Jess Auerbach

Cite as:

Okune, Angela. 2018. "Jess Auerbach." In STS in "Africa" Personal Careers. In STS in "Africa" in Formation, created by Angela Okune and Aadita Chaudhury. In STS Across Borders Digital Exhibit, curated by Aalok Khandekar and Kim Fortun. Society for Social Studies of Science. August.


Jess Auerbach works at the African Leadership University in Pamplemousses, Mauritius. She recently completed her doctorate in Anthropology at Stanford, and has been deeply involved in setting up systems and implementation of teaching, curriculum design, ethics, faculty development, faculty governance, diversity training of staff and students, decoloniality, and much else besides. 

Jess' past work has included several studies of and with refugees in Southern Africa, a collaborative ethnographic analysis of last-mile healthcare delivery in Zambia, and continuous engagement in questions of canon-formation and change in University curricula in South Africa and in Angola.

This PECE essay helps to answer the STS Across Borders analytic question: “What people, projects, and products exemplify how this STS formation has developed over time?”

This essay highlights prominant and upcoming individuals working on critical science and technology issues in Africa and is part of a broader exhibit on "STS in Africa."

STS Across Borders In Brief

STS Across Borders is a special exhibit organized by the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) to showcase how the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) has developed in different times, places...Read more

Dissertation Thesis Abstract

"The dissertation explores the transnational emergence of an Angolan middle class in the Southern Atlantic. It looks at how short term migration between Angola and Brazil facilitates class mobility, as (largely young) Angolans access education and training not available at home and return with new skills. It considers the effect of these migrations on democratization and peace in Angola, some 15 years after the civil war ended. Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in both Angola and Brazil, the dissertation develops the idea of ‘wild capitalism’ as a way of approaching everyday life after a transition from socialist to capitalist economic norms, and that practice of ‘trickster economics’ as a strategy of surviving and thriving. It gives attention to scent, and to the use of perfume in Angola and across the Southern Atlantic, arguing that the olfactory plays an important role in helping individuals place one another socioeconomically, and also allows people to access one aspect of aspirational lives.

Drawing on fieldwork undertaken whilst a music teacher in a private primary school, as well as as a university lecturer and member of the Angolan Scouts, the thesis considers how different kinds of social capital are acquired and performed, many of which locate individuals in a sphere that is internationally legible as being that of the ‘global middle class’. Structures of and for intellectual work in the nascent higher education sector, strategies for community improvement and development, and the consolidation of everyday life in peace, are all areas that are ethnographically and theoretically developed. The dissertation also argues for attention to that which is beautiful in countries such as Angola where many outsiders seem to focus so much on suffering and deprivation. Whilst it is important not to overlook the very real challenges that people face, this work argues that everyday happiness is just as valuable a subject of scholarly inquiry."

Auerbach, Jess. 2017. “What a New University in Africa Is Doing to Decolonise Social Sciences.” The Conversation (blog). May 2017.

AO: This blog post by Jess Auerbach lays out seven commitments being undertaken by the newly formed African Leadership University to help meet their goal of a decolonial social science curriculum, which they hope will shift educational discourse in a more equitable and...Read more