Victoria Bernal

Cite as:

Adams, James, Maggie Woodruff and Angela Okune. 2018. “Victoria Bernal.” Originally created for “UCI Anthro Faculty,” created by James Adams and Maggie Woodruff. In UCI Anthro STS, created by James Adams and Maggie Woodruff. Re-presented in STS in "Africa" Personal Careers, created by Angela Okune. In STS in "Africa" in Formation, created by Angela Okune and Aadita Chaudhury. In STS Across Borders Digital Exhibit, curated by Aalok Khandekar and Kim Fortun. Society for Social Studies of Science. August.

Essay Metanarrative

Victoria Bernal is a cultural anthropologist whose scholarship in political anthropology contributes to media and IT studies, gender studies, and African studies. Her work addresses questions relating to politics, gender, migration and diaspora, war, globalization, transnationalism, civil society and activism, development, digital media, and Islam. Dr. Bernal’s research is particularly concerned with relations of power and inequality and the dynamic struggles of ordinary people as they confront the cruel and absurd contradictions arising from the concentration of wealth and political power locally and globally. She has carried out ethnographic research in Sudan, Tanzania, Eritrea, Silicon Valley and cyberspace. Her articles and chapters have appeared in various collections as well as in anthropological, African Studies, and interdisciplinary journals, including American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, American Anthropologist, Global Networks, Comparative Studies in Society and History, African Studies Review, and Political and Legal Anthropology Review. Selected publications are available below. Bernal teaches courses on Digital Media and Culture, Global Africa, Nations, States and Gender, and the Politics of Protest among others.

This PECE essay helps to answer the STS Across Borders analytic question: “What people, projects, and products exemplify how this STS formation has developed over time?”

This essay is part of two broader exhibits: one on UCI Anthro STS, and one on prominant and upcoming individuals working on critical science and technology issues in Africa, which is featured in a broader exhibit on "STS in Africa."

STS Across Borders In Brief

STS Across Borders is a special exhibit organized by the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) to showcase how the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) has developed in different times, places...Read more

Who is Victoria Bernal?

About Victoria Bernal

Victoria Bernal is a cultural anthropologist whose scholarship in political anthropology contributes to media and IT studies, gender studies, and African studies. Her work addresses questions relating to politics, gender, migration and diaspora, war, globalization, transnationalism, civil society...Read more


Notable Work

Eritrea on-line: Diaspora, cyberspace, and the public sphere

ABSTRACT: For Eritreans in diaspora, identities are deterritorialized, one’s most pressing communication may be with far-flung strangers in cyberspace, and one’s political engagement is centered on a distant homeland. Eritrean experiences, thus, seem to bring together various qualities that...Read more

Dr. Bernal on STS in/on Africa

"Briefly describe a current or previous project that you feel aligns you with STS in Africa."

VB (May 27, 2018): "I began working on African politics and digital media in the late 1990s, with a focus on how Eritreans in diaspora were using the internet to participate in homeland politics. My body of work on that research includes articles and book chapters and my 2014 monograph, Nation as Network: Diaspora, Cyberspace, and Citizenship."

"Who has been key inspiration for your growth as an STS scholar?"

VB (May 27, 2018): "Eritreans in diaspora have been my key inspiration-- they were engaging in computer-mediated groups before I got my first email address in 1996. I am always working at the intersection of the humanities and the social sciences so I became drawn into STS through media studies and various interdisciplinary anthologies like the Cybercultures Reader. Come to think of it the early feminist critiques of scientific objectivity in the 1980s were probably the first really exciting STS theory I encountered. Later Haraway's work. So with feminist work and Africa, if I have indeed entered STS, it is through the back door or the window as fits an interloper."

"How do you see your work fitting into critical work on science and technology in Africa?"

VB (May 27, 2018): "I believe African Studies is no longer confined to what happens within the geographic boundaries of the continent, and my work, starting with my early research in the Sudan has focused on transnational migration and globalizing processes and relationships. STS literatures have not paid sufficient attention to Africans. One thing that I hope people take from my work is how Eritreans in diaspora were early adopters of digital media even before the world wide web, and how creative and innovative Eritreans have been in the many ways they used the internet as a political space and a medium, despite the fact that the affordances of digital media were not developed with Africans in mind. I think we need to shift to a more 'theory from the south' approach as the Comaroffs have argued and take seriously how much everyone can learn from African experiences and creativity."

"In your opinion, what is unique about STS work in / on Africa?"

VB (May 27, 2018): "To my mind it is the invisibility of Africans and Africa (except as a so-called "crisis" for Europe when they attempt to enter). So much work on the major transformations of our time--- globalization and the internet -- puts Africans on the margins or ignores them altogether, rather than recognizing African experience as an essential part of any global theory or narrative. I understand there is still a need for collecting basic information about many activities and many regions on the continent, but to do something exciting in STS on Africa we need to be theorizing creatively, otherwise it is too close to marketing research that describes what products or platforms people use for what purpose, but fails to imagine the wider transformations that might be involved or result. So basically what I mean is that the exciting STS work is largely being done without a focus on Africa and that needs to change."

"What concepts and debates has critical work on science and technology in Africa been focused on? Why do you think that is?"

VB (May 27, 2018): "I think that research and record-keeping conditions in Africa often mean that scholars have to do a lot of groundwork getting rather basic data to establish the general conditions and context of what is going on, and then theorizing takes a back seat. Burrell's notion in her book on Ghana of "invisible users" resonates with me."

"Please describe any particular events/moments which you feel are important in understanding the development of STS in Africa."

VB (May 27, 2018): "For my own work it was the 1998 border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia when I saw that Eritreans in diaspora used websites very effectively to raise funds from all over the world for Eritrea's war effort."

"Through what forms, discourses, channels is the critical work on science and tech being taken up/shared/spread?"

VB (May 27, 2018): "This is a great research question. I wonder. My first STS conference that I attended and presented was the joint 4S and its European counterpart in Barcelona in 2015. That was a great international conference where many different strands of STS connected."

Victoria Bernal on future directions of STS in Africa

Victoria Bernal (May 27, 2018): " There are so many exciting things going on. One thing that interests me is African makers, hackers, and repair/recyclers. I think there is a lot of experimentation, teaching and learning, and innovation going on in some spheres that are not necessarily on...Read more