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Megan Crowley-Matoka

Associate Professor, Medical Education / Anthropology

PhD University of California, Irvine 2001

Regional Focus:  Americas                           

Subfield(s):  Cultural Anthropology               

Interest(s):  Health/Medicine; Subjectivity/Citizenship; Inequality; Ethics

Research and teaching interests

Sociocultural and Medical Anthropology; clinical power and uncertainty; biotechnology; subjectivity and citizenship; gender, race, class, and inequality; ethics and morality; Latin and North America


Megan Crowley-Matoka is a sociocultural and medical anthropologist whose work examines the culture of medicine in relation to the making of both self and state.  Broadly focused on the question of how patients, medical professionals, and policymakers make decisions in the face of clinical uncertainty, her research engages areas of medicine where there is dispute over the line between healing and harm, and tracks the uneven social configurations and consequences – as well as the moral problems – that emerge in such zones.

Her first book, Domesticating Organ Transplant: Familial Sacrifice and National Aspiration in Mexico (Duke University Press, 2016), focused on these issues in the context of organ transplantation.  Drawing on extensive fieldwork with patients, families, medical professionals, and government and religious leaders in Guadalajara, the book examines the intimate dynamics and inequitable politics of live donor kidney transplant. The analysis traces the way that iconic notions about mothers, miracles, and mestizos shape how some lives are saved and others are risked through transplantation in Mexico, arguing that as transplant is rendered culturally familiar, it is also ethically domesticated as both private matter of home and proud product of the nation. Braiding this situated story together with an analysis of the iconic power of transplant itself – as an intervention that at once exemplifies medicine’s death-defying promise and its commodifying perils – the book ultimately explores how embodied experience, clinical practice, and national identity produce one another.

Her second book project is an ethnographic exploration of the political and moral economies surrounding pain and its treatment in American biomedicine, drawing on fieldwork across multiple clinical sites in the U.S.  This research examines the ambivalent medicalization of pain in biomedicine as it affects clinical practice, institutional structures, and the sense of embodied and moral self of both patients and clinicians.  In tracing out some of the specific ways stigmatized pharmaceutical and suspect surgical options for treating pain mediate one another in American medicine, this project also serves more broadly as a site for examining how notions of evidence and ethics make one another.

Crowley-Matoka has also published widely in the anthropological, medical, and bioethics literatures on the topics of organ donation and transplantation, the contentious status of pain in American medicine, disparities in American healthcare, and sociocultural issues in death and dying.  This work has appeared in Cultural Anthropology, Social Science and Medicine, Medical Anthropology, American Ethnologist, Biosocieties, Political and Legal Anthropology Review (PoLAR), American Journal of Transplantation, Pain, Transplantation, Pain Medicine, the American Journal of Public Health, Journal of General Internal Medicine, Critical Care Medicine, Kennedy Institute of Bioethics Journal, and American Journal of Bioethics, among others.  She has contributed invited articles to the Encyclopedia of Bioethics 4th Edition, Ethical Issues in Living Donor Organ Transplantation, and the Oxford Handbook of Ethics at the End of Life.

Her research has been generously supported by grants and fellowships from the Fulbright Fellowship Program, the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the National Institutes of Health, the University of California MEXUS Program, the VA Health Services Research and Development, and the Greenwall Foundation.

Before joining the Northwestern faculty, Crowley-Matoka completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Chicago’s MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, where she was simultaneously appointed as a Visiting Researcher in the Department of Anthropology.  After fellowship, she joined the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in the Departments of Medicine and Anthropology, and served as a core investigator in the Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion at the VA Pittsburgh.  In 2008, she returned to the University of Chicago as Visiting Faculty in the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics before coming to Northwestern 2010.

At Northwestern, Crowley-Matoka holds a primary faculty appointment in the Department of Medical Education at the Feinberg School of Medicine and a secondary appointment in the Department of Anthropology.  She serves as core faculty and Director of Graduate Studies for the MA Program in Medical Humanities and Bioethics.

Selected publications

2016    Crowley-Matoka, Megan.  Domesticating Organ Transplant: Familial Sacrifice and National Aspiration in Mexico.  Durham, NC. Duke University Press.

2016    Crowley-Matoka, Megan.  Of Nature, Nurture and National Comparisons: Where Might They Take Us?  Journal of Musculoskeletal Pain 23(1-2): 8-10. (Invited commentary)

2016    Halverson, Colin M.E., Jackie Y. Wang, Michael Poulson, Jennifer Karlin, Megan Crowley-Matoka and Laine F. Ross.  Living Donors Who Develop Kidney Failure: Excerpts of Their Thoughts.  American Journal of Nephrology 43(6): 389-396.

2015    Crowley-Matoka, Megan.  Chimeras, (In)Corporations and Morality-in-the-Making in Experimental Transplant (The Transplant Imaginary: Mechanical Hearts, Animal Parts, and Moral Thinking in Highly Experimental Science, Lesley A. Sharp).  Biosocieties 10: 260-264. (Review)

2015    Crowley-Matoka, Megan and Sherine Hamdy.  Gendering the Gift of Life: Family Politics and Kidney Donation in Egypt and Mexico.  Medical Anthropology 35(1): 31-44.

2015    Crowley-Matoka, Megan.  Cultural Factors in Death and Dying.  Oxford Handbook of Ethics at the End of Life, Robert A. Arnold and Stuart J. Youngner, eds. New York: Oxford.

2014    Crowley-Matoka, Megan.  Body Commodification.  Encyclopedia of Bioethics, 4th Edition. New York: MacMillan.

2013    Crowley-Matoka, Megan.  How to Parse the Protective, the Punitive and the Prejudicial in Chronic Opioid Therapy.  Pain 154: 5-6. (Invited commentary)

2013    Crowley-Matoka, Megan.  Anthropological Issues in Renal Care.  Kidney International Supplements 3: 219-222.

2012    Crowley-Matoka, Megan and Gala True.  No One Wants To Be the Candyman: Ambivalent Medicalization and Clinician Subjectivity in Pain Management.  Cultural Anthropology 27(4): 689-712.

2009    Crowley-Matoka, Megan, Somnath Saha, Steven Dobscha and Diana J. Burgess.  Problems of Quality and Equity in Pain Management: Exploring the Role of Biomedical Culture.  Pain Medicine 10(7): 1312-1324.

2008    Burgess, Diana J., Megan Crowley-Matoka, Sean Phelan, John D. Dovidio, Robert Kerns, Craig Roth, Somnatha Saha and Michele van Ryn.  Patient Race and Physicians’ Decisions to Prescribe Opioids for Chronic Low Back Pain.  Social Science and Medicine 67(11): 1852-1860.

2008    Lock, Margaret and Megan Crowley-Matoka.  Situating Expectations and Decisions about Organ Transplantation in Familial, Cultural and Political Context.  Transplantation Review 22(3): 154-157.

2008    Mangione, Michael and Megan Crowley-Matoka.  Improving Pain Management Communication: How Patients Understand the terms “Opioid” and “Narcotic.”  Journal of General Internal Medicine 29(3): 1336-8.

2006    Crowley-Matoka, Megan and Margaret Lock.  Organ Transplants in a Globalized World.  Mortality, 11(2): 166-181.

2006    Kilbourne, Amy M, Galen Switzer, Kelly Hyman, Megan Crowley-Matoka and Michael J. Fine.  Advancing Health Disparities Research within the Health Care System: A Conceptual Framework.  American Journal of Public Health 96(12): 2113-2121.

2006    Crowley-Matoka, Megan.  Review of Organ Donation and Transplantation: Body Organs as an Exchangeable Socio-Cultural Resource (Orit Brawer Ben-David).  American Ethnologist 33(44): 4007-4008. (Review)

2005    Crowley-Matoka, Megan.  Desperately Seeking Normal: The Promise and Perils of the Lived Organ Transplant Experience.  Social Science and Medicine 61: 821-831.

2005    Crowley-Matoka, Megan and Switzer, Galen.  Nondirected Living Donation: A Preliminary Survey of Current Trends and Practices.  Transplantation March 79(5): 515-519.

2004    Crowley-Matoka, Megan and Arnold, Robert M.  The Dead Donor Rule:  How Much Does the Public Care…And How Much Should We Care?  Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 14(3): 319-332.

2004    Crowley-Matoka, Megan, Siegler, Mark and Cronin, David.  Long-Term Quality of Life Issues Among Adult–to-Pediatric Living Liver Donors: A Qualitative Exploration.  American Journal of Transplantation 4(5): 744-750.

1999    Crowley-Matoka, Megan.  Culture, Class and Bodily Meaning: An Ethnographic Exploration of Organ Transplantation in Mexico.  PoLAR: The Political and Legal Anthropology Review 22(2).

1998    Crowley-Matoka, Megan.  Troubling Boundaries: Organ Transplantation and Liberal Law.  PoLAR: The Political and Legal Anthropology Review 21(1).