Angela Okune Annotations

MACRO: (How) are economic and legal infrastructures said to shape science and technology in Africa?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 - 3:58pm

Tousignant writes that while research is needed to advance careers and supervise students, it is not materially supported by the institutions and therefore university toxicologists rely on international support and various consultancy work to help to enable research work to continue. This echoes what my own observations of the Nairobi university structures are. (“The main duties of the small number of toxicologists employed by the university have been to train pharmacy students and to take up additional functions (in education planning, a hospital pharmacy, or the drug control lab, for example). From at least the 1980s, their regular budget could not support research, while their proposal for a national poison control center was put on ice for the next two decades. Research -- needed to advance careers and supervise students (the pharmacy degree in Senegal includes a thesis requirement) -- came to depend on brief, uncertain sources of support such as international projects, “favors” from sympathetic collaborators, and paid analytical contracts (with the exception, again, of Project Locustox).” into chapter)

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DATA: (How) does the analyst account for their own data practices and responsibilities?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 - 3:56pm
  • While Tousignant does not describe in detail how she managed her own project data, she includes details on her methods and sources throughout. 
  • The majority of Tousignant’s sources are historical: laboratory spaces and equipment that have remained, documents that have been archived, left, or put away, and stories told about what was (oral histories). The last chapter is based more substantially on ethnographic observation.

  • She notes that she paid attention to the sites where she found documents (most were not formally archived, but kept or left in situ) and where she conducted interviews, and spent additional time interacting with these spaces and their occupants informally. In terms of responsibility, she notes that she does not fully share the sense of nostalgia and optimism her interlocutors often projected, and instead she underscores past constraints on their capacity to detect and to protect, and its future uncertainty. But she notes that she takes seriously memories and hopes of “better times” as indices of “better toxicology.” She notes that she studied the topic over a period of about eight months between January 2010 and March 2011.

  • Tousignant includes some direct excerpts from her interlocutors within her text. In chapter 5 she notes in footnote 1: “I attended weekly staff meetings; conversed, mostly informally, with staff members during their workday; participated in the design and data collection for the envenomation survey; hung out in the common office and, later, the helpline room.” She does not describe how she managed her own ethnographic data. She cites within some of the footnotes her interview sources.

  • In chapter 2 she mentions: The sources of information I obtained about the lab during this period are the following…”

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NANO: (How) is “Africa” invoked when the author discusses data (as a place with unique demands or responsibilities, for example)?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 - 3:55pm

This is not related to data per say but Chapter Two especially focuses on the subject formation of Africans as scientists, looking at how postcolonial leaders such as Senghor and Diop viewed Africa’s emergence and path towards “modernity.” Tousignant notes: “For Senghor as for Diop, then, being scientific was not just about being modern as a form of mimicry,  but about (re)setting African history in motion: for Africans to (once again) become active transformers of their society and place in the world.” (chapter 2)

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TECHNO: (How) does the analyst account for the data practices and responsibilities of the people and organizations studied?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 - 3:35pm
  • Tousignant looks at data on toxics and notes it has been growing (albeit slowly). The data on accidental and voluntary acute poisonings have been compiled from hospital or clinical records.

  • She notes that most international initiatives do not directly support the production of data on pathways, levels, and distributions of exposure but rather, generally address the already known sources of risk (E.g. promoting safer techniques of mercury use without investigating exposure).

  • Tousignant notes that the Sahelian ecotoxicology’s methodological and institutional infrastructures were entangled in justifications for prolonging the project and in the project practices for accumulating data and making it usable over time.

  • Tousignant notes: “Presumably only the best (or favorite) pharmacy students were given access to project machines and lab supplies for their thesis work; the majority had to make do with bibliographic essays, or compilations of clinical data and questionnaire results.” She includes in a footnote: “Only a small fraction of thesis research involved laboratory analysis, however. A few theses were bibliographic essays on specific toxic risks or analytical methods, while the majority involved “paper-based” research, that is, involving the collection and analysis of existing data (such as information in clinical registers) or of responses to questionnaires (for example, on knowledge and practices pertaining to toxic risks such as pesticide use among farmers).” The data they are working with appears to largely be quantitative data.

  • Tousignant notes that her interlocutors highlighted the need to generate their own data: “the CAP’s statistician explained to me that poison, as a cause of morbidity and mortality, was not (yet) a category in national health statistics.  Poisoning might be recorded in clinical registers, but not always, and was not an accurate reflection of the causes and magnitude of the problem. It was important, then, for the center to generate its own data.

    • Excerpt from interlocutor: “We need to collect data on the causal link between poisoning and pesticides [...] we have to create an observatory, for long-term follow-up [...] when you ask for money, you don’t ask for the minimum. We already know there are problems with the use of pesticides [...] we need to get blood samples, we need to get a spectro[photometer] and reagents [...] we need field testing kits [...] we need a sociologist too [...] An epidemiological study for 2.5 million [CFA francs]?... We need 25 million! [...] We need data! [...] We will do everything. We will follow, in a month, in a year... [...] We need right away to put in study and analyses. We have to follow up on a long period.” (Chapter 5)


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MICRO: What did the analyst choose to describe as “science” and/or “data” in Africa?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 - 3:35pm
  • Tousignant is looking at Senegalese toxicologists' capacity, understanding capacity as the equipment and supplies that were or might have been, the skills to use them, the actions they allowed, and the sense of movement and directionality.
  • Tousignant looks at the materiality of the main toxicology lab (apparatus, reagents, gas taps, benches, signs, and reports) to consider how these carry and convey traces of former analytical activity and future horizons into the present to reflect on who makes and moves capacity, and for whom.

  • For Tousignant’s context, “data” is (largely quantitative) data on exposure to toxic poisons (e.g. snake bites, unknown diseases, etc.) generated about Senegal.

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META: What discourses does the analyst consider/leverage to characterize/theorize science and technology in Africa?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 - 3:34pm

  • Tousignant leverages a loss narrative to think about what scientific capacity, both narrowly and broadly defined, means in settings of (threatened) peripheralization, scarcity, dependence, and stagnation. She cites Geissler’s work which describes a shared idea of working towards a better future in which the progressive principle of science fused with individual career ambitions and societal projects of development to argue that such forward-moving, synchronous, equivalent capacity has never been more than a promise that has grown increasingly elusive.

  • Tousignant looks at the loss of the plausibility of toxicology as equivalent both in its capacity to advance, or keep up, and in its capacity to protect in Senegal.

  • Tousignant also uses a vocabulary of temporality and rhythmn as her overall framing to describe and think about capacity.

  • Tousignant notes discourses about “Africanizing” science or “Senegalizing” science when cuts in both French assistance and Senegalese state funding in the 1980s led to lab leadership being handed over from French to Senegalese. She also notes a later period of “Sahelian” ecotoxicology when eco-toxicology’s methods were being  “Sahelianized” to durable relocation in Sahelian institutions.

  • She builds on work related to infrastructures to think through the relations between time, science, and the public good.


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MACRO: (How) are economic and legal infrastructures said to shape science and technology in Africa?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 - 3:34pm

“The trajectory of toxicology and that of other sciences in Africa follow a broadly shared sequence: from a brief period of growing -- but largely promissory -- investment in science as an African(ized), national, collective, and development-oriented enterprise (circa 1940s-1970s), followed by a generalized drop in public (both national and international) funding for science in Africa from the 1980s, leading to the stagnation of scientific activity and/or to new “entrepreneurial” strategies for capturing foreign, non-governmental, or private resources.” (intro chapter)

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DEUTERO: How is this analyst denoting and worrying about “Africa”?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 - 3:28pm

Tousignant asks: “If toxicology everywhere is unprotective, then what, if anything, is distinctive about toxicology in Senegal?” [She asks this to move away from the have/have not questions. Citing work by Michelle Murphy, she assumes that toxicology everywhere is unprotective].

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DISCURSIVE RISKS: What are the analyst’s epistemic assumptions of “Africa”?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 - 3:25pm

Tousignant’s book is very strong in many of the layers of its analysis, with a particular strength in its nano level of analysis. She follows a call by the Fortuns’ (2008) to look at the subject formation of scientists in a particular context and moment. She is also strong in her analysis of the scientists’ data practices and scientific infrastructure. She includes non-human actors like the insects enrolled as indicators in Sahelian ecotoxicology as “infrastructures.” (chapter 4). She includes discussion about the racialization of expertise in chapter 2, something that I am also interested in which is often not sufficiently included in discussions of humanitarianism and science on the continent.

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