Okune, Angela. 2018. "STS in Africa: Data." In PhD Orals Document: Querying Science and Technology Studies in Africa, created by Angela Okune. PhD Orals Document. UC Irvine Anthropology. October.
This essay answers the analytic question: “What does the analyst say about their own data practices and responsibilities?” Most of the STS work in Africa does not grapple directly with questions of data (Biruk 2018, Tichenor 2017 and Bezuidenhout 2017 are a few exceptions). Even of those that study data practices, I did not find examples of scholars who have published their own qualitative data in digital or reusable formats amongst the annotated set (some scholars have published small excerpts from their data, e.g. photographs or block quotes from interview data, or the survey instruments of those studied). The most common practice was reflection on methods used to collect data for the project (e.g. Foster 2017; Coban 2018). Many also discussed the unique demands and responsibilities of “science” to address societal challenges, especially challenges faced in African contexts (e.g. Okeke 2011; Pollock 2014). Citing specific interviews in endnotes (i.e. linking narrative to a particular interview) was also done by more than one scholar within the annotated set (Foster 2017; Biruk 2018) but does not yet seem to have become a mainstream practice.
This essay is part of a broader orals document by Angela Okune querying Science and Technology Studies in Africa. Sub-essays within the orals document can be accessed directly through the following links: Discursive Risk; Deutero; Meta; Macro; Micro; Nano; Techno; Data; Eco.
Bernal, Victoria. 2014. Nation as Network: Diaspora, Cyberspace, and Citizenship . University of Chicago Press.
Bezuidenhout, Louise, Ann H. Kelly, Sabina Leonelli, and Brian Rappert. 2017. “‘$100 Is Not Much To You’: Open Science and Neglected Accessibilities for Scientific...Read more
Most of the STS work in Africa does not grapple directly with questions of data (Biruk 2018, Tichenor 2017 and Bezuidenhout 2017 are a few exceptions). Even of those that study data practices, I did not find examples of scholars who have published their own qualitative data in digital or reusable formats amongst the annotated set (some scholars have published small excerpts from their data, e.g. photographs or block quotes from interview data, or the survey instruments of those studied). The most common practice was reflection on methods used to collect data for the project (e.g. Foster 2017; Coban 2018). Many also discussed the unique demands and responsibilities of “science” to address societal challenges, especially challenges faced in African contexts. Lesley Green discusses how the most interesting and important research questions are emerging from the public based on what their needs are. Anne Pollock (2014) quotes one of her interlocutors who argues that “we haven’t seen much of science responding the actual needs. What it means for science to address the needs down in my home town, where they are facing [TB and HIV]. And so that is where my social aspect comes from, is how to do you make science respond. Science and education needs to address what we are facing in this country,” (Pollock 2014, 867). Iruka Okeke (2011) notes that as a molecular biologist, taking the time away from her lab to write a monograph was itself a conscious decision to try to communicate the magnitude and importance of laboratory deficits to a broader audience to enlist others to help address these challenges. Despite such desires for social change, it is nonetheless interesting to note the ways in which data sharing between these researchers appears to be largely absent. Perhaps, as my project seeks to do, the relationships between qualitative data and its possible societal uses and responsibilities have not yet been clearly articulated. Perhaps the supporting and necessary infrastructures that can allow for “partial openness” or a capturing of qualitative-data-specific meta-data have not been established (what we hope PECE can help to do). I hope that my project can contribute towards filling these gaps in STS work on Africa.
During my literature review process, I encountered a very heated and relevant debate between South African scholar van Sittert and American scholar Hecht. Highly relevant for my project, their heated debate raised important questions about the responsibility of researchers in preserving the data sources they use (to enable future inquiry for others). This seems to be much easier to discuss between historians who have an existing disciplinary norm to use and create public archives. But what about other qualitative data that is generated daily as part of research work? There is still little discussion going on in the empirical humanities about how social science data should be archived/digitized and preserved for sharing and future inquiry. There is a great promise for important dialogue between social scientists of science and the community of electronic publishers (many who are part of annual conferences like Electronic Publishing (elPub) and Digital Humanities (DH).
Mavhunga aligned his work with Hecht's, noting that you could replace her notion of "nuclearity" with the word "technology" and that would fit his argument (that technology is understood differently by different people in different times, etc.). However, it is interesting to note the difference in their approach to data and archiving, perhaps as a result of their affective and kinship ties to their fieldsites? Clapperton, as noted in his references section conceptualized and developed two archives that he helps to provide oversight on that are managed by community members. Hecht was sharply criticized for not having helped to digitize and create an archive of the unpublished mining materials she used for her own book.
Osseo-Asare Osseo-Asare (2014) relied heavily on oral history interview data because company archives were closed to her. She discusses her own collection of “partial data” - traces of evidence gleaned from faded pages in archives, dried plants in markets and museums, and pieces of conversations - to document how various parties sought information on valuable plants. She highlights how her own positionality was key in access and rapport building noting that many healers wrote their recipes for her (though she does not note what she did with those written recipes). Some of the historians in the annotated set distinguished between their primary and secondary sources (e.g. Mavhunga 2014). But even this was not the case across the board for all historians (e.g. Breckenridge 2014), demonstrating lack of a standardized practice even in the field of history. Perhaps following more common citational practice for noting the historical archival source in endnotes (which can be seen for example in Mavhunga’s work), some of the scholars in the annotated set indicated with endnotes when particular statements were based on interview data (Foster 2017 and Biruk 2018). This however, also does not seem like common practice as it was only practiced by a few scholars (is it a coincidence that they are both feminist scholars?).
Within the annotated set, Laura Foster (2017) grappled for several pages with the double bind with which she found herself as a white female researcher from the US. She outlines conversations she had with Collin Louw who started out by asking: "Who are you? What do you want? You researchers, always coming around here, asking questions, talking to people and nothing happens." (19). She notes how she signed a Media and Research Contract that formalized expectations for researchers and required her to continually "commmunicate her research, stay in touch and share benefits with San peoples in the form of research materials, and a percentage of any royalties she might receive in the future," (20). She includes in part of her appendices several pages of resources for those who want to further explore ethics protocols for working with indigenous communities. In a similar self-reflexive fashion, Crystal Biruk (2018) interweaves reflections on her own position and complicity throughout her entire work. Biruk also raises the issue of anonymity and risk, noting that all project and personal names in this book were anonymized even though researchers were, for the most part, amenable to being mentioned by name: “but I maintain anonymity as much as possible in line with my IRB protocol. Data from my field notes or events that may put any of my informants at risk in any way are not included in the book" (2018: 223). On anonymity, Pollock also noted: “Unlike the management and scientific advisory board of iThemba, the on-site scientists are not public figures, and so I try to make sure that individuals are not identifiable when I quote them below, even though this has the unfortunate effect of making their voices somewhat disembodied” (2014: 861).
Several of the works within the annotated set suggest interesting initiatives such as a “data journal” for participants (Bezuidenhout et al. 2017) and roundtable discussions based on principles of “the Charter of Decolonial Research ethics” (Coban 2018). Nonetheless, none of the raw data generated by such activities nor further explanation or documentation of the practices were pointed to, making it difficult to understand exactly what was done. Hunting for the data practices of STS scholars working in Africa felt a bit like detective work and further reflections can be found in an initial “data ethnography” text which I drafted to account for other insights derived from the material practice of searching and uploading these works to PECE.
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...Read more