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Associate Professor
Sociocultural Anthropologist, Medical Anthropologist
Alumni Building 305A

Research Interests

Medical anthropology, moral economies of medicine and health, gender and health, reproductive politics, Soviet Russia & post-Soviet Russia


Medical Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, Ethnography

Research Background

Since 1993, I have undertaken ethnographic and text-based research on health and gender in Russia to understand the broader social and political changes in that country since the end of state socialism. My work has examined Russia’s health care reforms, debates and policies on reproduction and demography, sex education, and the daily struggles of women and men to secure well-being among privatization and nationalism. My first book, Women’s Health in Post-Soviet Russia: The Politics of Intervention (Indiana UP 2005) made two overarching arguments. First, by showing how Western observers and Russian professionals both highlighted the importance of individuals’ moral change, rather than policies ensuring collective well-being, the book critiqued assumptions that the end of state socialism ushered in a collectively empowering democratization. Second, it detailed how the institutional contexts of Soviet health care and state policy – and ongoing changes occurring to them-- affected the micro-negotiations of biomedical power between doctors and women patients. Processes of medicalization, I contend, are shaped by political-economic conditions and specific health care systems; critiques of medicalization are not universal but arise in response to such local conditions.
My second book, Unmaking Russia’s Abortion Culture: Family Planning and the Struggle for a Liberal Biopolitics (forthcoming, June 2024, Vanderbilt University Press) traces the work of health professionals, writers, and activists who drove a revolution in Russian reproductive practices by enabling the routine use of abortion to be replaced with contraceptive habits. The book spans six-and-a-half decades of Soviet and post-Soviet history, beginning from the re-legalization of abortion in 1955 and extending through the second decade of the 21st century. Detailing the rise of family planning institutions for both clinical and educational goals, the book reveals how Russian contraceptive advocates built a culturally-salient form of liberalism by emphasizing that contraceptive habits would strengthen families and increase fertility. Still, opponents of family planning succeeded in discrediting and defunding these new institutions on the basis of claims that they would reduce fertility and thereby pose a threat to Russia’s national security. The book reveals Russian nationalists’ overriding focus on reproductive and demographic sovereignty at the expense of science and women’s health.
I am currently working on a study of the work of the Russian demographer, Anatoly Vishnevsky, for insights into the ways liberal critiques developed during the late Soviet and post-Soviet era in the public outreach of Russian social sciences.


PhD, Princeton University, 1997; AB, Vassar College, 1990

Current Courses

  • ANTH 582 – FIELDWORK MED ANTH (MWF, 2:30 PM – 3:20 PM)


(forthcoming, June 2024) Unmaking Russia’s Abortion Culture: Family Planning and the Struggle for a Liberal Biopolitics Vanderbilt University Press, series on Policy to Practice: Ethnographic Perspectives on Global Health Systems;

2023 Rivkin-Fish, Michele. “Anthropologies of Reproduction, Abortion, and Biopolitics” in The Cambridge Handbook of the Anthropology of Gender and Sexuality, eds. Cecilia McCallum, Silvia Posocco and Martin Fotta. Cambridge University Press, pp.395-424.

2023 “Переход от аборта к контрацепции: важнейшие страницы истории российской политики в 1990-х годах” (The transition from abortion to contraception: key moments in the history of Russian politics in the 1990s) Demograficheskoe obozrenie 10(2):104-131. (in Russian)
2021 “Politicized Demography and the Reconstruction of Biomedical Authority in post-Soviet Russia” (co-authored with Inna Leykin), Medical Anthropology
2021 “On Emotionalisation of public domains,”(co-authored with Julia Lerner) Emotions and Society vol 3(1):3-14 DOI: 10.1332/263169021X161 49420135743

2019 Temkina, Anna, and Michele Rivkin-Fish “Creating Health Care Consumers: The Negotiation of Un/Official Payments, Power and Trust in Russian Maternity Care” Social Theory and Health 18(4), 340-357.

2018 “’Fight Abortion, Not Women’: The Moral Economy Underlying Russian Feminist Advocacy” Anthropological Journal of European Cultures 27(2):22-44. doi: 10.3167/ajec.2018.270203

2016 Understanding Health Inequalities and Justice: New Conversations Across the Disciplines, eds. Mara Buchbinder, Michele Rivkin-Fish, and Rebecca Walker. UNC Press, Social Medicine Series.

2017 “Legacies of 1917 in Contemporary Russian Public Health: Addiction, HIV and Abortion.” American Journal of Public Health 107(11):1731-1735.

2014 “Medical Anthropology.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Anthropology. Ed. John Jackson. New York: Oxford University Press.

2013 “Conceptualizing Feminist Strategies for Russian Reproductive Politics: Abortion, Surrogate Motherhood, and Family Support After Socialism” SIGNS, 38(3):569-593.

2011 “Learning the Moral Economy of Commodified Health Care: Community Education, Failed Consumers, and the Making of Ethical Clinician-Citizens” Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, 35(2), special issue on Clinical Subjectivation: Anthropologies of Contemporary Biomedical Training, pp. 183-208.

2010 “Pronatalism, Gender Politics, and the Renewal of Family Support in Russia: Towards a Feminist Anthropology of ‘Maternity Capital’” Slavic Review 69(3): 701-724.

2010 Dilemmas of Diversity After the Cold War: Analyses of “Cultural Difference” by US and Russia-Based Scholars (co-edited with Elena Trubina). Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

2009 “Tracing Landscapes of the Past in Class Subjectivity: Practices of Memory and Distinction in Marketizing Russia” American Ethnologist 36(1):163-179.

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