Vania Smith-Oka

Faculty Fellow, Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies; Faculty Fellow, Eck Institute for Global Health; Director, Program in Health, Humanities, & Society


2006    Ph.D. Anthropology. Joint program of University of Illinois at Chicago and Field Museum of Natural History.
2001    M.A. Anthropology (with an emphasis on Ecology). University of Florida. 
1998    B.A. (cum laude). Biology, Anthropology, and Environmental Studies. Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin.

Research and Teaching Interests

Medical Anthropology, Medical Training, Hospital Ethnography, Anthropology of Reproduction; Gender and Health, Obstetric Violence, Research Methods in Anthropology


Vania Smith-Oka is a cultural and medical anthropologist who specializes on the effect of institutions (medical, economic, development) on the behavior and choices of marginalized populations, especially women. She has explored the impact of an economic development program on the reproductive lives and motherhood of indigenous women in the Huasteca region of Mexico. From this research emerged her first book, Shaping the Motherhood of Indigenous Mexico (Vanderbilt, 2013). She also researched the doctor-patient relationship in a maternity ward in the city of Puebla, particularly the role of space/place, notions of social and medical risk, and quality of care. She recently completed a book project (Becoming Gods: Medical Training in Mexican Obstetric Wards, Rutgers, 2021) on how skills, practices, and attitudes of medicine are transmitted to medical students.

She currently has three projects: (1) “Cutting Women,” which investigates how practices such as obstetric violence become prevalent across some societies; (2) “Hospital Spaces,” which is a collaborative project with architects and health professionals on how medical space impacts care and patient experience; and (3) “Incision Decisions”, which brings together anthropologists and obstetricians to understand decision-making regarding cesarean sections.

Phone: 574-631-7269
Office: 248 Corbett Family Hall