Research

I am currently writing a book entitled, Government of Value: Smuggling, Money, and Decolonization in East Africa. I argue that East African decolonization was not coterminous with political sovereignty but rather consisted of a longer process of reorganizing how value was legitimately defined, produced, and distributed. It is an analysis of how postcolonial states tried to remake economic temporalities, space, and standards and how citizens pursued alternatives that subverted economic sovereignty. This is a story of central banking, national currencies, and coffee smuggling, as well as rites of initiation and econometric modelling. An article from the project — on coffee smuggling, kinship relations, and measurement devices — is available in Cultural Anthropology.

The Barclays Bank DCO agency branch in Kilembe, western Uganda.

With Emma Park, I have an ongoing project on the cultural politics of Kenya’s largest corporation, Safaricom. We’re interested in the entanglements of the corporate and the state, the unwieldy and unexpected forms of politics this generates, and the types of para-ethnographic work done to stabilize the situation. We have also examined the making of debt markets through the extraction of mobile data in Kenya, including how it depends on the appropriation of intimacy and relates to sovereign indebtedness. We’re writing a book that may be titled Parastatal: Intimacy & Value in Digital Kenya.

I recently finished editing, with James Christopher Mizes, a special issue of Africa: Journal of the International Africa Institute on the theme of ‘Capitalizing Africa: High Finance from Below.’ We wrote a substantive assessment of a new wave of financial practices on the continent and worked with some talented ethnographers studying finance, money, and regulation in Ethiopia, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, and Congo.

I continue to work, and have previously consulted, on topics related to digital economies and politics across the global South. In mid-2020, I co-convened a series of conversations on data politics and data economies in eastern Africa. I have worked quite a bit on mobile money and digital finance. I have written on biometric identification (in South Africa welfare and in Kenya humanitarianism), on privacy and surveillance, and on the spread of mobile phone registration policies.

I also have an interest in the sociology of knowledge, particularly the field of economics. While working in the aid industry before graduate school, I witnessed the rise of a more assertive approach to evidence by development economists, particularly through the use of randomized control trials (RCTs). Between 2012-2015, I traced their claims to expertise and the ongoing debates over uncertainty within the field, resulting in an article on the “Rise of the Randomistas.” This drew on an effort to think through the theoretical contributions of science & technology studies (STS) in the global south. More recently, I have turned to the history of economists in East Africa, examining their role in postcolonial state formation.

For a complete list of my public writing, please see my publications.

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