“The Rise of the Randomistas: On the Experimental Turn in Development Aid.” Economy & Society (forthcoming)


In recent years, the use of experimental methodologies has emerged as a central means of evaluating international aid interventions. Today, proponents of randomized control trials (so-called randomistas) are among the most influential of development experts. This article examines the growth of this thought collective, analyzing how uncertainty has become a central concern of development institutions. It demonstrates that transformations within the aid industry – including the influence of evidence-based policy, the economization of development, and the retreat from macro-planning – created the conditions of possibility for experimentation. Within this field, the randomistas adeptly pursued a variety of rhetorical, affective, methodological, and organizational strategies that emphasized the lack of credible knowledge within aid and the ability of experiments to rectify the situation. Importantly, they have insisted on the moral worth of experimentation; indeed, the experimental ethic has been proposed as the way to change the spirit of development. Through causal certitude, they propose to reduce human suffering. The rise of experimentation has not, however, eliminated accusations of uncertainty; rather, it has redistributed the means through which knowledge about development is considered credible.

“‘Financial Inclusion Means Your Money Isn’t With You’ – The Conflict Over Social Grants and Financial Services in South Africa.” In Money at the Margins: Global Perspectives on Technology, Financial Inclusion & Design (forthcoming)


In early 2012, the South African government deployed a new electronic payment system for the nearly 10 million recipients of the state’s welfare program. These monthly cash transfers reflect the constitutional right to social security and are also the state’s most substantial poverty alleviation effort. The new payment system provided all recipients with a formal bank account, seemingly realizing the goals of ‘financial inclusion’ by ‘banking the unbanked’. However, despite influential claims by proponents that the provision of financial services to the poor is empowering, in the case discussed below, pro-poor civil society organizations were at the forefront of challenging the financial inclusion of social grant beneficiaries. In particular, the provision of microloans and the terms of repayment through the formal financial system became a source of conflict that highlights tensions between the state, market, and social citizenship in post-apartheid South Africa. This case serves as a reminder of the ambiguities and complexities currently under-addressed in the push for cashless or ‘cash lite’ economies.

Edited Collections

Surveillance in Africa,” a special forum in African Studies Review 59(2) 2016. Edited with Philippe M. Frowd and A.K. Martin.

Peer Reviewed Articles and Chapters

Surveillance in Africa: Politics, Histories, Techniques.” African Studies Review 59(2). (September 2016) (with Philippe M. Frowd and A.K. Martin) (open access version)

Infrastructuring Aid: Materializing Humanitarianism in Northern Kenya.” Environment & Planning D: Society & Space 33(4): 732-748. (August 2015) (open access version)


In numerous African countries, humanitarian and development organizations—as well as governments—are expanding expenditures on social protection schemes as a means of poverty alleviation. These initiatives, which typically provide small cash grants to poor households, are often considered particularly agreeable for the simplicity of their administration and the feasibility of their implementation. This paper examines the background work required to deploy social protection in one especially remote area: the margins of postcolonial Kenya. Specifically, it documents the often-overlooked social and technical construction of the infrastructure necessary so that cash transfers may function with the ease and simplicity for which they are commended. Attention to the practice of ‘infrastructuring’ offers insights into the tensions and politics of what is rapidly become a key form of transnational govermentality in the global South, showing that humanitarian rationalities and subjects cannot be understood independent of the material networks on which they rely.

The Biometric Imaginary: Bureaucratic Technopolitics in Post-Apartheid Welfare.” Journal of Southern African Studies 41(4): 815-833. (2015) (open access version)


Starting in March 2012, the South African government engaged in a massive effort of citizen registration that continued for more than a year. Nearly 19 million social welfare beneficiaries enrolled in a novel biometric identification scheme that uses fingerprints and voice recognition to authenticate social grant recipients. This paper seeks to understand the meaning of biometric technology in post-apartheid South African welfare through a study of the bureaucratic and policy elite’s motivation for this undertaking. It suggests that biometric technology was conceived of and implemented as the most recent in a series of institutional, infrastructural, and policy reforms that seek to deliver welfare in a standardized and objective manner. This technopolitical imaginary has contributed to both the strengths and weaknesses of today’s centralized welfare state.

Mobile Money.” In A.P. Hwa and R. Mansell (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Digital Communication & Society. London: John Wiley Inc. (2015)

New Surveillance Technologies and Their Publics: A Case of Biometrics.” Public Understanding of Science 24(7): 842-857. (October 2015) (with A.K. Martin) (open access version)


Before a newly-elected government abandoned the project in 2010, for at least eight years the British state actively sought to introduce a mandatory national identification scheme for which the science and technology of biometrics was central. Throughout the effort, representatives of the government attempted to portray biometrics as a technology that was easily understandable and readily accepted by the public. However, neither task was straightforward. Instead, particular publics emerged that showed biometric technology was rarely well understood and often is agreeable. In contrast to some traditional conceptualizations of the relationship between public understanding and science, it was often those entities that best understood the technology that found it least acceptable, rather than those populations that lacked knowledge. This paper analyzes the discourses that pervaded the case in order to untangle how various publics are formed and exhibit differing, conflicting understandings of a novel technology.

“‘Development’ as if We Have Never Been Modern: Fragments of a Latourian Development Studies.” Development & Change 45(5) (September 2014) (open access version)


The work of the French anthropologist-cum-philosopher Bruno Latour has influenced a broad variety of disciplines in the past three decades. Yet, Latour has had little noticeable effect within development studies, including those subfields where it might be reasonable to expect affinity, such as the anthropology of development. The first portion of this article outlines some core commitments of Latour’s oeuvre as they relate to development and anthropology, particularly focusing on the post-development critique. Latour’s approach to constructivism and translation, his analytical commitment to ‘keeping the social flat’, and his distribution of agency offer novel ways of maintaining some of the strengths of post-development without falling prey to some of its weaknesses. The second half of the article explores the potential for a Latour-inspired theory of development that may provide fruitful avenues for scholarship and practice beyond post-development, emphasizing materialism, relationality, and hybridity.

The Rise of African SIM Registration: The Emerging Dynamics of Regulatory Change.” First Monday 19, 1-2 (February 2014) (with A.K. Martin)


The African experience with mobile telephony has been extolled as a defining moment in the continent’s contemporary economic, social, and political development. Yet SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) registration schemes are threatening to throttle the technology’s developmental potential. Thesemandates, which require the registration of identity information to activate a mobile SIM card, are fast becoming universal in Africa, with little to no public debate about the wider social or political effects.Whereas some authors have explored the motivations behind these drives, as well as their potentialeconomic impacts, this paper focuses its critique on the broader diversity of implications of thisregulatory transformation. Viewing SIM registration through a lens that surveillance studies and information & communication technologies for development, it examines elements of resistance across a range of actors, as well as other emerging effects like access barriers, linkages to financialization, and Africa’s budding mobile surveillance society.

Further Information

Mobile Money, More Freedom? The Impact of M-PESA’s Network Power on Development as Freedom.” International Journal of Communication 6, 2647-2669. (2012)


The role of ICTs in development is contested between those who believe they will facilitate human development and those who believe they are, at most, impotent, and at worst, counterproductive. This article uses an examination of M-PESA, a large-scale mobile financial service in Kenya, to argue that the impact of ICTs on development as freedom differs with both the specific conceptualization of freedom used, and the institutional arrangement of the technology in question. The article’s novel conceptual model links the adoption of mobile money to its impact, suggesting that the dominant individualistic and instrumental approaches to ICT4D overlook the ways in which power and domination function alongside freedom when these factors are considered relationally and substantively. I demonstrate that the internal plurality of the concept of freedom leads to both new forms of empowerment, but also to limitations on choice and new forms of dominance. In closing, I suggest institutional and technological arrangements that are most likely to maximize the development potential of mobile money.

Further Information

Mobile Money & Financial Inclusion: Growth, Impact & Emerging Issues.” In Information & Communication for Development 2012. Washington, D.C.: World Bank. (2012)


This chapter evaluates the benefits and potential impact of mobile money, especially for promoting financial inclusion in the developing world, before providing an overview of the key factors driving the growth of mobile money services. It also considers some of the barriers and obstacles hindering their deployment. Finally, it identifies emerging issues that the industry will face over the coming years.

Seeing Like a Slum: Towards Open, Deliberative Development.” Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. Winter/Spring 2012. (pp. 97-104). (2012)

Further Information

Discussed in Crooked Timber’s open data seminar

Anywhere, Anytime – Mobile Devices and Their Impact on Agriculture and Rural Development.” In ICT in Agriculture Sourcebook (pp. 49-70). Washington, D.C.: World Bank. (2012)


What has been the impact of mobile phones on agriculture and rural development? This module describes current knowledge, innovative practices, opportunities, and challenges in using mobile phones to benefit agriculture. Based on what has been learned to date, it provides principles for practitioners seeking to use the mobile platform to improve farmers’ livelihoods.

A note on the availability (and importance) of pre-paid mobile data in Africa.” In J. Svensson & G. Wicander (Eds.), 2nd International Conference on Mobile Communication Technology for Development (M4D2010) (pp. 263-267). Karlstad, Sweden: Karlstad University. (slides) (2010) (with Jonathan Donner)


We argue that clear and easy access to prepay data will be as essential to the widespread adoption and use of the mobile internet in developing countries as access to prepay airtime is/was to the adoption of the mobile telephone. In late 2009, we conducted a desk assessment of the availability of pre-pay (pay-as-you-go) data from major operators in 53 African countries. We identified at least one operator in 38 countries which offered pre-pay data, and in 3 cases we could determine that no prepay data was available. Information available from many operators was vague, incomplete, and hard to obtain, suggesting that a threshold of mainstream promotion of the service by operators may not yet have been crossed. We suggest topics for further research, both on the demand and supply sides of the prepaid data equation.

Other Writing

Review of How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual by Dan Bouk.” Journal of Cultural Economy, available at:

Review of Money from Nothing: Indebtedness and Aspiration in South Africa by Deborah James.” Allegra Lab (2015). 

Privacy for the Other 5 Billion.” Slate (2013). (with Carly Nyst).

The Responsibility of Mobile Money Intellectuals? A Review of (a) Due Diligence by Roodman, (b) Money, Real Quick by Omwansa and Sullivan, and (c) The End of Money by Wolman. Information Technology & International Development 9(1). (2013)

SIM Registration and Financial Inclusion in the Silicon Savannah.” Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion. (2013)

Surfing the Internet in Ghana: A Review of Invisible Users by Jenna Burrell.” Los Angeles Review of Books. (2012) (Accompanying blog post.)

Putting Social Protection to Work: Complex Services in South Africa.” The Reboot. (2012).

Does Mobile Money Matter? A Rebuttal to the Mobile Disconnect.” MobileActive. (2012)