Hanan Sabea

Assistant Professor
Anthropology/African-American & African Studies

PhD Johns Hopkins University 2000

The triad of culture, political economy and history encapsulates my broad interests in socio-cultural anthropology. A mixed baggage of personal experiences and disciplinary developments in anthropology are the main culprits, so to speak, in directing my research towards colonial and post-colonial polities and economies; group formation and identity; history production and memory; constructions of morality; and transnationalism.

My interests in anthropology started in Egypt, where I got my BA and MA focusing on the political economy of developing countries. After nine years of working in research and development projects in Egypt and North Africa, I shifted interest to Sub-Saharan Africa, primarily East Africa where I conducted research in Tanzania. Personal and professional experiences in North and sub-Saharan Africa define one of my broader intellectual concerns, namely how the category Africa has been historically constructed in the social sciences, shaping not only the intellectual agenda of practitioners, but also the very terms of academic and political engagements with the place and the people.

In Tanzania my research focused on how different groups of people interpreted the transition from socialism to free-market economy and polity. I conducted ethnographic and archival research in London and Tanzania on a transnational corporation within the sisal industry, a plantation complex with direct ties to the international world of markets and intimately linked to the colonial machinery since the late 19th century. I focused on how people (workers, managers, villagers, administrators) constructed their histories under diverse regimes of power (colonial, post-colonial, capitalist, and socialist), how they interpreted their pasts, and how these pasts were constitutive of their present social reality and identity.

My current and future interests evolve around the conceptualization of temporality and historicity; the politics of labor at the interface of global corporate culture and the nation-state; and the relationship between governance and the reproduction of moral orders. I am particularly interested in the relationship between past-ness and present-ness, and the theoretical and methodological consequences of analyzing the present as a condition of simultaneous temporalities, whereby the past(s) are part and parcel of the present social reality. I am pursuing this question by focusing on transnational corporations and how they produce their histories from different sites and in relationship to diverse political and economic orders. I am also preparing a project on the differences in forms of colonial rule (e.g. mandate rule, colony and protectorate) and how such divergence shapes present relationships of governance and the constitution of politico-moral orders.


Political economy; plantations and labor relations; transnational corporations; socialist polities; the politics of development; history production and collective memory; nationhood, ethnicity and race; colonial and post-colonial orders; East Africa.


Labor, Capital and States in Contemporary Africa; Contemporary Theory in Anthropology; Social Histories of Commodities; Culture and Politics of Transnational Corporations; Post-Colonial States and the Politics of Identity; History, Memory and Anthropology; The Politics of Development in Africa.


  • forthcoming - "Reviving the Dead: Entangled Histories in the Privatization of the Tanzanian sisal Industry" in Africa.
  • 1988 - "Community And Participation in the New Lands: The Case of South Tahrir" in Cairo Papers in Social Science. Spring.