STS in Africa Workflow


Conceptual Framework:

AO: These orals documents are framed around Fortun’s conceptualization of discursive risks and gaps (Fortun 2012). Fortun writes that the contemporary Late Industrial period is characterized by complex conditions for which there is no available idiom, no way of thinking that can grasp what is at hand. Fortun calls these “discursive gaps” and its opposite -- “discursive risks” -- emerge because of a tendency to rely on established idioms and ways of thinking nonetheless. Discursive risks or the established ways in which a particular phenomenon is discussed again and again can set ethnographers up to miss key aspects of the dynamics. Therefore, I borrowed a structure of ten analytic questions initially designed by Fortun for a project on air pollution in cities (unpublished manuscript) to develop ten analytic questions to help unsettle and unpack the nested problem space of tech development research data sharing in Nairobi in order to study its discursive gaps and risks.

The ten questions (detailed in my full research proposal) are employed to help tease out different scales of the phenomenon and to help guide me in identifying my own discursive risks and gaps in approaching the object of study. I have employed modified versions of these questions to query three sets of diverse literatures (on STS in Africainvestments in the notion of an “African university” and research collaborations). I also used these core grounding questions to develop related fieldwork data gathering questions. I currently plan to structure my analysis and write-up of my dissertation around these questions. I fully expect these questions to shift and change throughout my fieldwork and project.

On Developing Analytics:

AO: I had experience designing analytic questions with Kim and other UCI graduate students as part of an STS Across Borders initiative which we worked on from January - August 2018. As part of this process, I became familiar with PECE, PECE vocabulary and the style of analytic structures. In July 2018, my collaborator James Adams and I used this knowledge to draft a modified version of the analytic questions which we envisioned would help structure our joint querying. We reviewed this first draft of questions with Kim and based on her feedback, revised the questions to more closely follow the different levels of “sedimented questions” to help us address and identify the discursive risks of the work we would be querying. I developed a revised set of analytic questions for my other STS in Africa and "Decolonizing the University" documents based on this “final” list of questions for the Collaboration document. As I read and annotated, new analytic questions emerged (for example, this question to more explicitly capture any binaries and metaphors being used). When new questions arose, I added them to the set. I did not delete any questions since the changes in questions themselves are an interesting and noteworthy part of the process.

Summary of Work Flow and Methodology:  

AO: I compiled a “final” bibliography (of between 50 - 100 references) for each of my orals document. They each have their own zotero folder. (For STS in Africa, 76; for Decolonizing University, 71; for collaboration, 90). I put all references and analytic question probes into a Google document (one annotated bibliography doc per orals doc). All of the references were inputted into PECE as artifacts. Find the style guide here. To upload them as artifacts, I found the articles/books, review the abstract and quickly reviewed the piece. I wrote a critical commentary or used the existing abstract and input the various meta data fields. Once all were inputted, I then chose approximately 20 - 25 from each orals doc set to query in more depth. These were the ones that I annotated using a structured analytic set of questions (one analytic set per orals doc). I foregrounded the annotations in the STS in Africa essay; I foregrounded the artifacts in the decolonizing university essay and in the collaboration essay we did both. I used the annotations as well as the critical commentaries that I put in to draft the extended narratives which are my current understanding of the discursive gaps and risks of these various problem spaces (investments into the African university and education from a variety of actors; science and technology studies in Africa; and scholarship on collaboration in the research process).

Analysis Process:

I opened up multiple tabs on my browser and looked through my responses to each individual question, inserted those that I thought were most relevant/interesting into the sub-essay and drafted a narrative synthesis based on the annotations I made. Some of the sub-essays already had some notes / ideas that I had put in while I was reading as I began to note some trends and I used these as well to develop the “summary.” I started with the lowest category (“eco”) and ended with “discursive risks.” Not only did I hyperlink to the annotations within the question, I also included links to other sub-essays, personal profiles I created as part of the STS in Africa exhibit and outside blog posts and articles. I also periodically referred to readings in one of my other orals docs (which are stored on the WorldPece server). I had also kept a “working essay” where I threw in thoughts as I had them during reading. I reviewed this essay’s materials as I wrote the syntheses. As I looked at them comparatively, new insights emerged which I added to my earlier annotations (e.g. I found Lesley Green’s concept of relational ontology raised the biggest discursive risk in Laura Foster’s work so not only did I mention it in the “eco summary” but I also added it within Foster’s “discursive risk” annotation).

Detailed STS in Africa Methodology and Timeline

In this essay, my starting point were the scholars (rather than their individual works) who are working on diverse topics of science and technology in Africa. Given that I have original data from some of the scholars (who responded to a survey I created and sent out for the STS Across Borders exhibit) as well as the variety of “grey” materials I included from found online artifacts such as newspaper interviews, blog posts, video talks, etc., in some of the cases, I annotate the scholars essays themselves (rather than the works) to draw out how this person has discussed (and / or written about data practices (either formally in their own work or informally in other mediums and spaces).

I began working on the concept of this essay in August 2017. I reviewed a range of works on Science and Technology in Africa (initial reading list here) but did not have a set analytic frame with which I was reading them. I developed a first draft of a overall “summary” of the literature by March 5th. However, without a core set of strong analytic questions that guided the reading, the work did not speak directly to the analytics and concepts with which my project sought to engage. Therefore, I changed tact. In early 2018, I also realized that the document would take the form of the online PECE essay. Thus, as I developed the 4S exhibit on STS in Africa which will be presented at 4S in Sydney, I also planned to leverage those works in a different iteration of the “document.” I developed a first round of analytic questions in April 2018. However, these questions were too broad with regards to my research topic and too generic with regards to the texts themselves (what is the author’s argument, etc.). I therefore took another pass at developing revised analytic questions which I finalized in July 2018 and then used to annotate closely 20 - 25 works within the broader literature of STS in Africa. This approach enabled me with both breadth (by including a broad set of works into the online PECE essay) and depth (deep reading to annotate those especially relevant to my project). My second iteration of analytic questions enabled me to look explicit at the texts with my own project in mind (especially focused on data sharing practices and ideas of what “good” research in/on/for Africa consisted of).


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Contributed date

August 16, 2018 - 5:05pm

Critical Commentary

AO: This artifact outlines the methodology for selection of texts as well as work flow for inputting the materials and annotating.

Cite as

Angela Okune, "STS in Africa Workflow", contributed by Angela Okune, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 26 August 2018, accessed 19 May 2022.