Emma Louise Backe

Backe Profile Picture

Emma Louise Backe


PhD in Anthropology, (Medical Anthropology)

Year of Entry: 2018

Advisors: Ilana Feldman, Andrea Lopez, Sameena Mulla and Sarah Wagner

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

Anthropology of Mental Health Interest Group Student Travel Award, American Anthropological Association (2019)

Medical anthropology, gender-based violence, global health

My research addresses the politics of care for survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) in Cape Town, South Africa. Given the emergency designation that has been given to gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide in the country, I interrogate the temporalities and regimes of care and justice afforded to survivors of intimate partner violence, a form of GBV that regularly falls beyond and exceeds the timelines and thresholds of recognition afforded by the state and the criminal justice system. I draw upon feminist, critical medical anthropology and applied methods to consider the assemblages of care ostensibly offered on survivors' behalf--funneled through international development channels, national government, and local NGOs--to consider the ways that IPV troubles institutionalized epistemics of violence, timeframes for counseling and recovery, and the delivery of justice when arrest and criminalization only begets further violence. I also consider the psychic remainders left over from year after year of accumulated violence, the mental and existential toll that overlapping forms of social abandonment, institutional betrayal, structural violence and abuse in the name of love enacts upon those who are tasked with "surviving."


  • Wenner Gren Dissertation Fund
  • International Dissertation Research Fellowship (IDRF) 
  • Social Science Research Council (SSRC)

ANTH 3501: Anthropology of Development

ANTH 3691: Speculative Anthropologies

ANTH 3708: Anthropology of Africa: Medical Anthropology & Global Health

Articles and Presentations

Manivannan, Q, Anumol, Dipali, Raja, Sinduja, Tamang, Dipti, Rathore, Khushi Singh, Backe, Emma Louise and Laura Shepherd. 2023. “Care Conversations.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 25(2023): 336-352.

Fletcher, Erica Hua, Backe, Emma Louise et al. 2022. “Policy Statement Mental Wellbeing among Anthropologists at Universities: A Call for System Transformation.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 36(1):155-172.

Backe, Emma Louise, Bosire, Edna N. and Emily Mendenhall. 2021. “Drinking Too Much, Fighting Too Much”: The Dual “Disasters” of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and Alcohol Use in South Africa.” Violence Against Women 28(10):2312-2333.

Backe, Emma Louise, Bosire, Edna N., Kim, Andrew Wooyoung and Emily Mendenhall. 2021. “’Thinking Too Much’: A Systematic Review of the Idiom of Distress in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry 45(4):655-682.

Backe, Emma Louise. 2021. “Slow Research in Urgent Times: COVID-19, Gender-Based Violence and the Ethics of Crisis.” Digital Fieldwork Initiative, Georgetown University. 

Backe, Emma Louise. 2020. “Capacitating Care: Activist Anthropology in Ethnographies of Gender-Based Violence.” Feminist Anthropology 1(2): 192-198.

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

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

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

Backe, Emma Louise. 2018. “Letting Silence Have a Voice in #MeToo.Sapiens. 

Backe, Emma Louise. 2017. “Engagements with Ethnographic Care: on care and self-care as an anthropologist and a rape crisis advocate.” Anthropology News. 

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

Breathing Through the Wound: Contingencies of Care and Justice around Intimate Partner Violence in South Africa