My primary research at the moment is an historical ethnography of value and sovereignty in the wake of empire in East Africa. In particular, I examine how temporal, spatial, and evaluative scales were enacted and contested in domains such as political federation, central banking, and commodity smuggling. Each of these domains serves as a lens into contemporary contests, whether over the reformulation of borders or the ambiguities of money in the region.
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.
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.
Prior to graduate school, my interests were focused on the spread of information and communication technologies in the global South. At Georgetown and as researcher at infoDev, I wrote on a variety of topics, largely to do with the growth of mobile connectivity and financial services.
For a complete list of my public writing, please see my publications.