Okune, Angela. 2018. "STS in Africa: Meta." 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 discourses does the analyst consider/leverage to characterize/theorize science and technology in Africa?” Within the annotated set, STS scholars draw on a range of discourses to characterize science and technology in Africa. These include scholarly discussions engaging with postcolonial studies (with scholars like Mudimbe and the Comaroffs cited heavily) (Tilley 2011; Pollock 2014; Mavhunga 2014); critical data studies and the sociology of quantification (Biruk 2018; Bezuidenhout 2017); anthropological work on infrastructures (von Schnitzler 2013; Tousignant 2018); STS theories of the boundaries of knowledge (Crane 2010); and feminist theories of performativity (Tichenor 2017; Coban 2018).
Several discursive themes recur throughout the annotated set: the dominance and reliance on non-African funding within African science and technology (Tousignant and Geissler 2016; Tousignant 2018; Crane 2010; Coban 2018; Tichenor 2017); different ways of theorizing African “capacity” (Mavhunga 2014; Geissler and Tousignant 2016; Bezuidenhout et al. 2017); and discussions of “Africanizing” science and who benefits from science and tech (Tousignant 2018; Coban 2018).
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
Within the annotated set, STS scholars draw on a range of discourses to characterize science and technology in Africa. These include scholarly discussions engaging with postcolonial studies (with scholars like Mudimbe and the Comaroffs cited heavily) (Tilley 2011; Pollock 2014; Mavhunga 2014); critical data studies and the sociology of quantification (Biruk 2018; Bezuidenhout 2017); anthropological work on infrastructures (von Schnitzler 2013; Tousignant 2018); STS theories of the boundaries of knowledge (Crane 2010); and feminist theories of performativity (Tichenor 2017; Coban 2018).
The importance of funders in structuring collaboration and research agendas has been noted by many STS scholars working on the continent. Crane (2010) noted shifting incentives where Western funders increasingly desired for research work to not only be scientifically sound but also "relevant" for the “global South.” Coban (2018) argued that start-up founders would rather avoid a reproduction of colonial stereotypes and “othering” but feel forced to perform it to get funding.
Tousignant described dominant discourse about “Africanizing” science or “Senegalizing” science when cuts in both French assistance and Senegalese state funding in the 1980s led to lab leadership being handed over from French to Senegalese. She also noted a later period of “Sahelian” ecotoxicology when eco-toxicology’s methods were being “Sahelianized” to durable relocation in Sahelian institutions. I have noted similar discourse both within and beyond academic work (see the nano sub-essay; a blog post I wrote in 2017; a 2015 event entitled “Africanizing Technology” held at Wesleyan University).
Mavhunga (2014) leveraged a “capacities” approach to pay attention to the capacities people already have that enable them to import and deploy innovations. Bezuidenhout et al. (2017) used Amartya Sen’s Capabilities Approach (CA) for human development to look at how goods and services (in their case, data) 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. This is distinct from the ways Tousignant and Geissler approach "capacity” as “history and horizon,” calling for re-politicizing of “capacity” to recognize it as a form of power to act on the world and produce effects, that emerges from, is contested within, and acts on social, institutional and material processes as they unfold within specific locations and histories in a world of unequal life chances, resources and opportunity.” Geissler and Tousignant pointed out that “capacity” gained prominance in international development to label a gap, corresponding with the growth of keywords “community” and “empowerment” in international aid circles. Sen's capabilities approach continues to be the de facto theory within ICTD literature to address critiques of purely economic models of development (e.g. Dorthea Kleine and many of her students are well-known for advocating and using the capabilities approach in ICTD work).
Tousignant (2018) outlined general discursive trends related to the growth of science and technology, noting a first (post-independence) and second (post-millennium) “ages of optimism” for public science and health in Senegal. Within the hopeful, future-oriented narratives of the post-independence period in the 1960s, science promised mobility, autonomy, and equivalence for Africa (Geissler and Tousignant 2016). But these narratives shifted sharply in the 1980s with the introduction of World Bank structural adjustment policies and the crippling effects of funding cuts for public science in the 1980s and beyond (Peterson 2014). The swift uptake of mobile phone technologies and other Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the early 2000s across the continent has led to a renewed narrative of hope about the continent (that is not disentangled from but in fact largely relies on earlier narratives of abscence, negativity, and weakness) with contemporary headlines reading, for example, “How Africa’s Tech Generation is Changing the Continent.”
Tousignant’s book ends at the start of the new millenium (in 2010) at a time, she argued when there was renewed optimism for public science in Africa. Simultaneous with Tousignant’s fieldwork in Senegal in 2010, iHub was being launched on the eastern side of the continent, amid similarly bright hopes for technology in Kenya. Only eight years after Tousignant’s fieldwork, I note a growing dissatisfaction with the distribution of gains from investments into science and technology as the presence of large muti-national corporates increases. While growing investments in STI & STEM from outside of the public sector as well as from the national government (e.g. Konza City about to open in Nov. 2018) appear to signal optimistic growth, my initial fieldwork indicates that the sector has become increasingly critical about who is benefiting from this growth with discussions about benefits for Africans (rather than the foreigners who are moving to Nairobi to work with and start these tech companies). This appears to be bringing about increased refusal to share information and may also very well influence organization and individuals’ willingness to share research data.