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Fixing the System: Analyses in the Context of the History of Science

Dr. Sarah Bellows-Blakely

Dr. Sarah Bellows-Blakely
Image Credit: FU Berlin

Research Group Leader: Dr. Sarah Bellows-Blakely, Freie Universität Berlin

The Junior Research Group, “Fixing the System: Analyses in the Context of the History of Science,” examines how specific frameworks for gender and intersecting forms of structural oppression have and have not institutionalized over time. 

 Three case studies currently guide our work. First, we examine how girl-focused frameworks for international development arose and were integrated into United Nations policymaking in the 1980s and 1990s. This project looks at how decolonial, socialist, and intersectional frameworks that viewed gender injustice as inherently cross-cut by other forms of oppression were marginalized in favor of neoliberal feminism at the end of the Cold War. Interdisciplinary methodological approaches focused on silencing, marginalization, and forgetting underpin part of this project. This case study will be published as a monograph with The University of Chicago Press in 2024.

 The junior research group’s second case study investigates women’s internationalism in the German Democratic Republic during the Cold War. The postdoctoral research fellow working with the group, Lea Börgerding, is leading this case study. Börgerding examines connections between women working for the government of the German Democratic Republic and women’s groups in Vietnam, Cuba, and the anti-apartheid African National Congress in South Africa. 

 The third case study of the junior research group explores a history of institutional responses to sexual harassment within the Berlin Universities since the mid-20th century. Partially drawing from bureaucratic histories and organizational theory, we are conducting archival research at various repositories in Berlin and oral histories in order to understand the following questions:

  1. How and when did people at the universities identify the sexual harassment and sexual assault of students and staff at the university or in spaces connected to the university as a problem? Which groups of people publicly spoke about these issues, and how did they frame them?
  2. What kinds of institutional measures did the universities put in place to address sexual harassment and violence? When? In what contexts? How did they change over time?
  3. What forms of silence, pushback, and resistance accompanied efforts to name and address harassment and violence at the universities? When? In which contexts?
  4. At which points in time were sexual harassment and violence understood to connect with forms of oppression or structural power differentials that intersect with gender—such as students or staff’s  immigration status, nationality, ethnicity, religion, class, or power relations to alleged perpetrators within academic hierarchies—and at which points in time were sexual harassment and violence portrayed as relating exclusively to gender? How did these competing understandings shape the universities’ policymaking surrounding harassment and sexual violence at specific points in time?

The junior research group is not focused on litigating individual cases; it is taking an institutional approach to harassment and sexual violence and policymaking related to it. We prioritize the privacy and safety of the individuals connected to our research, particularly of survivors/victims of violence and harassment.


Dr. Sarah Bellows-Blakely is the leader of the junior research group, “Fixing the System: Analyses in the Context of the History of Science.” Her monograph, Girl Power? The Birth of Girl-focused Development in Nairobi, is in production at The University of Chicago Press and will be published in the spring of 2024. Her research has been published in The American Historical Review, Gender & History, and The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History, among other places. 

 Sarah Bellows-Blakely completed her undergraduate (Stanford University, BA with Honors in History in 2009) and graduate training (Washington University in St. Louis, MA in History 2013 and PhD in History in 2017) in the United States. Her graduate training with primary supervisor Jean Allman focused on histories of Africa, gender & sexuality, and globalization. Bellows-Blakely moved to Germany in 2017, when she became a Volkswagen Foundation postdoctoral research fellow at the Humboldt University. She held joint appointments at the HU’s Institute for Asian and African Studies and the International Research Center for Work and Human Life Cycle in Global History (re:work). From 2018 to 2023, Bellows-Blakely was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Free University Berlin in the DFG-funded Graduate School for Global Intellectual History. She was also a lecturer in the MA Program in Global History, a joint program between the FU and the HU.

 Since becoming the leader of the junior research group, “Fixing the System,” in late 2023, Bellows-Blakely has been based at the Margherita von Brentano Center for Gender Studies at the FU Berlin. She and the research group have affiliation with the Graduate School for Global Intellectual History and the MA Program in Global History, where Bellows-Blakely continues to lecture. 

 Bellows-Blakely’s research and writing have been supported by various institutions, fellowships, and awards. These include the Berlin University Alliance; the Volkswagen Foundation; the Fulbright-Hays Fellowship through the U.S. Department of Education; the Social Science Research Council; the Olin Fellowship for Women at Washington University in St. Louis; the Francisco C. Lopes Prize from the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Stanford University; and the PEO International Philanthropy. Bellows-Blakely has conducted research (to date) in a mix of English, Kiswahili, French, Spanish, and German.

Contact: sarah.bellows-blakely@fu-berlin.de