UCL Anthropology


Rebecca Irons

Rebecca Irons

UCL Email: rebecca.irons.14@ucl.ac.uk 
Year of Start: 2016
Supervisors: Sahra Gibbon and Jennie Gamlin
Subject: Medical Anthropology
Fieldsite: Peru

PhD Research

Planning Quechua Families: Indigenous Subjectivities, Inequality and Kinship within the Peruvian Family Planning Landscape

The effects of the Peruvian state's current family planning programme on the rural indigenous poor, who it is now explicitly targeting as primary recipients of reproductive health care, is the central investigation of my doctoral project. Existing literature discusses Quechua-indigeneity and birth in the region, however contraception and family planning arguably have a different social value as they focus on the question of future, uncertain kin, rather than definitive, expected children as in pregnancy. The Quechua in Peru have had a particularly fraught relationship with the state and reproductive health, for example in the 1990s over 200,000+ indigenous men and women were coercively, and at times violently, sterilised as part of the government's national family planning campaign. Contemporary examples of structural and obstetric violence can still be found, enhancing the complexity and necessity of further study with this group. A central aim in this research will therefore be to investigate the interplay of inequality and family planning programmes; if and how Quechua-indigenous women are (not) being coerced into using family planning and contraception by non-indigenous health workers representing the state's political interests at a local level. The second central aim will be to study how the increasingly encouraged use of biomedical contraception (whether coercive or not), affects indigenous bodily subjectivities and understandings about kinship among this group. This research will explore the intricacies of family planning and indigeneity through attending to the way that reproductive health policy is translated into local worlds and onto local bodies.

Research Interests

  • Kinship
  • Reproduction
  • Contraception & Family Planning
  • Latin America
  • Indigeneity
  • Interculturality
  • STS
  • Anthropology of Gender
  • Quechua & Andean Studies
  • Subjectivities
  • Anthropocene


Irons, R, Lara, D, Mouritsen, A, Myers, D. Birth Attendants and the Experience of Birth in Guatemala: Roles, Barriers and Rights: A White Paper by the Midwifery Team, NAPA-OT Field School 2017. August 2017, http://napaotguatemala.org/press-and-publications/


Bodies, Reproduction, and Peruvian Politics, Anthropolitan, Issue 14, Summer 2017 http://www.ucl.ac.uk/anthropology/news-and-events/newsletter/Anthropolitan-14-low.pdf

Choosing Different Methods of Contraception in Peru , Anthropolitan, Issue 13, Spring 2016 http://www.ucl.ac.uk/anthropology/news-and-events/newsletter/Anthropolitan-13-low.pdf

Medical Anthropology at UCL (https://medanthucl.com)

Rebecca Skloot & The Lacks Family on Communication in Science and Medicine, 18th May 2018

Focusing on Funding: Thoughts from a Maternal Health Workshop in Johannesburg, 21st November 2017

Reflections from an Anthropology Field School: A Crash Course in Cross-disciplinary Communication, 23rd August 2017

Presentations & Conferences

International Conferences:

“Reproducing Peruvian Professionals: Maternities and child-futures under the National Family Planning Programme”. Presentation (work in progress). Andean Research ProSeminar (Quechua @ Penn University) Cusco, Peru, July 2018

“Hormonal Monsters: Modern Contraceptives and the fear of “Cancer” among the Andean-Quechua of Peru”. Poster presentation. Frankenstein @ 200: International Health Humanities Consortium Conference. Stanford University, California, USA. April 2018.

“Valuing difference: Guatemalan traditional midwives and the increasing biomedicalisation of care practices”. Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Conference: Sustainable Futures, Philadelphia, USA. April 2018.

Sharing Experiences as Resistance to State Silencing?:Peruvian Women’s Testimonios of Enforced Sterilisation”. The Global Status of Women and Girls Conference, Christopher Newport University, Virginia, USA. March 2018

 “Quechua Indigenous women and the national family planning service in Peru: Working towards greater equality or not?”. International Interdisciplinary Conference on Gender Studies and the Status of Women. Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. October 2017.

 “Ambiguities of Abortion: Multiple Realities and Misoprostol in Lima, Peru”. Society for the Study of Science & Society (4S) . Boston, USA. August 2017

“Post-Coital Pharmaceuticals and Concepts of Time in Foetal Development: Exploring Multiple Realities and Debates on the Abortifacient Nature of Emergency Contraception and Misoprostol in Lima, Peru” – Critical Medical Anthropology Workshop (Newton Fund Early Career Researchers). Oaxaca, Mexico. January 2017

International Workshops & Field/Summer Schools:

Historia de la ciencia, la tecnología y la salud desde y sobre el Perú. Pontifica Universidad Catolica de Peru, Lima, Peru, June 2018

Organiser: Justicia Reproductiva y Esterilizaciones forzadas. Enfoque: DERECHOS SEXUALES Y REPRODUCTIVOS. IX Encuentro Feminista Latinoamericano y del Caribe. Montevideo, Uruguay. November 2017

Towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC): Promoting and Responding to Maternal, Neonatal, Child and Adolescent Health (MNCAH). Newton Fund Early Career Researchers, Human Sciences Research Council. Johannesburg, South Africa. September 2017. (Full bursary participant).

NAPA-OT Field School, Midwives and Birth Attendants Project. Antigua, Guatemala, June 2017.

FLACSO (Facultad Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales) Escuela de Verano, “Inclusión Social Temprana y Protección al Derecho a la Salud”.  Buenos Aires, Argentina, February 2017

CLACSO (Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales)/ University of Buenos Aires, Escuela de Verano, “Genero y sexualidad en América Latina”. Buenos Aires, Argentina, February 2017.

Education History

  • PhD Candidate, Medical Anthropology- University College London (2016- present)
  • MRes Anthropology (Distinction) - University College London (2015-2016)
  • MA Anthropology of Development and Social Transformation (Distinction) - University of Sussex (2014-2015)
  • BSc Social Anthropology with Professional Development (First Class Honours) - Brunel University (2010-2014)

Honours, Awards & Funding

  • Wellcome Trust PhD Studentship in Medical Humanities, 2016-2020
  • Chancellors Scholarship, University of Sussex, 2014-2015
  • Best Undergraduate Dissertation in Anthropology, Brunel University, 2014
  • Alumni Scholarship, Brunel University, 2010-2014

Additional Information

Grupo de Antropologia Medica y Salud Intercultural - Pontifica Universidad Catolica de Peru, Lima.