AO. Green is worried about the polarity of the South African version of the science wars which have pitted “indigenous knowledge” against “science.”
AO: Given her positioning of a feminist decolonial technoscience approach as central to her book, Foster is worrying over the decolonizing of production and ownership of scientific knowledge. She notes: “The mere recognition or inclusion of indigenous knowledge will not be sufficient to unsettle those relations in today’s market-based hierarchies that differentially value certain ways of knowing and being over others nor is a truly just and prosperous nonracial future likely to be forged within scientific and legal practices that remain tied more to market than to social justice principles.” (130)
AO: Breckenridge appears animated by questions related to Africa’s role in global (intellectual) history. In 2015’s “Biometric State”, he asks: “Why does South African history matter?” and in 2018 paper he is interested in what happened to theories about African capitalism. He argues that there are important lessons to learn from a study of South African history that others must be wary of, esp. with regards to a system of racist bureaucracy (which has traveled to other societies on the Atlantic basin).
AO: Breckenridge argues that “a cultural understanding of the state – one which works well for the sprawling bureaucracies of India or France – is problematic on the African continent” because the state has largely survived in Africa by standing at the intersection of the colonial territory and the outside world and is largely charactertized by a lack of information and lack of ability to track the individual body or understand the dynamics of the social body (citing Cooper) (6)
AO: von Schnitzler is interested in the techno-politics of innovation and how technical devices are assembled and re-assembled in relation to particular ethical regimes and political projects. She argues that as tech for poor are dveloped, it is important to track the travels of such technical devices in order to “de-scribe” a politics in unfamiliar places and in unexpected forms in order to broaden studies of the political (688).
AO: Coban is interested in how funding issues in Nairobi tech scene lead to start-up entrepreneurs to “dance to their tune” rather than their own. Worried about the deficit narrative and the replication of colonial inequalities (because of funding structures).
AO: The authors are politicizing and theorizing the concept “capacity” in Africa which they define as “the skills, technologies and infrastructure that are transferred, built or sought out.” They are working with the concept in the context of health care capacity and note the different valences of the notion of capacity - both material but also affective and temporal.
AO: Okeke is interested in how laboratory science in Africa can be strengthened to improve diagnostic practices.
AO: Tichenor is worried about how the complex realities of global health in Africa are simplified through the generation of data that makes it easier to address the “problem” with “front-line” tools that development and global health organizations have like insecticidal nets (437). She notes a return to technological fixes to health problems, despite critiques of the individual disease eradication campaigns from the 1980s.
The authors are worried that the Open Access and Data movement in Africa isn’t taking into account the labor required to “open” the data. They note that mainstream (Western rhetoric) about Open Science is out of sync with the physical, social and regulatory research environments in which scientists operate in Kenya and South Africa. They question the assumption that access = use. This has also been debunked in ICTD (see Donner’s “After Access”) and also increasingly coming to the fore in Open Access discussions as well.
“Rendering science ‘open’ involves contextual- izing, cleaning and curating data so it can be searched and utilized – a process which is labour intensive, costly and dependent upon infrastructural capacities that tend to be obscured by policies seeking to maximize the availability of information online (Leonelli, 2010, 2013).”
Mavhunga is pushing against global narratives about Africa (as dark chaos, helplessly poor, always importing expertise and innovation from the West) to highlight instead how Africans are themselves initiating the movements—of technology, capital, commodities, and other cultural goods. He is keen to highlight the creative agency of Africans, noting that “they are not necessarily appropriating modernities external to them, but are involved in a process of exchange, emitting their own things in exchange for those of the outside world. The goods are not just coming to them; they are actively constructing transnational networks through their own mobilities in the world—or those of their goods” (11)
Clapperton wonders how to avoid ordering the story in such an “already appropriated” register and decides to do so by beginning with African technology and its itineraries, on the one hand, and incoming technology and its itineraries, on the other. He draws on STS work (Latour and Woolgar 1979; Akrich 1992) to understand “where an incoming artifact is coming from and how its originators think they can delegate to a thing, by virtue of its interpretively flexible materiality, the power to configure users.” (15)
Clapperton’s main questions are: “what happens to these properties when the incoming thing comes into contact with Africans? Does it come already as a technology and configure the Africans as users, or do Africans assign it meanings and functions as a means (if that’s what we mean by technology) of performing specific projects of their own?
“What happens if we also extend the register of “designer” (or its equivalent) so that it is no longer just the scientist or engineer who invented the thing that then travels, but also the African who is coming into contact with, or importing, it? What if the “laboratory” is no longer the Western building where science is practiced, but the crop field, the forest, and other “open” and (en)closed places where knowledge is made and turned into tangible practical outcomes? What if we invert the subject of analysis, such that it is no longer just incoming things that are “interpretively (in)flexible,” “(im)mutable mobiles,” or “inscription devices,” but also African technologies? The “African” here refers to what might otherwise be called “indigenous”—by which I specifically mean things derived from within and by African societies.” (16)
Mavhunga is also keen to address the assumption of the village and rurality as “backwards” (and with it indigenous knowledge). He argues that “the urban focus of Africanist scholarship, both as represented by the research topics of faculty as well as students, and the tendency to prioritize the colonial and postcolonial periods, reinforces this. Thus, he turns to the village space to illustrate how guided mobility was also, at core, a mobile workspace.” (40)