META: What discourses does the analyst consider/leverage to characterize/theorize science and technology in Africa?


Enter a comma separated list of user names.
Angela Okune's picture
August 20, 2018


  • Isabelle Stenger (“ the kinds of knowledge produced in the knowledge economy (where universities subsist in a particular relationship with capital, monetary logics, temporal logics, added value, and other controllables), are unable to deal with the unsettled, the unnameables, the ways of knowing that are part of life and care – in short, the aspects of knowledge and knowing that are not easily ‘thingified’” (7)

  • Latour

  • scalar - Different scales, in other words, are not just about data compression but reflect different purposes people have for knowing and therefore different knowledge objects (or differently known relationships) are in the models. Different reasons to know produce different objects of attention, or different facts – or, to use Latour’s phrase, different matters of concern

Angela Okune's picture
August 17, 2018

AO: Osseo-Asare uses Sheila Jasanoff’s definition of co-production (18) to argue that herbal medicine and pharmaceutical chemistry have mutually supportive, simultaneous histories up to the present.

Angela Okune's picture
August 17, 2018
  • AO: Foster puts forward a “feminist decolonial technoscience approach” to understanding how the “intersectional politics of gender, race, indigeneity and their colonial histories related to contestations over Hoodia” (7). Foster noted that San peoples, CSIR scientists and hoodia growers made unequal claims for belonging through attachments to differentially valued materialities of the same plant.

  • AO: Foster builds on critical science studies and socio-legal scholarship but notes that indigenous peoples’ theorizing of science and patent ownership as connected to colonial histories provides a critical perspective that is more useful for the book (8).

  • AO: Foster is interested in attending to scale by looking at one plant and its different modalities of scale (in comparison to Osseo-Asare who looks at several different indigenous plants).

  • AO: She notes an intent to destabilize binaries (by focusing on multiple scales beyond just the nation-state) but also uses the terms “Global South” and “Global North” without describing or problematizing them (15).

  • AO: Foster focuses on concepts of patentability, materiality, and belonging (rather than epistemic citizenship) to pay attention to how San peoples, CSIR scientists and hoodia growers were making claims to materialities and ways of knowing Hoodia.

  • AO: Foster notes the importance of naming and highlights why she uses capital I for “Indigenous” (to note the name of specific groups).

Angela Okune's picture
August 15, 2018
  • AO: Identifying a growing global isolation of South African historical writing due to what he sees as a view that South African history is completely distinct and unique, Breckenridge argues that the peculiarity of the South African history is derived from its connections with the wider imperial world, and that those linkages provide the basis for very interesting and productive comparisons.

  • AO: He avoids the two major debates that have framed the problem space - the politics of Afrikaner Nationalism and Marxist studies of the ideological and institutional effects of mining-driven capitalism - instead focusing on “local effects of globally staged debates in the science and technology of biometrics in accounting for the Apartheid state, and its immediate aftermath” (ix).

  • AO: Breckenrige looks at notions of the “state” (philosophical, anthropological, STS) and of “biometrics” in order to argue for a new disctinctive kind of state (biometric state) that rquires new ways of thinking about bureocratic power.

  • AO: cites Foucault’s state power

  • AO: Notes that there is rich body of work looking at how experts fashioned new forms and structures of power as they sought new kinds of knowledge on the African continent (and that the studies show the severe geographical and financial limits of the colonial state’s power.) (5)

  • AO: instead of widely used general explanations of state-building as a product of governmentality and rationalisation offered by Foucault and Weber, Breckenridge points to the history of progressivism, and to its distinctively unconstrained role in the making of the South African state after 1900 as an explanation for why South African biometric government is so centralized (26).

Angela Okune's picture
August 15, 2018
  • AO: Von Schnitzler engages with anthropological work on infrastructure and discussions about modernity. Citing Start, she uses an “ethnography of infrastructure” approach with a geneological approach of how the tech travels over time and space.

  • AO: Von Schnitzler pulls STS approaches to look at the political and looks at the material and embedded grounds of politics.

  • AO: Von Schnitzler leverages the concept of “politeness” to denotes a techno-politics that operates on a micro-political terrain and is centrally preoccupied with the “relationship between subjectivity, ethical dispositions, and the technical” (677).

Angela Okune's picture
August 15, 2018
  • AO: Coban uses Butler’s “performative agency” to talk about how tech makers are performing deficient environments and building tech that has social impact on broad problems like “poverty” (61). She calls the performative practices around tech development in Nairobi that materialize and stabilize the norms of social impact a “performance of poverty” (62).

  • AO: Coban looks at the academic and popular discourse on maker spaces, noting that she followed narratives citing Czarniawska (2004).

  • AO: Coban notes that the diffusion of tech model (tech eminating from the “core”) characterized much of the early literature although it has been heavily critiqued.

  • AO: Coban relies on the binary of “global South/North” without necessarily problematizing it.

  • AO: Uses Spivak and Said to talk about the “othering” of the target group of technology.

  • AO: Coban references a lot of Kenyan academic and non-academic sources. This is in contrast to the work by global health experts who largely cite each other (mostly non-African scholars).

  • AO: silicon valley solutionism (Mozorov 2013)

  • AO: Coban argues that start-up founders would rather avoid a reproduction of colonial stereotypes and “othering” but feel forced to “perform it” to get funding. I am not sure this is always a cogniscant choice by all tech founders. The structures and methods for “knowing the users” and developing technology solutions need to also be looked at to understand how and why particular exoticized “users” are thought of over others. I do not believe it is entirely a self-aware choice and I think the heterogenous characteristics of the entrepreneurs need to also emerge better in the analysis to counter the narratives that the author critiques. Who are these entrepeneurs and what are their own biases and ideas about the users they are developing for? I think analysis between the *users* of the tech and start-ups themselves might also help to shed light on the complexities and different aspects of performativity (which is involved in all aspects of human interactions). 

Angela Okune's picture
August 14, 2018
  • AO: Geissler and Tousignant argue that “capacity” gained prominance in international development to label a gap, “just as ‘the community’ and its elusive ‘empowerment’, during the same time, became keywords of international aid precisely when the primary modality of collective belonging and entitlement – national citizenship and the social contract it entailed – lost purchase.” (352)

Angela Okune's picture
August 14, 2018
  • AO: Using STS (Austin 1975) and feminist (Butler 2006) literature on performativity, Tichenor talks about “data performativity” or the way that words do more than just describe the world but in fact enact realities and categories are performed. She cites Callon (2006) and Erikson (2012) to describe the work that global health and scientific numbers do or the place they have in maintaining health systems in places that receive global health funding.

  • AO: Tichenor writes: “Data performativity, then, indicates the ways that data collection and synthesis maintain the model that funding agencies construct, reifying both the definitions of health problems and the power relations embedded within global health glows of capital, technology, and knowledge.” (437)

  • AO: Tichenor engages with the literature on malaria including history of the disease; labor of health workers; critiques of the business of global health; and STS work on performativity.

  • AO: Tichenor notes how the data production strike was discussed by media as undermining the country’s attempt to achieve the MDGs.

Angela Okune's picture
August 10, 2018
  • The authors draw on growing critiques of data and platforms more generally to highlight making data open: 1) is labour intensive, costly and dependent upon infrastructural capacities ; 2) relies on socio-cultural values and political biases are embedded into the very aesthetics of platform design; 3) requires further examination of the variety of information and communication technology (ICT) systems, national infrastructures and research environments necessary to generate, process, disseminate and re-use data.” (40)

  • “To conceptualize the role and reach of data engagement among African scientists” the authors adapted Amartya Sen’s Capabilities Approach (CA) for human development. (41) They looked at how “an individual transforms those resources into assets and the contexts that constrain that capacity (Sen, 1999, p. 109). Goods and services, in short, are not valuable in and of themselves – they must be ‘converted’ into utilities that a person can use to advance their goals and from which they can ultimately derive some form of value.” (41)

Angela Okune's picture
August 8, 2018
  • Mavhunga uses “innovation” to mean the act of introducing something new, be it a method or a thing, either from scratch or from outside.(8)

  • Mavhunga introduces and refers to vaShona and maTshangana epistemologies to think about technology and telling African stories about innovation (19).