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. We’re writing a book that may be titled Parastatal: Intimacy & Value in Digital Kenya.

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.

While based at the University of Cape Town, my research examined the technopolitics of biometric identification, including in South Africa’s welfare programs and humanitarian infrastructure in Kenya. This grew into a wider project on surveillance technologies, including two publications with Aaron K. Martin: on the spread of mobile phone registration in Africa and the contests over national identification in the UK (where Aaron has conducted extensive research). With Philippe M. Frowd, we also edited a special forum in African Studies Review on surveillance histories, techniques, and politics.

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

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