Ellen Lewin’s major research interests center on motherhood, reproduction, and sexuality, particularly as these are played out in American cultures. Over the course of her career, she has completed studies that focus on low-income Latina immigrants in San Francisco, lesbian mothers, lesbian and gay commitment ceremonies in the US, and gay fathers. Her current research focuses on a coalition of predominantly LGBT, African American, Pentecostal churches. In her forthcoming book, Filled With the Spirit, she examines how church congregants and leaders achieve spiritual transformation while also reaffirming their individual identities and their bonds with a larger racial community and history.
As a scholar working at the juncture of feminist, cultural, and medical anthropology, Lewin’s work has long concerned the ways in which women make sense of the multiple identities they derive from ethnicity, race, and class, sexual orientation, and maternal status. In lesbian and gay studies her work has focused on the construction of community in American cultural contexts, and, in response to recent debates in feminist and queer theory, to devising more nuanced understandings of concepts of resistance and accommodation. Lewin’s work in both feminist anthropology and lesbian and gay studies has also led her to write about questions of ethnographic representation in relation to both gender and sexual orientation. She has also maintained an active interest in women’s experience in the health care system, particularly in terms of the ways in which patients and providers negotiate access to reproductive care.
Several of these concerns come together in her research. Definitions of motherhood and assumptions about its intersection with womanhood have been central to feminist theory in anthropology and in other fields. Often these ideas draw directly on notions of nature and culture, conflating particular components of motherhood with virtue and authenticity. Insofar as motherhood has been theorized by some thinkers as a set of practices, it might be argued that men who undertake basic child-rearing and care-taking activities are in some ways "mothers" rather than "fathers." What are the implications of these social realities for enacting cultural notions of motherhood and fatherhood? If men can be mothers, then can the conventional, biologically-drawn boundaries of the basic gender categories—women and men—be defended? To the extent that gay male communities have normatively included only "adults," how do gay fathers position themselves and create communities and systems of social support and how do they articulate their identities? And now, how do these identities play out in the quest for spiritual wholeness?
History of Feminist Anthropology
Feminist Medical Anthropology
Motherhood and Reproduction
Women, Health, and Healing
Anthropology & Contemporary World Problems
Anthropology of Sexual Minorities