Data Ethnography of "STS in Africa"


The process of compiling the orals essay (and STS in Africa exhibit) required me to scour the Internet and attempt to acquire materials to include in the individual’s essay. Doing this for the 40 individuals in the essay and over one hundred artifacts which I created and uploaded in the process, gave me insight into questions about the discoverability of STS in Africa scholarly work, which I would not have had otherwise. For example, I noted a wide spectrum of discoverability of the work, with some scholars having carefully curated and centralized online sites which improved access to their materials; others had barely any online presence at all. This did not necessarily align with the supposed “global North/global South” divide; several African scholars based on the continent had an extensive online presence including videos of presentations they had given. Some of the scholars had a plethora of recorded talks on youtube and vimeo while others had no digital multimedia.

The only examples of scholarly “raw” data I was able to find online was a computer scientist’s code on github and a sociologist of technology’s photos (with “All Rights Reserved”) photos on a personal flickr page with her photos from the field. The same individual had also uploaded all of her papers, even those behind paywalls, to the UC Berkeley servers (I assume for greater accessibility by non-academics?). The same individual had compiled all press coverage and online multimedia (including a video that UC Berkeley produced on her) on her school web profile, including syllabi of classes she had taught, advice for fieldwork, her CV and bio. Many of the scholars had uploaded their papers to for-profit third-party repositories, ResearchGate and Notably, one of the scholars from Nigeria, a self-identified leader of the Digital Humanities in the country had most of his works on I find this highlights the relevance of my proposed project for scholars of digital scholarly infrastructures who I hope will pay greater attention not only to questions of increased access but also to the outsourcing of management and storage of scholarly knowledge to for-profit entities. In addition to discussions about access, my work will also foreground the flows of capital, technical infrastructures, social practices, and and moral logics related to information sharing within and beyond the academy.

Desiring greater inclusivity (and keeping in mind the issue of language as raised by Ngugi wa Thiongo, esp. between Francophone and Anglophone Africa), I attempted to include representatives working on STS in Francophone Africa. I got a friend to translate the call for participation into French and used Google Translate to have both English and French versions of the text in my email out to people (and on Twitter and Facebook). I created a French version of the form for people to complete. I emailed it to colleagues in Senegal and Cameroon explicitly asking for French submissions. However, we did not receive a single submission via the form. Despite these challenges, we were able to include some scholars from and working in Francophone Africa (e.g. Lachenal; Mboa Nkoudou; Segla; Tantchou). However, language barriers remain an important aspect to keep in mind when attempting to develop scholarly infrastructures that span across various divides.

One other aspect to note in doing this work were the practices used to gain access to these works. My first approach was usually to Google Search the person’s name and find what came up. Notably, one of the first results was usually from Amazon, marketing the author’s book. More interesting, in many of the author generated profiles and online descriptions, the author directed those interested in purchasing the book to the Amazon page rather than the publishing website.

To collect the various artifacts included in the exhibit, I largely relied on Google Scholar and the UC Irvine online library resources. I tacked between using the library Virtual Private Network (VPN) to get copies of papers that were behind paywalls that I could not get otherwise and turning off the VPN (to get copies of books from crowdsourced sites). I had to work equally hard to download work off of ResearchGate and, restarting and shutting down my account several times in order to get access to some of the papers. (Read why I deleted my account in this blog post.) This whole experience, led to further insights about STS scholars and the accessibility of their work. Most of the papers were not open access and I had trouble getting some of them even with a UCI VPN. This reveals the importance of discussing access and long-term sustainability of scholarly knowledge repositories within the STS in Africa community of scholars and practice. Given that many of the explicit motivations of the STS scholars is to be doing work that is relevant for “the community”, how accessible (and to whom?) is this work under current academic knowledge infrastructures?


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Contributed date

August 15, 2018 - 6:42pm

Critical Commentary

AO: I developed this reflective text after the process of culling and developing the STS in Africa exhibit.


Angela Okune 

Cite as

Angela Okune, "Data Ethnography of "STS in Africa"", contributed by Angela Okune, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 15 August 2018, accessed 23 May 2022.