and stigmatizing, it is more important than ever for anthropologists to engage with policy and practice in human rights.
Gruenbaum has served on the Committee for Human Rights of the American Anthropological Association, the boards of the Association for Feminist Anthropology and the Society for Medical Anthropology, and the editorial board of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies. She is the author of The Female Circumcision Controversy: An Anthropological Perspective (Universityof Pennsylvania Press) and is the Head of the Department of Anthropology at Purdue University.