Based on how former researchers at iHub describe their experience, there seems to be a unique style of STS education that working at iHub offers. First, mentorship seems to be an important component of how folks at iHub learn. The quotes suggest that mentorship was not only important for teaching new iHub researchers how to research but also for helping them navigate the conventions, systems, and politics of disseminating knowledge and making it broadly accessible. Another component seems to be fostering experimentation - or a trial and error approach to research and design. The essay suggests that part of the iHub education was learning to be comfortable with figuring things out as you go rather than assuming to know the right way to approach research ahead of time. I think this speaks to the organization’s commitment to locally produced research- research that may be informed by but doesn’t necessarily blindly adhere to research models that are dominant in other parts of the world. Experimentation in defining research methods provides the flexibility to scaffold locally appropriate models. Finally, the essay suggests that working at iHub taught researchers to challenge their assumptions about technology and about the social contexts of technology- particularly as research and practice became more tightly coupled. This speaks to opportunities for STS to foster new collaborations with practitioners - both to share the unique insights from STS with folks intervening in the world but also test ideas emerging from STS in diverse contexts. This can encourage STS researchers to consider the appropriateness of legacy concepts in other settings.
I'm curious how Okune would compare the (STS) education that researchers receive at iHub to the (STS) education that researchers receive in universities and other academic settings. How is expertise differentially cultivated in these settings?
In the Frameworks sections of the essay, Okune describes the commitment to openness and diversity as a key political framework by which iHub Reseach operated. Some additional commitments that appear to be running through her narrative about iHub Research include:
In the Education section of this essay about iHub, Okune includes a powerpoint delivered as part of a research workshop. One slide displays a "research onion" - breaking down the philosophies, approaches, strategies, and techniques that researchers may bring to their work. I'm wondering if there are any particular segments of this onion that were more predominant at iHub research. Did the research tend to be more interpretive, pragmatic, or realist? Did researchers tend to rely more on ethnography, grounded theory, archival research, or experiments? What was the "style" of research at iHub, and if it was diverse, were there any particular research styles that the institution avoided, and for what reasons?
I'm also interested in hearing more about how the theories, frameworks, and ideas emerging out of related fields such as political science, development studies, and ICT4D have influenced work at iHub - in part to better understand how their ideas intersect with and diverge from key concepts in STS.
It seems as though iHub research is balancing a precarious position – at once needing to establish itself as a legitimate site of knowledge production that contributes to the global research community (in other words, provides an international platform for local research), while at the same time 1) challenging global research conventions that have tended to exclude “developments subjects” from accessing knowledge produced about them and 2) challenging global media depictions that have tended to offer reductionist representations of “development subjects.” While absolutely necessary, committing to open access can make it challenging to find a place to share knowledge within global research communities – communities that have predominantly relied on private publishing models not only for sustaining themselves financially, but also for establishing the metrics for scholarly promotion. Insisting on fair, nuanced representation in the media can make it challenging to find reliable venues to share research within, making it difficult to disseminate knowledge (in its full complexity) to practitioners and the public. This essay certainly speaks to the need for new and experimental infrastructures – infrastructures that are sensitive to politics at many scales - to support and legitimize diverse STS formations.
The essay explains how iHub was born out of recognition of the lack of research about Africa being produced by Africans and African institutions. It also elaborates how it provided a space for “techies” in Kenya to tell their own story and archive their own history of technological innovations happening within the country. Okune narrates how, early on, the organization was advised against referring to what they were doing as “research,” suggesting that others believed it lacked the intellectual rigor of other research endeavors. I’m curious how insights from STS can be used to unpack the boundary work surrounding conceptions of what counts as legitimate research. How does “research” get differentially defined “across borders”? What theoretical and ethical commitments drive individuals to draw boundaries around what counts as research and what doesn’t, and what historical, (geo)political, and systemic forces drive who ultimately gets to decide (i.e. what research gets trusted, published, cited, and acted upon)? Would iHub research like to be seen as doing research in the same way that research gets done in other parts of the world and in other institutions, or would they like to be seen as evolving what it means to do research (perhaps, to be more inclusive or just different)? How does finding an appropriate balance between these two poles implicate how knowledge gets produced about Africa and about technology?