Karen Tranberg Hansen Professor Emerita

Research and teaching interests

Urban Anthropology, Political Economy, Economic Anthropology, Consumption and Material Culture, Dress and Fashion, Gender Relations, Southern Africa, Development Issues


Karen Tranberg Hansen is a socio-cultural anthropologist involved in three overlapping research projects. One is a collaborative, interdisciplinary study, “Youth and the City: Skills, Knowledge and Social Reproduction” that was conducted between 2001 and 2005 in Lusaka (Zambia), Recife (Brazil), and Hanoi (Vietnam). Hansen is responsible for the Lusaka part. The project examines how different social, cultural, and economic factors affect young people’s possibilities to acquire the kinds of skills that are required to become social adults. The project book, Youth and the City in the Global South, is under contract with Indiana University press (forthcoming 2008) and Karen Tranberg Hansen is writing her own book, entitled Youth Matters with focus on international development cooperation as an aspect of globalization and its effects on young people and urban space in Lusaka, Zambia. Her second research area concerns urban livelihoods and economic transformations, which she has studied from the point of view of street vendors and traders in Lusaka’s informal economy. Her third concern is consumption especially dress and fashion in contemporary Africa. She is particularly interested in the clothing practices and everyday dynamics of dress and fashion performance.

Her books include, 1989 Distant Companions: Servants and Employers in Zambia, 1900-1985. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

2002 editor, African Encounters with Domesticity. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

 1997 Keeping House in Lusaka.  New York: Columbia University Press.

2000   Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

2004   co-editor with Mariken  Vaa, Informality Reconsidered:  Perspectives from Urban  Africa.  Uppsala:  Nordic Africa Institute.

 Karen Tranberg Hansen received the Conrad M. Arensberg Award from the Society for the Anthropology of Work in 1997, the Anthony Leeds Prize in Urban Anthropology in 2001, and the Society of Economic Anthropology Book Award in 2003 for her book, Salaua: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia (University of Chicago Press 2000).

Special honors:

  • Academic year 1997-98, fellowship at the National Humanities Center, North Carolina, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • Individual residency fellowship February-March 1998 at the Bellagio Study and Conference Center, Italy, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation. Developing manuscript on the secondhand clothing trade and Zambia.
  • Academic year 2005-06, fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson  International Center for Scholars in Washington D.C. Developing book manuscript, Youth Matters: Crafting Urban Space in Zambia.

Recent courses taught

  • 101  Freshman Seminar – Clothing and Culture

  • 255  Contemporary African Worlds

  • 372  Third World Urbanization

  • 472  Seminar in Political Anthropology

  • 473  Seminar in Economic Anthropology

Selected publications

2005    "Getting Stuck in the Compound: Some Odds against Social Adulthood in Lusaka, Zambia." Africa Today, 51 (4): 3-18.

2004    Informality Reconsidered: Perspectives from Urban Africa, edited book with Mariken Vaa. Nordic Africa Institute. 

2004    "The World in Dress: Anthropological Perspectives on Clothing, Fashion, and Culture." Annual Review of Anthropology 33:369-392.

2004     “Dressing Dangerously: Miniskirts, Gender Relations, and Sexuality in Zambia.” In Jean Allman, ed. Fashioning Africa: Power and the Politics of Dress. Indiana University Press.

2004     “Helping or Hindering? Controversies about the International Secondhand Clothing Trade.”  Anthropology Today 20)4):3-9.

2003     “Fashioning:  Zambian Moments.”  Journal of Material Culture 8(3): 302-309.

2003     “Target Group Interventions Among Children and Youth in Zambia: Research Constructions and Social Life,” Anthropology in Action 19(1):: 34-41.

2000    "Other People’s Clothes? The International Secondhand Clothing Trade and Dress Practices in Zambia." Fashion Theory, 4 (3): 245-274.

2000    Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia. University of Chicago Press.

Recent conferences and lectures

The Second Life of Fashion. Invited lecture at symposium on global re-circulation of cast-off clothing, University of Madison, April 23, 2004.

Desire and Difference: Commodities, Space, and Social Relations in Lusaka, Zambia. Lecture at the W.E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research and Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, December 8, 2004.

Global Dress Cultures? Youth, Gender, and Secondhand Clothing in Lusaka, Zambia. Presented in conference on Dress in Southern Africa, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, August 5-7, 2005.

The Informalization of Lusaka’s Economy: Regime Change, Ultra-Modern Markets, and Street Vending, 1972-2004.  Presented in conference on Zambia: Independence and After. Towards a Historiography, organized by Network for Historical Research in Zambia.  Commonwealth Youth Programme Africa Centre, Lusaka. Zambia. August 11-13, 2005.   

The International Secondhand Clothing Trade and Dress Practices in Africa:  Fashioning Zambian Bodies.  Public lecture, Museum fur Volkerkunde, Hamburg, Germany, October 30, 2005.

Secondhand Clothing and Fashion in Africa. Public lecture at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Brown University, February 9, 2006.

Youth, Gender, and Secondhand Clothing in Lusaka, Zambia: Local and Global Styles.  Presented in interdisciplinary conference on The Fabric of Cultures: Fashion, Identity and Globalization from the Early Modern to the Postmodern, held at the CUNY Graduate Center, New York March 2006.

Global Dress Cultures? Youth, Gender, and Secondhand Clothing in Lusaka, Zambia. Key note address at conference on Geografie del Vestire (Geographies of Clothing), Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cure, Milan, Italy, May 4-5, 2006.