Associate Professor
Department of Sociology, Egyptology and Anthropology


Brief Biography

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Sabea's interest in anthropology started in Egypt, where she got her BA and MA at AUC working on issues related to development, resettlement of populations and political economy of developing countries. After nine years of working in research and development projects in Egypt and North Africa, she shifted interest to Sub-Saharan Africa, primarily East and southern Africa where she conducted research in Tanzania, South Africa and Mozambique. Her experiences in both North and sub-Saharan Africa were instrumental in defining one of her broader intellectual concerns, namely how the very category of Africa has been historically constructed as an object of knowledge and as a cultural-political entity subject to a long history of interventionist policies.

Her research in Tanzania focused on the meanings associated with the transition from socialism to free-market economy and polity, taking sisal plantations as a microcosm for broader transformations. One question she pursued related to how people construct their histories under diverse regimes of power (colonial, post-colonial, capitalist and socialist), and how these pasts affect their present social reality. The knowledge gained from this research is reflected in two book manuscripts. The first, Present Pasts: Colonial Power and Laboring Subjects on Sisal Plantations in Tanzania, explores the relationship between colonialism, the morality of governance, and memory. The second book project deals with transnational corporations as agents in competition with states and nations in the construction of communities of allegiance.

The interface between anthropology, history and political economy continues to shape her current and future research. At present she is involved in two research projects in southern Africa. One concerns the multiple meanings of property as exemplified in court litigations by indigenous communities in their struggle to reclaim land from former white settlers. The second project continues her interest in plantation economies and focuses on the interface between environment and culture in the making of forest plantations in South Africa northern regions.

After six years of holding a joint appointment in the Department of Anthropology and the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African and African American Studies at the University of Virginia, she returned to AUC with a keen interest in continuing her research agenda in southern Africa, as well as pursuing the initial question of the relationship between MENA and sub-Saharan Africa as cultural and political categories. Besides her personal research agenda, she also hopes to expand the teaching and research about Africa by offering study-abroad courses exploring different facades of the relationship between culture, history and polity in South Africa, Mozambique as well as Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda in East Africa.

In the SAPE department, she offers a number of courses at the undergraduate level, including Introduction to Cultural Anthropology; Peoples and Cultures of Africa; Fieldwork Methods; Contemporary Theory in Anthropology; Travel Accounts of Africa; African Interlocutors in Knowledge Production; Social History of Commodities; Culture and Politics of Transnational Corporations. At the graduate level, her course offerings include History and Theory of Anthropology; History Production and Memory; Migrants and Transnationals; Labor, Capital and States in Africa; Post-Colonial States and the Politics of Identity; Nationalism, Ethnicity and Identity.


  • "Review of The Struggle for Meaning: Reflections on Philosophy, Culture and Democracy in Africa," by Paulin Hountondji. Africa Today 51(1): 126-129, 2004.
  • "Reviving the Dead: Entangled Histories in the Privatization of the Sisal Industry in Tanzania." Africa 71(2): 286-313, 2001
  • (with Nicholas Hopkins et al.) “Community and Participation in the New Lands: The Case of South Tahrir.” Cairo Papers in Social Science, Spring 1988: 1-135.
  • Present Pasts: Colonial Power and Laboring Subjects on Sisal Plantation in Tanzania. (Manuscript in progress)
Research Interest
  • Thematic Interests: Political economy (commodities; plantations and labor relations; transnational corporations; socialist polities); legal and political anthropology (nationhood, ethnicity and race; colonial and post-colonial orders); the anthropology of Africa; the anthropology of development (globalization; politics of development); history production and collective memory
  • Regional focus: East and southern Africa