Angela Okune Annotations

ECO: What material constraints are said to undergird science and technology work in Africa?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 - 12:05am

AO: Coban critiques narratives about “heat, dust, extreme environments” as undergirding S&T development in Africa.

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 - 12:04am
  • AO: The author notes a “research partner”; this person is quoted directly but not listed as co-author.

  • AO: Coban notes that she conducted participant observation to focus on bodily experiences of developing hardware. She also conducted qualitative interviews. Interestingly she notes that an important part of her participatory research and an aim to approach some principles of “the Charter of Decolonial Research ethics” was to organize roundtable discussions to discuss preliminary research results with the people she worked with. She noted that she decided to anonymize all research participants even if some did not mind being named in publication because of the sensitivity of some of the insights and topics.

  • AO: Coban includes several direct quotes throughout the piece.

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 - 12:04am
  • AO: Maker space entrepreneurs desire their hardwares to be “Made in Africa, for Africa”

  • AO: Coban argues that tech developers and start-ups constantly negotiate between liberating feelings about new work possibilities and restrictive requirements of international funders and investors who still pursue exoticized imaginations of lives in a generalized “Africa.”

  • AO: Coban notes that daily lives of tech developers in Nairobi are still defined in relation to the cliches about superiority of knowledge and tech from global North. Making movement is therefore “revolutionary” in positioning the global South as the knowledge maker.

  • “Made in Africa, for Africa” as a claim for expertise and having expert knowledge about what is best for one’s own context and building for it. This echoes Crane (2010; 2013). Contextualization of context vs “global standards.”

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 - 12:03am
  • AO: Coban looks at the emergence of a “maker scene” which focuses on the development of “stuff” and hardware rather than software development.

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 - 12:03am
  • AO: Coban uses Butler’s “performative agency” to talk about how tech makers are performing deficient environments and building tech that has social impact on broad problems like “poverty” (61). She calls the performative practices around tech development in Nairobi that materialize and stabilize the norms of social impact a “performance of poverty” (62).

  • AO: Coban looks at the academic and popular discourse on maker spaces, noting that she followed narratives citing Czarniawska (2004).

  • AO: Coban notes that the diffusion of tech model (tech eminating from the “core”) characterized much of the early literature although it has been heavily critiqued.

  • AO: Coban relies on the binary of “global South/North” without necessarily problematizing it.

  • AO: Uses Spivak and Said to talk about the “othering” of the target group of technology.

  • AO: Coban references a lot of Kenyan academic and non-academic sources. This is in contrast to the work by global health experts who largely cite each other (mostly non-African scholars).

  • AO: silicon valley solutionism (Mozorov 2013)

  • AO: Coban argues that start-up founders would rather avoid a reproduction of colonial stereotypes and “othering” but feel forced to “perform it” to get funding. I am not sure this is always a cogniscant choice by all tech founders. The structures and methods for “knowing the users” and developing technology solutions need to also be looked at to understand how and why particular exoticized “users” are thought of over others. I do not believe it is entirely a self-aware choice and I think the heterogenous characteristics of the entrepreneurs need to also emerge better in the analysis to counter the narratives that the author critiques. Who are these entrepeneurs and what are their own biases and ideas about the users they are developing for? I think analysis between the *users* of the tech and start-ups themselves might also help to shed light on the complexities and different aspects of performativity (which is involved in all aspects of human interactions). 

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 - 12:00am
  • AO: The analyst notes that after Nairobi became famous (by Ushahidi and m-Pesa) as a site of tech knowlege innovation, development agencies and then private sector heavily invested in Nairobi start-ups and co-working spaces. But I would argue that these initiatives partly emerged because Nairobi was already a hub for development and capital. They became mutually reinforced by each other.

  • AO: high taxes on imported hardware resources make prototyping machines expensive to make.

  • AO: Coban argues that the Silicon Valley ideology applied in postcolonial contexts replicates postcolonial imaginations. However, I would counter that this again follows an assumption of a “diffusion model” that assumes Silicon Valley ideology is foreign to Nairobi when in fact it is caught up and inbricated in everyday life (not just to the foreigners who fly in and out of Nairobi).

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 - 12:00am
  • AO: Coban is interested in how funding issues in Nairobi tech scene lead to start-up entrepreneurs to “dance to their tune” rather than their own. Worried about the deficit narrative and the replication of colonial inequalities (because of funding structures).

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - 11:59pm

AO: Coban has a strong analysis of the meta discourses, especially focusing on how “Made in Africa, for Africa” narratives have characterized the tech space in Nairobi. She is missing a strong macro analysis and without historicizing “hacking” (by another name), falls into the same discourse touted by the sector (that “Engine” was the start of hardware hacking in Kenya; this is not true and fails to account for the public universities, e.g. Technical University of Kenya).

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