STS in Africa: Eco

Cite as:

Okune, Angela. 2018. "STS in Africa: Eco." 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 material constraints are said to undergird science and technology work in Africa?” While used more infrequently within analyses of science and tech in Africa, notable factors mentioned included flooding (Tichenor 2017), plant growth (or lack thereof) (Foster 2017), the decay and remains of industry (Pollock 2014) and labs (Tousignant 2018). Notably, time was mentioned both for its scarcity (Crane 2010Bezuidenhout 2017) and structuring of the day (shared time zones across geographic zones) (Pollock 2014).

This essay is part of a broader orals document by Angela Okune querying Science and Technology Studies in Africa. 

Sub-essays within the orals doc can be accessed directly through the following links: Discursive RiskDeuteroMetaMacroMicroNanoTechnoDataEco.

Angela Okune's Orals Documents in Brief

This essay is part of three orals documents submitted by University of California, Irvine Anthropology doctoral student Angela Okune i n partial fulfillment of her requirements for...Read more

Bibliography for Annotated Set

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


While the eco level of analysis was less frequently used overall by the STS scholars included in the query, several important insights emerged by those who did employ a more material approach to understanding their object of study. For example, Lesley Green found the importance of practice-based ontologies (responding to sedimented categories of indigenous knowledge vs science). She noted that “the ‘natures’ in play are not based on someone’s cultural (or ‘stakeholder’) identity, but on their actual interactions with sea and fish,” an insight she terms “relational ontology” (2012: 6). This concept helps to reveal some of the discursive risks of other scholarly work (most notably, a reliance on stable occupational and identity categories to describe human actors (e.g. Foster 2017). Osseo-Asare similarly notes the instability of categories and construction of boundaries (in her work, the nation-state boundaries) as revealed by how plants and plant knowledge travel around the African continent. She notes: “When environments and ethnic groups overlap, and plants and people move over time, who is to say that Country X somehow owns Plant Y?” (201). Foster (2017) noted that the way that the hoodia plants grew slowly in the ground, spread its seeds widely, evolved in patchy spatial distributions and interacted with the human body all shaped the very relations of law, science and market that tried to contain it. Looking at pre-paid micro-devices, von Schnitzler (2013) noted the intentional breaking and rewiring of technology (for illicit purposes) which she argues led to cycles of innovation (to identify, revise, normalize the rewired technology, leading to more elaborate tactics to rewire, etc.). Von Schnitzler looked expressly at the material technology itself as a site of politics (although her analysis did not necessarily look at how the machines act as agents in their own right as Griffin and Hayler (2018) put forth, but rather on how the humans contend with each other indirectly via their relations to/with the machine).

Tichenor (2017) noted the importance of flooding in thinking about and tackling malaria disease (a ecological factor she highlights is not included in most global health programs designed to reduce malaria). In a similar vein, Bezuidenhout et al. (2017), Crane (2010) and Tousignant (2018) identified the need for facility repairs, equipment maintenance and calibration, severe time pressures including heavy clinical loads and a lack of research support.

With a historical material approach, Mavhunga (2014) notes the arrival of the gun, use of poison, tsetse plague and other diseases as undergirding historical and contemporary science and tech work on the continent. Pollock (2014) cites the history of mining and the physical decaying signs of this industrial past as well the fact that South Africa is in the same time zone as Europe as shaping the development of science and tech in South Africa.

A sampling of annotations

A few of the notable annotations are included below for quick review. Each can be clicked to view it fully. A full list of all annotations submitted under this analytic question can be found here.

AO. Green - Eco

  • AO: Green writes that “the ‘natures’ that are in play are not based on someone’s cultural (or ‘stakeholder’) identity, but on their actual interactions with sea and fish. ‘An object

  • ...Read more