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Deborah Pellow

Deborah Pellow

Contact Information:


515 Eggers Hall

Deborah Pellow

Professor Emerita, Anthropology Department


ANT 111             Introduction to Anthropology

ANT 445/655     Culture and Aids

ANT 414/614     City, Spaces and Power 

ANT 600            Violence and its Aftermath

ANT 711            Contemporary Anthropological Theory

ANT 347            Africa through the novel

ANT 574            Anthropology and physical design

Highest degree earned

Ph.D., Northwestern University, 1974

Graduate Student Dissertation Title

"Women in Accra: a study in options" (1974). 


My research program is grounded in the roles and relationships enacted by individuals in the urban arena and plural society, under conditions of social change. Most of my work has involved the conception, use and social reproduction of identity and through it access to power. My primary geographic area of interest has been West Africa, primarily Ghana; I have also done research in Chicago and Shanghai, China. My fieldwork in Africa and Chicago has dealt with issues of identity by "strangers" or "marginals" (women, members of sub-cultures) in a "strange" (urban) context.

Three approaches continue to predominate in my research interest: ethnicity; feminism or gender relations; and proxemics-that is, the interrelationship of social and physical space. According to the proxemic paradigm, cultural and sub-cultural groups, be they different ethnicities, race or genders, socially produce their domestic and community spaces that in turn feed into the group's social organization.

I did a long-term project on socio-spatial arrangements in a migrant community in Accra, Ghana, which resulted in the book "Landlords and Lodgers" (2002). Picking up on my interest in micro-politics, in 2005 I began a new project on the involvement of the Dagomba educated elite living in the capital of Ghana in chieftaincy and destabilization in their hometown area in northern Ghana. I spent six months doing fieldwork with support from a Fulbright Senior Research Grant.

I am a founding member and director of the Space and Place Initiative based in the Global Affairs Institute and a faculty member in Maxwell’s Master of Social Science program.

Areas of Expertise

Women and gender, urbanization, ethnicity, conflict, anthropology of space and place, African Studies

Research Grant Awards and Projects

"Living afar, longing for home." A book that explores the phenomenon of migrants' move from "home" across space and levels of economic development, of what they leave behind and what they take along. I am using the case of the "Dagomba" educated elite from northern Ghana who have relocated to the suburbs of Accra. I started the project in 2005 supported by a Fulbright-IIE grant.

2005 - 06 Fulbright Senior Research Scholar, IIE 

2005 Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Grant - alternate      

2002 Appleby Mosher Fund (Maxwell School, Syracuse University)  

1995 Appleby Mosher Fund (Maxwell School, Syracuse University)

1991-92 Fulbright IIE Teaching Fellowship, Osaka University and Ritsumeikan University, Japan 

Selected Publications


Living Afar, Longing for Home:  The Role of Place in the Creation of the Dagomba New Elite, submitted for publication

2008 Landlords and Lodgers: Socio-Spatial Organization in an Accra Zongo. Pbk. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

1996 Setting Boundaries: The Anthropology of Spatial and Social Organization, editor and author. Westport CT: Bergin and Garvey.

1986 Ghana:  Coping with Uncertainty, with Naomi Chazan. Boulder: Westview Press.

1977 Women in Accra:  Options for Autonomy.  Algonac, MI: Reference Publications, Inc.

Articles and Chapters

In press Group and Grid: Zongos and the British” Architext. Special issue ed by Liora Bigon.

In press African Materiality: The Sociospatial Analysis of Urban Housing” In S. Low, ed. Routledge Handbook of Anthropology and the City: Engaging the Urban and the Future. Routledge. 

2016 Logics of Violence Among the Dagomba in Northern Ghana” In Steve Tonah and A. S. Anamzoya, eds. The Management of Chieftaincy and Ethnic Conflicts in Ghana: Complementary Pathways and Competing Institutions. Accra: Woeli Pubs.

2015 "Recreating  Community: New Housing for Tema’s Poor” co-author Tony Asare, Erika Mamley Osae. In S. Beck and C. Maida, eds. Public Anthropology in a Borderless World. Berghahn Books. Pp. 351-375 

2015  "Multiple Modernities: Kitchens For An African Elite” Home Cultures 12, 1. Pp55-81

2014 "’Everybody Thinks They can Build’: Modern Architecture in Ghana” Architectural Theory Review. 19,1: 1-19 

2014 “Built Structures and Planning” with Denise Lawrence-Zuniga. In Donald Nonini, ed. Companion to Urban Anthropology. Malden MA: Wiley-Blackwell. Pp. 85-102

2012 "Chieftaincy, Collective Interests and the Dagomba New Elite" In Agwuele, Augustine, ed. Development, Modernism and Modernity in Africa. NY: Routledge. Pp. 43-61.

2012 "Foreign Remittances in Ghana: Reducing the Poverty Gap for Individuals and the Community" In Stuart Brown, ed. Transnational Transfers and the State. NY: Palgrave. Pp. 76-96.

2011 “Internal Transmigrants: A Dagomba Diaspora” American Ethnologist 38, 1:132-147.

2007 "Attachment Sustains: The Glue of Prepared Food" In C. A. Maida, ed. Sustainability and Communities of Place. NY: Berghahn Books. (chapter).

2003 "The Architecture of Female Seclusion in West Africa" In D. Lawrence-Zuniga and S. Low, eds. The Anthropology of Space and Place: Locating Culture. Cambridge: Blackwell 

2003 "New Spaces in Accra: Transnational Houses" City & Society XV, 1:59-86.

2002 "Migrant Communities in Accra: Marginalizing the Margins." In J. Short and R. Grant, eds. Globalization at the Margins. NY:Palgrave. Pp. 111-29.

2002 "And a Toilet for Everyone!" In R. Mills-Tettey & K. Adi-Dako, eds. Visions of the City: Accra in the 21st Century. Accra, Ghana: Woeli Publishing Services. Pp. 134-44.

2001 "Cultural Differences and Urban Spatial Forms: Elements of Boundedness in an Accra Community" American Anthropologist 103:59-75 

1999 "The Power of Space in the Evolution of an Accra Zongo." In S. Low, ed. Imagining the City: A Reader in Urban Anthropology. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Pp.277-314. 

1999 "Interview with John Middleton" Current Anthropology 40, 2:217-30.

1997 Praise Singers in Accra: In the Company of Women. Africa 67, 4:582-602 

1996 Setting Boundaries: The Anthropology of Spatial and Social Organization. Edited volume. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey. 

1993  "Chinese Privacy," In Rotenberg and McDonough, eds. The City in Cultural Context. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey. Pp. 31-45.

Presentations and Events

2012. Darmstadt Technical University, Germany. "Everybody thinks they can build: Modern architecture in Ghana".

2014. International Conference in Urban History. European Association for Urban History. Lisbon. "The Urban North: an in-between space".