Sharon Abramowitz, PhD

Published: July 29th, 2013

Category: People

Dr. Sharon Abramowitz

Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology and Center for African Studies

Grinter Hall, Room 494
(352) 273-4763 –OR– (617) 599-0191
sabramowitz (


  • Ph.D., Anthropology, Harvard University, 2009
  • M.A., Sociology, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 2004
  • B.A., Near Eastern Judaic Studies & Sociology, Brandeis University, 1998

Research Interests

I am a medical anthropologist with specialization in collective trauma, violence, post-war reconstruction, gender-based violence, humanitarian intervention, and health sector transitions in developing countries. My regional area of specialization is the Upper Guinea/Mano River Region, which includes Guinea, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Sierre Leone. Since 2003, I have been exploring the intersection between individual mental health and collective trauma in war-affected areas in West Africa, which has culminated in my book, Searching for Normal in the Wake of the Liberian War (Abramowitz, 2014). As of 2010, I have become increasingly involved in studying how processes of post-conflict health sector reconstructions are taking place in countries that have been ravaged by war, and the result has been an edited volume of ethnographic essays entitled Medical Humanitarianism: Ethnographies of Practice (Abramowitz and Panter-Brick, in process). My current work focuses on histories of gender-based violence across West Africa, with an intent to explore how the structuring of law and social norms creates gendered patterns of protections from violence, as well as gendered patterns of susceptibility to violence.

I believe that anthropology can serve as a powerful agent in observing and critiquing humanitarian action; while sustaining a moral commitment to human rights, social justice, and faithful accounts of human experience. Part of my research involves ethnographic fieldwork which explores the multi-scalar forces that shape collective and individual experience in conditions of crisis and recovery, including NGO action, local appropriation, and national and international health politics and policy. In my upcoming work on histories of gender-based violence in West Africa, I am drawing upon historical materials (archival records, memoirs, and oral history) to challenge “culturalist” assertions of global humanitarian institutions regarding gender history, cultural history, and patterns of violence in African cultures (Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Throughout my research, I prioritize the consideration of fundamental transnational health policy problems through an interdisciplinary methodological toolkit that grounds anthropological theory in the realities of contemporary social and political transitions.

Selected Publications

Abramowitz, S. in press (expected publication 2014). Searching for Normal in the Wake of the Liberian War. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Abramowitz, S. and Catherine Panter-Brick, Eds. (under review) Medical Humanitarianism: Ethnographies of Practice. Edited Volume. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Abramowitz, S. and Mary Moran. (2012) International Human Rights, Gender-Based Violence, and Discourses of Abuse in Post-Conflict Liberia: A Problem of ‘Culture?’ African Studies Review 55(2) p.119-46.

Abramowitz, S. (2011) Trauma in Liberia: The Tale of Open Mole. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry (Special Issue on Idioms of Distress) 34(2) p.353-79.

Abramowitz, S. and Arthur Kleinman (2008) Humanitarian intervention and cultural translation: a review of the IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings. Intervention: International Journal of Mental Health, Psychosocial Work, and Counselling in Areas of Armed Conflict 6 (3/4) p.219-227.

Abramowitz, S. (2005) The poor have become rich and the rich have become poor: Collective trauma on the Guinean Languette. Social Science and Medicine. 61 pp. 1206-1218.


Global Health Cultures (ANT 3478)
Sickness and Culture (ANG 6407)
Anthropology of Humanitarian Intervention (AFS 6357)
Women in Africa (AFS 4335)

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