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Headshot of Nina Sylvanus

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Nina Sylvanus is a political and economic anthropologist whose work centers on capital and labor, value and aesthetics, infrastructure and technology, and, more broadly, critical transformations in the neoliberal global economy. Her regional specialism is West Africa, specifically China-in-Africa, and its impact on the world at large. Sylvanus received her doctoral training in Anthropology and African Studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. She held a postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA before taking up her first teaching position in the Anthropology Department at Reed College. She joined Northeastern in 2010. Sylvanus is the author of Patterns in Circulation: Cloth, Gender and Materiality in West Africa (University of Chicago Press, 2016), a study of the dense materiality and rich signifying qualities of African print cloth – which, she shows, offers a cogent theoretical and methodological frame for understanding colonial and postcolonial patterns of value production and exchange. She is currently working on a book, Harboring the Future: The Togo Techno-Port, Governance, and Global Economics in West Africa, on the emergence of new ports, new logistic infrastructures, and the new maritime anthropology of West Africa. This study explores, simultaneously, the workings of global corporations in Africa, their relations to the contemporary state, and the predicament of proletarian labor in the history of the African present.

View CV

2018 (summer) Sai Wai-Kin Junior Fellowship, University of Hong Kong
2017-2018 Northeastern University, Research Development Grant
2012-2013 NSF/Advance Mentorship Grant, Northeastern University;
2011-2012 Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, Center for the Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape
2009 Summer Research Grant, Dean of Faculty, Reed College;
2006-2008 Global Fellow (Postdoctoral Fellowship), International Institute, University of California, Los Angeles



2023  “Un port ancré dans l’histoire, une histoire ancrée: Circulations, passé et present.” In Anthropologie et Dévelopment. (forthcoming June)

2022 “Privatizing the Port: Harboring Neoliberalism in Lomé.” In New African Transport Corridors, edited by Paul Nugent and Hugh Lamarque. James Curry, pp. 155-179.

2019            Conspicuously Public. Histories of Sartorial and Social Success in Urban Togo. In Conspicuous Consumption in Africa, edited by Deborah Posel and Ilana Van Wyk. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.

2017             Real/Fake: Brands, Labels, and China in West Africa. In African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style, edited by Fowler Museum, UCLA, pp. 106-113.

2016             Patterns in Circulation: Cloth, Gender and Materiality in West Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

2013             Chinese Devils, the Global Market and the Declining Power of Togo’s Nana-Benzes. African Studies Review 56 (1): 65-80.  Special Issue: China in Africa.

2013             Fashionability in Colonial and Postcolonial Togo. In African Dress: Fashion, Agency, Performance, edited by Karen Tranberg Hansen and Soyini Madison, pp. 30-44. London: Bloomsbury.   

2012             Fakes: Crisis in Conceptions of Value in Neoliberal Togo. Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines 205(1): 237-258.

2011             Snapshot: African Print Textiles from China. In Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, edited by Joanne Eicher. London: Bloomsbury.

2010             Counterfeited Fashions: The Politics of Dress and Style in Togo. Africa e Mediterraneo 69-70 (1): 26-32.

2010             Navigating Chinese Textile Networks: Women Traders in Accra and Lomé (co-authored with Linn Axelsson). In The Rise of China and India in Africa. Challenges, Opportunities and Critical Interventions, edited by Fantu Cheru and Chris Obi, pp. 132-141. London: Zed Books.

2009             Commercantes togolaises et diables chinois. Une approche par la rumeur. Politique Africaine 113 (1): 55-70. Special Issue: Afrique, la globalisation par les Suds.

2008             Rethinking Free-trade Practices in Contemporary Togo : Women Entrepreneurs in the Global Textile Trade. In Globalization and Transformations of Local socio-economic Practices, edited by Ulrike Schuerkens, pp. 174-191. London: Routledge.

2007             The Fabric of Africanity. Tracing the Global Threads of Authenticity. Anthropological Theory 7 (2): 201-216.

2007             L’habilité entrepreneuriale des Nana-Benz au Togo,” Africultures 69 (2): 179-185

2007             Chinese devils? Perceptions of the Chinese in Lomé’s Central

Market. Rethinking Africa’s ‘China Factor’ Working Paper No. 3, UCLA, April 27.

2002             L’étoffe de l’africanité. Les Temps Modernes 620-621: 128-145.


Association for African Studies

Association of American Anthropology


  • Education

    PhD, Anthropology
    Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris, 2006

  • Contact

  • Address

    220A RP
    360 Huntington Avenue
    Boston, MA 02115

  • Office Hours

    Wednesday 9:00-11:00 a.m. and by appointment


Course catalog
  • Consumer Cultures

    ANTH 3120

    Introduces students to anthropological theories of consumption and debates about the “social life of things.” Explores the politics invested in material objects ranging from hijab fashions in Teheran to forms of global hipsterism, debates about nationalism and commodity cultures, as well as the political economy of production and consumption. Includes, but is not limited to, commodity fetishism, value, social/cultural capital, distinction, neoliberalism, consumerism, and materiality.

  • Global Markets and Local Cultures

    ANTH 2305

    Examines selected topics in the socioeconomic transformation of other cultures, including urbanization, industrialization, globalization, commodity production, and international labor migration. Focuses on the impact of global capitalist development on contemporary developing and postcolonial societies as well as local responses and/or resistances to those changes.