Emma Louise Backe


PhD in Anthropology, (Medical Anthropology)

Year of Entry: 2018

Advisor: Ilana Feldman

Current Research

Emma Louise Backe's research sits at the intersection of critical medical anthropology, feminist anthropology, and the anthropology of development to examine the politics of care and crisis in South Africa's gender-based violence "emergency." Her ethnographic research in an NGO in Cape Town that works with survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) investigates the international care assemblages in the GBV sector, and how these conceptualizations of care by international donors and national governance structures impact what "survivor-centered care" looks like on the ground. She asks what alternative configurations of health justice and recovery emerge from talking with IPV survivors; what horizons of "endurance" mean in an "empowerment" scheme that is restricted by temporal limitations of care; and the affective and applied registers of care and counseling employed in local contexts where violence is simultaneously normalized and spectacularized. 


M.A. (Anthropology) 2017, George Washington University

Certificate (Global Gender Policy) 2017, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University

B.A. (Anthropology and English) 2013, Vassar College


Articles and Presentations

"Capacitating care: Activist anthropology in ethnographies of gender-based violence." Feminist Anthropology, Vol. 2. 

“Book Review — Jailcare: Finding the Safety Net Behind Bars.” (2018). Anthropology Quarterly.

“A Crisis of Care: The Politics and Therapeutics of a Rape Crisis Hotline.” (2018). Medical Anthropology Quarterly.

"Visions of Care in a Time of Medical Multiplicity--Review of Medicine in the Meantime: The Work of Care in Mozambique." (2018). Anthropology Book Forum.

“Networked Connections, Gendered Violence: A Literature Review of Cyberviolence.” (2018). Violence and Gender.

"The Aesthetics of Deformity and the Construction of the 'Freak'." (2013). The Journal of the National Association of Student Anthropologists (NASA).

Fletcher, Erica Hua, Backe, Emma Louise, et al. "Policy Statement: Mental Well-being among Anthropologists at Universities: A Call for System Transformation." Medical Anthropology Quarterly 36(2022): 155-172. 

Backe, Emma Louise, Bosire, Edna N. and Emily Mendenhall. “Drinking Too Much, Fighting
Too Much”: The Dual “Disasters” of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and Alcohol Use in SouthAfrica.” Violence Against Women 28(2021):2312-2333.

Backe, Emma Louise, Bosire, Edna N., Wooyoung Kim, Andrew and Emily Mendenhall. "'Thinking Too Much': A Systematic Review of the Idiom of Distress in Sub-Saharan Africa." Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry 45(2021): 655-682. 

Backe, Emma Louise. "Capacitating Care: Activist Anthropology in Ethnographies of Gender-Based Violence.” Feminist Anthropology 1(2020): 192-198. 

Anderson, Ryan; Backe, Emma Louise, et al. (Eds). “Theorizing the Contemporary: Speculative Anthropologies.” Cultural Anthropology (2018). 

Backe, Emma Louise. “A Crisis of Care: The Politics and Therapeutics of a Rape Crisis Hotline.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 32(2018): 463-480.

Backe, Emma Louise, Lilleston, Pamela and Jennifer McCleary-Sills. “Networked Individuals, Gendered Violence: A Literature Review of Cyberviolence.” Violence & Gender 5(2018): 135-146.


Social Science Research Council (SSRC) International Dissertation Research Fellowship (2021-2022)

Wenner Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant (2021-2022)


Philip K Amsterdam Graduate Student Teaching Award, George Washington University (2021)


Classes Taught

ANTH 3708: Anthropology of Africa