Teaching and Research Profile

Brandon University Courses: 2022-2023

12 153 Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology (Fall)
12/90 292 Ethnographic Research Methods (Fall)

12/90 259 Sociology of Medical Systems (Winter)
12 451 Issues in Social Anthropology (Winter)

Research Overview

My research highlights the forces associated with poor maternal and neonatal health indicators in the Global South, and reveals the complexity of the social determinants of health during conflict and in zones of weak governance.

Drawing on data collected over five years of ethnographic fieldwork in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of northern Pakistan (2004-2005, 2010-2013, 2017), my medical anthropology research explores the impacts of sectarian conflict on global maternal health interventions and women’s use of medical services and hospitals for pregnancy and childbirth. My work provides in-depth and engaged analysis of the cultural, ethical, and experiential texture of medicine, and the political etiologies underlying women’s health outcomes during times of instability and crisis.

Between 2018 and 2021, with Dr. Robert Lorway (University of Manitoba) I co-led a multi-sited ethnography entitled “Operational Research to Understand and Improve Patterns in Knowledge, Detection and Management of Complications in Labour and Delivery and the Postpartum Period.” Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), and in partnership with the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Global Public Health (CGPH) and the India Health Action Trust (IHAT), our team-based hospital ethnography evaluated the effectiveness of BMGF-funded public sector maternal and neonatal healthcare services in achieving key reductions in maternal and infant morbidity and mortality. Working across six clinical sites in two districts of Uttar Pradesh, the study used action-oriented, participatory methodologies to uncover the multiplex determinants of health at-work in India’s state hospitals, and delineated the role these play in medical outcomes. Equally, our project explored the ways that synergistic and sometimes fraught relationships between governmental and transnational health entities impacted public sector health system performance.

My recent publications concern the contribution of socio-economic and political factors to persistently high rates of maternal illness and death, and the impacts of conflict, social inequality, and health sector decentralization on Safe Motherhood health services, programming and policy. Recent projects include two journal special issues, organized and edited in collaboration with Dr. Saiba Varma (University of California-San Diego) for Medical Anthropology (2018: “Ghosts in the Ward: Hospital Infrastructures and their Hauntings“) and Anthropology & Medicine (2021: “Medicine’s Shadowside: Revisiting Clinical Iatrogenesis“). With Dr. Adrienne Strong (University of Florida), I co-organized and curated two online collections of medical anthropology field updates, response papers, and think pieces entitled “COVID-19 and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH)/Maternal and Newborn Health (MNH).” In 2020, these featured as part of Medical Anthropology Quarterly‘s “COVID-19 Responses” platform.

Scholarly Publications

Varley, Emma. 2022. “Hospital Paperworlds: Medical (Mis)Reporting and Maternal Health in Northern Pakistan.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 0 (0): 1–19. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1111/maq.12737.

Chachula, Kathryn and Emma Varley. 2022. “Perceptions and experiences of psychological trauma in nursing and psychiatric nursing students: A small scale qualitative case study.” PLoS ONE, 17 (11): e0277195. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0277195.

Strong, Adrienne E. and Emma Varley. 2022. “Bodies in peril: Healthcare workers on the frontlines of global maternal health interventions.” Global Public Health: Special Issue “Making Global Health ‘Work’.” Aug 22; 1-15. DOI: 10.1080/17441692.2022.2114012

Varley, Emma. 2022. “The Nightside of Medicine: Obstetric Suffering and Ethnographic Witnessing in a Pakistani Hospital.” The Work of Hospitals: Global Medicine in Local Cultures, edited by William C. Olsen and Carolyn Sargent. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, pp. 213-225.

Hanson, Cindy and JoAnn Jaffe, Emma Varley, et al. 2022. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Public Transportation and Vulnerabilities in Rural and Remote Canada. University of Regina and CRIAW: 54 pages.

Varley, Emma. 2021. “Weeping wombs: Leucorrhea and the chronicity of distress in Gilgit-Baltistan.” Anthropology & Medicine, DOI: 10.1080/13648470.2020.1865037

Varley, Emma and Saiba Varma. 2021. “Introduction: Medicine’s Shadowside: Revisiting Clinical Iatrogenesis.” Anthropology & Medicine, 28 (2): 141-155, DOI: 10.1080/13648470.2021.1937514

Holden, Livia and Emma Varley. 2020. “Insecurity on Both Sides of the Line of Control.” Association for Political and Legal Anthropology Speaking Justice to Power Serieshttps://politicalandlegalanthro.org/2020/08/14/insecurity-on-both-sides-of-the-line-of-control/

Varley, Emma. 2019. “At Odds with the Impulse: Muslim Humanitarianism and its Exclusions in Northern Pakistan.” Special Issue “Muslim Humanitarianism”: Allegra: A Virtual Lab of Legal Anthropology, July 10 2019: http://allegralaboratory.net/at-odds-with-the-impulse-muslim-humanitarianism-and-its-exclusions-in-northern-pakistan-muhum/

Varley, Emma and Saiba Varma. 2019. “Attending to the Dark Side of Medicine.” Anthropology News, April 17: DOI: 10.1111/AN.1142. http://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2019/04/17/attending-to-the-dark-side-of-medicine/

Varley, Emma. 2019. “Monsoons and Medicine: The Biopolitics of Crisis and State Indifference in Northern Pakistan.” Special Issue “Law, Culture, and Governance in Gilgit-Baltistan”: South Asian History and Culture, 10 (1): 78-96.

Varley, Emma. 2019. “Against Protocol: The Politics and Perils of Oxytocin (Mis)Use in a Pakistani Labour Room.” Special Issue “The Hospital in South Asia”: Puruṣārtha, 36: 105-130.

Varma, Saiba and Emma Varley, Co-Organizers and Editors. 2018. “Special Issue: Ghosts in the Ward: Hospital Infrastructures and their Hauntings.” Medical Anthropology, 37 (8): https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/gmea20/37/8

Varley, Emma and Saiba Varma. 2018. “Spectral Ties: Forms of Haunting Across the Line of Control.” Special Issue, Medical Anthropology, 37 (8): 630-644. 

Varley, Emma. 2017. “Review: ’The Battle for Algeria: Sovereignty, Health Care, and Humanitarianism’ by Jennifer Johnson.” Journal of Third World Studies, 33 (2): 2 pages.

Svea Closser, Rashid Jooma, Emma Varley, Naina Qayyum, Sonia Rodrigues, Akasha Sarwar & Patricia Omidian. 2016. “Polio Eradication and Health Systems in Karachi: Vaccine Refusals in Context.” Global Health Communication, 1 (1): 1-9.

Varley, Emma. 2016. “Abandonments, Solidarities and Logics of Care: Hospitals as Sites of Sectarian Conflict in Gilgit-Baltistan.” (Special Issue “The Clinic in Crisis”; Sherine Hamdy, Soha Bayoumi, Sa’ed Atshan and Adia Benton: Editors) Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, 40 (2): 159-180.

Varley, Emma. 2015. “Exclusionary Infrastructures: Conflict and the Rise of Shia and Sunni Hospitals in Northern Pakistan.” Spaces of Conflict in Everyday Life: Figurations and Methodology. (Martin Sökefeld: Editor) Berlin: Transcript Verlag.

Varley, Emma. 2015. “Review: ‘Education for Development in Northern Pakistan: Opportunities and Constraints for Rural Households.’” Mountain Research and Development, 35 (4): 421-422.

Varley, Emma. 2015. “Review: ‘Women, Islam, and Identity: Public Life in Private Spaces in Uzbekistan’ by Svetlana Peshkova.” Association for Feminist Anthropology: http://www.aaanet.org/sections/afa/book-review/women-islam-and-identity-private-life-in-public-spaces-in-uzbekistan/

Varley, Emma. 2015. “Review: ‘Ritual and Recovery in Post-Conflict Sri Lanka’ by Jane Derges.” Anthropology & Medicine, 22 (1): 93-95.

Varley, Emma. 2014. “Medicine at the Margins: Conflict, Sectarianism and Health Governance in Gilgit-Baltistan.” Special Issue: ‘Studying Violence Anthropologically.’ Allegra: A Virtual Lab of Legal Anthropology, Nov 7 2014: http://allegralaboratory.net/medicine-at-the-margins-conflict-sectarianism-and-health-governance-in-gilgit-baltistan-anthroviolence/

Varley, Emma. 2014. “Islamic Logics, Reproductive Rationalities: Family Planning in Northern Pakistan.” Reproduction and Biopolitics: Ethnographies of Governance, “Irrationality” and Resistance. (Milena Marchesi and Silvia De Zordo: Editors). London: Routledge. (Originally published in 2012 in Anthropology & Medicine, 19 (2): 189-206.)

Svea Closser, Kelly Cox, Thomas M. Parris, R. Matthew Landis, Judith Justice, Ranjani Gopinath, Kenneth Maes, Hailom Banteyerga Amaha, Ismaila Zango Mohammed, Aminu Mohammed Dukku, Patricia A. Omidian, Emma Varley, Pauley Tedoff, Adam D. Koon, Laetitia Nyirazinyoye, Matthew A. Luck, W. Frank Pont, Vanessa Neergheen, Anat Rosenthal, Peter Nsubuga, Naveen Thacker, Rashid Jooma, and Elizabeth Nuttall. 2014. “The Impact of Polio Eradication on Routine Immunization and Primary Health Care: A Mixed-Methods Study.” The Journal of Infectious Disease, Special Supplement (April 1): S1-S10.

Varley, Emma. 2012. “Islamic Logics, Reproductive Rationalities: Family Planning in Northern Pakistan.” Anthropology & Medicine, 19 (2): 189-206.

Varley, Emma. 2012. “Black Magic, Divination & Remedial Reproductive Agency in Northern Pakistan.” Ethnographies of Islam. (Baudouin Dupret, Thomas Pierret, Paulo Pinto & Kathryn Spellman: Editors) Edinburgh: The Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations & Edinburgh University Press, pp. 11-20.

Varley, Emma, Isaranuwatchai, I., Coyte, P.C. 2012. “Ocean Waves & Roadside Spirits: Thai Health Service Providers’ Post-Tsunami Psychosocial Health.” Disasters: The Journal of Disaster Studies, Policy and Management, 36 (4): 656-675.

Varley, Emma. 2011. “Fieldnotes Excerpt: Faith & Loss in a Northern Pakistani Labor Room.” Practical Matters: A Transdisciplinary Multimedia Journal of Religious Practices and Practical Theology, 4 (12 pages). http://practicalmattersjournal.org/2011/09/01/fieldnotes-excerpt-2/

Varley, Emma. 2010. “Targeted doctors, missing patients: Obstetric health services and sectarian conflict in Northern Pakistan.” Social Science & Medicine, 70: 61-70.

Varley, Emma. 2008. “Enmities & Introspection: Fieldwork Entanglements and Ethnographic Reflexivity.” How Do We Know? Evidence, Ethnography, and the Making of Anthropological Knowledge.  (Liana Chua, Casey High, Timm Lau: Editors) Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 133-156.

Varley, Emma. 2008. “’Halaat Kharab’/Tension Times: The Maternal Health Costs of Gilgit’s Sunni-Shia Conflict” Missing Links in Sustainable Development: South Asian PerspectivesKarachi: SDPI & SAMA Editorial & Publishing Services, pp. 53-80.


Varley, Emma, McKellin, W.H., Chan, K. 2000. Working in International Health: IHHS 300.(Online Inter-professional Health and Human Service course.) Vancouver: College of Health Disciplines, University of British Columbia.

Technical Reports

Varley, Emma. 2020. The Structural Determinants of Care: An Ethnographic Exploration of BOOST at the Facility-Level. Lucknow, India and Winnipeg, Canada: India Health Action Trust Technical Support Unit (IHAT-TSU) and Centre for Global Public Health, University of Manitoba (45 pages).

Ghauri, Ali Islam and Emma Varley. 2016. Ethnographic Evaluative Study of the Heartfile Health Financing (HHF) Program. Islamabad, Pakistan: Heartfile (90 pages). 

Bradley, Tamsin, and Smita Premchander, Emma Varley, Seema Khan. 2016. Women, work and violence: Violence against women and girls as an unintended outcome of women’s economic empowerment: understanding gender dynamics within domestic, public and work spaces. London, UK: IMC Worldwide (160 pages).

Coburn, Noah, Emma Varley, Svea Closser, Noor Sabah Rakhshani, Kath O’Reilly and Juliet Bedford. 2015. Pashtun Communities and Polio Vaccination in Pakistan: Anthrologica for Unicef. London, UK: Anthrologica (50 pages). 

Varley, Emma and Seema Khan. 2015. Evidence for Change: Mobilizing Qualitative Research to Improve MNH in Pakistan. Islamabad, Pakistan: Research and Advocacy Fund (36 pages); http://www.rafpakistan.org/userfiles/newfiles/Using%20Qualitative%20Research%20to%20Improve%20MNH%20in%20Pakistan.pdf. 

Brankovic, Branko and Emma Varley. 2012. Assessment Report on Situation of Healthcare System in Gilgit-Baltistan: Needs and Opportunities – June 2012. Islamabad, Pakistan: Maltheser International (28 pages).

Ahmed, Jamil and Emma Varley. 2012. Collective Review of David and Lucille Packard Foundation Grantees for Reproductive Health (RH) Initiatives During and After Floods of 2010-11: Qualitative Research. Islamabad, Pakistan: National Rural Support Programme (NRSP) and Research and Development Department, Health Services Academy (67 pages).

Varley, Emma. 2012. Inception Report: Addressing Family Planning and Reproductive Health (FPRH) in Lahore’s Textile Sector. Lahore, Pakistan: Strategic Enterprise Development Center (LUMS) and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation (24 pages). 

Varley, Emma and Patricia Omidian. 2012. Polio Eradication Impacts Study: Case Study Report, SITE Town Pakistan. Middlebury, VT: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Middlebury College (23 pages).

Varley, Emma. 2008. Memo: Conflictive Sectarianism and Islamic Humanitarianism. University of Toronto and University of Minnesota (51 pages).

Varley, Emma. 1998. AKRSP Women’s Organization (WO) Income-Generating Activities and Increased Household-Decision Making. Gilgit, Pakistan: Monitoring & Evaluation Unit (MER), Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (53 pages).

Online Media

Varley, Emma. 2010. “Difficult Times.” Dawn Newspaper: http://blog.dawn.com/2010/08/10/diary-from-gilgit

Varley, Emma. 2010. “Vulnerable Patients in Gilgit-Baltistan.” Dawn Newspaper: http://blog.dawn.com/2010/08/14/expectancy-and-strife-vulnerable-patients-in-gilgit-baltistan

Varley, Emma. 2010. “Evacuation from Gilgit: Parts I and I.” Dawn Newspaper: http://blog.dawn.com/2010/08/25/evacuation-from-gilgit-i; http://blog.dawn.com/2010/08/27/evacuation-from-gilgit-%E2%80%93-ii

Select Invited Presentations

University of Manitoba (September 22, 2022) Winnipeg, Manitoba: Presented a paper, “Women’s Health and Medicine Under Fire: A Shadowside Ethnography of Crisis, Conflict, and Care in Northern Pakistan,” for the Annual Pat Kaufert Memorial Lecture.

Christ Church College and the Maison Française d’Oxford (September 15, 2022) Oxford, England: Presented a paper, “Who will the gatekeepers be? On cultural expertise and the professionalization of anthropology,” as part of a EURO-EXPERT Conference.

University of Manitoba (April 22, 2022) Winnipeg, Manitoba: Presented a research paper, “Mapping Safe Motherhood’s (Un)Planned Effects: Rapid Ethnography of Obstetric Services in Northern India,” as part of the Bold Ideas Speaker Series for the Department of Community Health Sciences in the Max Rady College of Medicine and Rady Faculty of Health Sciences.

Rice University (December 9, 2021) Houston, Texas: Presented a research paper, “Keeping My Own Counsel, Keeping Others’ Secrets (or “To speak of the devil is to raise the devil”),” as part of the “Patchwork Ethnography” workshop.

Rice University (February 5, 2021) Houston, Texas: Presented a research paper, “Dark Nights and Impasses: Revealing and Resisting Ethnography’s Conditionalities and Constraints,” as part of the “Patchwork Ethnography” workshop.

American Anthropological Association (November 22, 2019) Vancouver, B.C.: Presented a research paper, “Medicine as violence: Obstetric abuse reconsidered,” as part of the Society for Medical Anthropology sponsored roundtable session “Responding to the problem of violence, disrespect and abuse within maternal healthcare.” 

University of Geneva (May 15, 2019) Geneva, Switzerland: Presented a research paper, “At Odds with the ‘Impulse’: Muslim Humanitarianism and its Exclusions in Northern Pakistan,” as part of panel session “Social Formations and Space,” in the “Workshop on Muslim Humanitarianism.” 

University of Manitoba (March 22, 2019) Winnipeg, Manitoba: Presented a research paper, “Disastrous Medicine: State Neglect and Clinical Hazard during Pakistan’s 2010 Floods,” as part of the Department of Anthropology’s Colloquium Series. 

Knox United Church (January 26, 2019) Brandon, Manitoba: Presented a paper, “Islam and Islamophobia: The Canadian Prairie Experience,” as part of the Community Colloquium Series.

University of Zurich (October 24-26, 2018) Zurich, Switzerland: Presented a research-based paper, “Hospital Paperworlds: Medical (Mis)Reporting and Maternal Health in Northern Pakistan,” as part of the book workshop “The Hospital in South Asia.”

European Conference on South Asian Studies (July 24-27, 2018) Paris, France: Presented a research-based paper, “Medicine’s Nightside: Obstetric Innovation and Iatrogenesis in a State Hospital,” as part of the panel session “Childbirth in South Asia: multiple perspectives on continuing paradoxes.” 

American Anthropological Association (December 3, 2017) Washington, DC: Presented a research-based paper, “The Nightside of Medicine: Ethnographic Witnessing and Proximal Suffering in a Pakistani Hospital.” 

Canadian Anthropology Society (May 14, 2016) Halifax, Nova Scotia: Presented opening remarks for the roundtable session “Medical Anthropology, CIHR and SSHRC: Strategizing for Funding Inclusion in Uncertain Times.” 

Nantes Institute for Advanced Study (April 28, 2016) Nantes, France: Presented a research-based paper, “Monsoons and Medicine: Crisis and the Biopolitics of State Indifference in Gilgit-Baltistan,” as part of “Law and Governance in Gilgit-Baltistan Workshop.” 

American Anthropological Association (November 19, 2015) Denver, Colorado: Presented a co-authored, research-based paper, “Spectral Ties: Forms of Haunting Across the Line of Control,” with co-panelist and co-author Dr. Saiba Varma (University of California-San Diego). 

Research and Advocacy Fund. (January 29, 2015) Islamabad, Pakistan: Organized, chaired, and presented at the “Qualitative Research Panel Session” for the Maternal and Newborn Health Programme Research and Advocacy Fund annual conference.

Ludwig Maximilians Universität (October 13, 2014) Munich, Germany: Presented a research-based paper, “Speaking with Angels, Combating Black Magic: Enmity, Spirit Mediums, and Acts of Occult Remediation in Gilgit-Baltistan, Northern Pakistan,” as part of the Institute of Ethnology’s Oberseminar Series. 

Brown University (May 9, 2014) Providence, Rhode Island: Presented a research-based paper, “Abandonments, Solidarities and Logics of Care: Hospitals and Medical Encounters as Sites and Sources of Conflict in Gilgit-Baltistan,” as part of the two-day symposium “The Clinic in Crisis.”

University of Northern Illinois (November 18-20, 2013) Chicago, Illinois: Presented a research-based paper, “Minding the Public Sector Gap(s) in Northern Pakistan: NGOs’ Complex and Contradictory Contributions to MNCH Services,” at academic conference “The Future of NGO Studies.” 

Media Coverage and Press Releases

COVID-19 pandemic provides backdrop for returning BU course.” (December 4, 2020)

BU Prof Publishes Research on Conflict’s Impact on Health Services.” (September 17, 2015) 

Keith Martin: Press Room.” (2011) 

“CNN: Pakistan hospital cut off by floods struggles to help survivors.” (August 25, 2010) 

“UNPO: Gilgit-Baltistan: Precarious Situation as Basic Necessities Run-Out.” (August 11, 2010)