I am a Professor in the Department of Anthropology, the Department of
Women’s Studies, and in the Center for Culture and Health, which is
based in the David Geffen School of Medicine’s NPI-Semel Institute for
Neuroscience and Human Behavior. I became Chair of the Anthropology
Department in July 2010. My training as a medical anthropologist
combines a doctorate in socio-cultural anthropology with a Master’s
degree in public health.
Throughout most of my career, my research interests have lay
principally at the intersection of gender, reproduction, and health. I
have done field research in urban Colombia, rural Mexico, and with
diverse ethnic groups in the U. S. In Cali, Colombia I investigated the
circumstances that led pregnant women with unintended conceptions to
seek illegal abortion. In rural Mexico, I sought to understand how
local political relations shape gender-based reproductive strategies.
Since 1989, I have worked mainly in the U. S. on issues surrounding the
medicalization of pregnancy and prenatal care, particularly the ways
that prenatal genetic information may alter reproductive
experience. Broadly based on these interests, my collection,
Reproduction, Globalization and the State: New Theoretical and
Ethnographic Perspectives (co-edited with Carolyn Sargent) was
published in 2011 by Duke University Press.
Building upon and expanding my longstanding research into the social
impact of decoding the human genome, and meanings and uses of genetic
information, my current work focuses on the growing role of genetic
testing in the field of neurology. My monograph, Neurogenetic
Diagnoses, the Power of Hope, and the Limits of Today’s Medicine,
co-authored with Mabel Preloran (2010, Routledge), explores the diverse
meanings and impacts of genetic diagnoses for patients enduring
currently incurable, ultimately fatal neurodegenerative diseases -- and
for their family caregivers and clinicians. The analysis is
framed by increasingly sharp social debates over the consequences of
decoding the human genome -- and the impact of genetic technology on
our lives. Currently, with a team of neurogenetics experts and
health services researchers, I am continuing this work with an
investigation of when and why community-based neurologists order
genetic testing and refer patients for neurogenetic specialty
Some of my other work has concerned how couples from Mexican
backgrounds who are offered amniocentesis decide whether to undergo the
procedure, how conflicts between a woman and man over whether to be
tested are resolved, and the role genetic counselors play in couples'
amniocentesis decisions. A follow-up study enabled me to
deconstruct the strategies prenatal genetic service providers use to
communicate information about prenatal genetic testing options to
Latinas with limited education and/or English living in south Texas and
southern California. Other projects have examined how Latino
couples make decisions about condom use; the meanings associated with
cervical cancer held by women and men living on both sides of the
U.S.-Mexican border; and the use of reproductive health services by
homeless women in Los Angeles.
current projects include a collaboration with professors from the UCLA
Dental School to study motivations for volunteering on a medical
mission to treat Mexican children born with cleft lip and palate; a
project sponsored by the UCLA Departments of Medicine and Rheumatology
on the real life contexts of lupus-associated “flares” among women of
diverse ethnic and social class backgrounds living in Los Angeles; and
the longitudinal processes that have contributed to rural Bali’s
dramatic fertility decline.
My work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the
National Institutes of Health, the Agency for Health Care Policy
Research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, private
donors and private foundations.
I teach graduate seminars in Medical Anthropology; The Anthropology of
the Human Body; The Politics of Reproduction; and Anthropological
Perspectives on Genetics, Genetic Testing, and Genetic Knowledge, as
well as courses in research design and methods to graduate and
My professional service has included membership on the Scientific
Advisory Committee for the State of California's Birth Defects
Monitoring Program and on the Executive and Advisory Boards of several
University of California institutes including UC-MEXUS, the Institute
for American Cultures, the Institute for Development Studies, the
International Institute, the Latin American Center, and the Center for
the Study of Women.
Nationally, I have been elected to the Executive Boards of the American
Anthropological Association, the Society for Applied Anthropology, the
Society for Latin American Anthropology, and the Society for Medical
Anthropology; I was President of the latter from 1995-97. I’ve also
served on the several journal editorial boards.
I consult on a wide variety of research projects on women’s and Latino
health in southern California, on the U.S.-Mexican border, in Mexico
and elsewhere in Latin America.