Prof. Dr. Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg

Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota

Curriculum VitaeProf. Dr. Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg

Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg graduated from Indiana University, Bloomington with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Anthropology before serving in Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1980-1981. She returned to Cameroon several times to conduct long-term ethnographic research, attracting numerous research grants (Fulbright, Sigma Xi, Wenner-Gren Foundation and the National Science Foundation). She obtained both a Master of Arts (1985) and Ph.D. (1990) in Anthropology from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Following several academic appointments at the University of Hannover, the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and Hamline University, she moved to Carleton College in 1993, where she holds an endowed chair as Broom Professor of Social Demography and Anthropology at the Department for Sociology and Anthropology. She is concurrently director of the African and African American Studies program. In addition, she was an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Anthropological Demography at the University of Pennsylvania from 2000 to 2001, headed a project on social networks and reproductive health in Cameroon funded by the National Science Foundation from 1997-2002, and conducted research at the Max-Planck-Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, as well as at the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Freie Universität Berlin. Funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, she spent 2010-2011 conducting ethnographic and interview-based research among African migrants in Berlin. Professor Feldman-Savelsberg’s research interests lie in African Studies, Gender Studies, Medical Anthropology, and Anthropological Demography. Building on extensive research in the Cameroonian Grassfields region and the capital Yaoundé, she is currently investigating the mutual constitution of reproductive practices and legal, social, and affective belonging among African immigrants in Europe, with a particular focus on Cameroonian women in Germany. From August 2013 until August 2014, Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg continued this research project in the context of her fellowship at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture”.

Research Project

Mothers on the Move: Birth and Belonging from Africa to the European Union

Mobility, including transnational migration, is one of the hallmarks of today’s globalizing world. In this world of movement, what does it mean to belong? More specifically, how do migrant mothers create a sense of belonging for themselves and their children? And how does law constrain movement while framing the categories and conditions of belonging? My aim during the fellowship year 2013-14 is to write a book exploring the palpable tension between mobility and rootedness in the lives of African migrants in Europe. Drawing upon years of ethnographic and archival research in rural and urban Cameroon as well as in Europe, I investigate these issues for the case of Cameroonian mothers in Berlin. This book project explains how children and communities are reproduced through movement and rootedness, and through circuits of care and exchange that anchor individuals and families in a sea of global mobility. It describes ambitious African women seeking a good life in which to form families and raise their children into a world of multiple, simultaneous belonging. It examines three types of mobility (spatial, social, and temporal) across three locales (a village, an African metropolis, and a European capital), focusing on three levels of interaction (the family, community organizations, and the state).

Four concepts frame my argument—reproductive insecurity, belonging, social networks, and legal consciousness. At the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture” I hope to deepen my understanding of the latter in light of this year’s theme on the genesis, interweaving, and conflicts among legal cultures. Considering how law shapes, and often hinders, African mothers’ hopes and goals, we may think first of immigration law, family law, and the regulation of residence, schooling, and health care within the receiving society (Germany, EU). Within Cameroon, traditional polities regulate belonging through customary law regarding kinship and fealty, while the state determines national citizenship and shapes more particularistic placed-based belonging through ethnic quotas. Rather than examining the law per se, I focus on legal consciousness—how law is experienced and understood by ordinary people, or as Susan Silbey states in her 2005 review article, “After Legal Consciousness,” how “actors construct, sustain, reproduce, or amend the circulating (contested or hegemonic) structures of meanings concerning law”. The stories African migrants tell each other about belonging and exclusion, about encounters with neighbors, teachers, physicians, and public officials, sediment into collectively held ideas about getting along with the law in a new place. It is here that legal cultures are formed, contested, and interwoven.

(Selected) Publications

  • Urbanites and Urban Villagers: Comparing ‘home’ among elite and non-elite Bamiléké women’s hometown associations (with Flavien T. Ndonko), in: Africa 80(3), pp. 371-396, 2010.
  • Gerüchtsgenealogie: Geschichte, Gedächtnis, und Gerüchte in Kamerun, in: Kuckuck: Notizen zur Alltagskultur 21(2), pp. 20-24, 2006.
  • The Social Management of Fetal and Infant Death: Dual Disruptions to Reproductive Lives and Discourses (with Flavien T. Ndonko and Song Yang), in: Curare 29(1), pp. 7-15, 2006.
  • “Cucinare dentro”. Parentela e genere nel linguaggio Bangangté sul matrimonio e la procreazione, in: Silvia Forni, Cecilia Pennacini and Chiara Pussetti (Eds.): Antropologia, Genere, Riproduzione: La costruzione culturale della femminilita. Rome: Carocci 2006, pp. 141-172 [Italian translation with translator’s introduction and footnoted updates of 1995 article in American Ethnologist].
  • Remembering “the Troubles”: Reproductive Insecurity and the Management of Memory in Cameroon (with Flavien T. Ndonko and Song Yang), in: Africa 75(1), pp. 10-29, 2005.
  • How Rumor Begets Rumor: Collective Memory, Ethnic Conflict, and Reproductive Rumors in Cameroon (with Flavien T. Ndonko and Song Yang), in: G.A. Fine, V. Campion-Vincent, and C. Heath (Eds.): Rumor Mills: The Social Impact of Rumor and Legend. New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction 2005, pp. 141-158.
  • Reproduction, Collective Memory, and Generation in Africa (Ed.), Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2005.
  • Is Infertility an Unrecognized Public Health Problem? An Emic View from the Grassfields of Cameroon, in: Marcia Inhorn and Frank van Balen (Ed.): Infertility Around the Globe: New Thinking on Childlessness, Gender, and Reproductive Technologies. Berkeley: University of California Press 2002, pp. 215-232.
  • Sterilizing vaccines or the politics of the womb: Retrospective study of a rumor in Cameroon (with Flavien T. Ndonko and Bergis Schmidt-Ehry), in: Medical Anthropology Quarterly 14 (2), pp. 159-179, 2000.
  • Plundered Kitchens, Empty Wombs: Threatened Reproduction and Identity in the Cameroon Grassfields, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press 1999.
  • Cooking Inside: Kinship and Gender in Bangangté Metaphors of Reproduction and Marriage, in: American Ethnologist 22(3), pp. 483-501, 1995.