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Natalie Lira

Profile picture for Natalie Lira

Contact Information

Department of Latina/Latino Studies
1207 W. Oregon Street
M/C 136

Associate Chair, Associate Professor

Research Interests

Latinx Studies & Ethnic Studies

Reproductive Justice

Disability Studies

Histories of Medicine and Public Health

Research Description

Natalie Lira is an interdisciplinary scholar who examines the politics of reproduction and histories of medicine in the United States. She earned her Ph.D. in American Culture from the University of Michigan. Her research interests include the politics of reproduction, histories of medicine, and the ways that struggles for racial and reproductive justice intersect.


In her new book, Laboratory of Deficiency: Sterilization and Confinement in California, 1910-1950s, Dr. Lira combines insights and analytical frameworks from Latinx Studies, Disability Studies, and feminist scholarship on reproduction to examine Mexican-origin people's experiences of eugenic sterilization and institutionalization in California during the first half of the 20th century. Analyzing a vast archive, Dr. Lira reveals how political concerns over Mexican immigration—particularly ideas about the low intelligence, deviant sexuality, and inherent criminality of the "Mexican race"—shaped decisions regarding Mexican-origin youth's treatment and reproductive future. Laboratory of Deficiency documents how Mexican-origin people sought out creative resistance to institutional control and offers insight into how race, disability, and social deviance have been called upon to justify certain individuals' confinement and reproductive constraint in the name of public health and progress.  


Dr. Lira is also the co-director of the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab (SSJL). This multi-institutional interdisciplinary research team studies the history of eugenic sterilization in the United States. Funded in part by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, the SSJL team uses mixed methods from the social sciences, humanities, and public health to explore patterns and experiences of eugenic sterilization in California, Iowa, North Carolina, Michigan, and Utah. 


American Culture, Ph.D., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
American Culture, MA, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Latin American and Caribbean Studies, BA, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Additional Campus Affiliations

Associate Chair, Latina/Latino Studies
Associate Professor, Latina/Latino Studies
Associate Professor, Women & Gender in Global Perspectives
Associate Professor, Gender and Women's Studies

Recent Publications

Kaniecki, M., Novak, N. L., Gao, S., Lira, N., Treviño, T. A., O’Connor, K., & Stern, A. M. (2023). Racialization and Reproduction: Asian Immigrants and California’s Twentieth-Century Eugenic Sterilization Program. Social Forces, 102(2), 706-729.

Lira, N. (2021). Laboratory of Deficiency: Sterilization and Confinement in California, 1900–1950s. (Reproductive Justice: A New Vision for the 21st Century; Vol. 6). University of California Press.

Lira, N. (2021). “Low mentality” and “criminal tendencies”: Race, crime and disability in the politics of Latino men’s reproduction. Latino Studies, 19(3), 310-333.

Lira, N. (2021). Sterilization Abuse. In M. M. Fisher, & A. Winick (Eds.), Designing Motherhood: Things that Make and Break Our Births MIT Press.

Lira, N. (2020). Contraception. In K. P. Murphy, J. Ruiz, & D. Serlin (Eds.), The Routledge History of American Sexuality (pp. 145-153). (Routledge Histories). Routledge.

View all publications on Illinois Experts