Okune, Angela and Aadita Chaudhury. 2018. "STS in 'Africa' in Formation." In STS Across Borders Digital Exhibit, curated by Aalok Khandekar and Kim Fortun. Society for Social Studies of Science. August.
Many debates have ensued about the relationship between Science and Africa. Some hold that Africa had and still has its own very different conceptual and cognitive models which were not apparent to, or regarded by, the colonialists who first introduced western education to Africa. According to such logic, the reign of Science in Africa is therefore a super imposition of one culture (western) over another (African). But recent science and technology studies also raise questions about such binaries. Scholars like Mavhunga (2017) and others have established that if we take a broader notion of science, we can find it has been deeply rooted on the continent long prior to the colonial period. Following this vein, this exhibit takes its conception of STS in Africa very broadly and as part of an ongoing process of being "in formation" (also recognizing the fraught nature of using a categorical construct such as "Africa"). Acknowledging some of the tensions between an "indigenous" African practice of science and its global circulations and interests, the exhibit treats the continent as highly differentiated while simultaneously seeking to provide a cursory view of various communities of practice and scholarship related to STS taking place across the continent. Through interviews with diverse scholars and practitioners working in/on the continent and archival materials including reports, photos, and multimedia, the exhibit will provide insight into what has transpired related to STS in Africa to date and what key issues are being grappled with. In this way, this exhibit seeks to make a history and community of STS in Africa by drawing in even those individuals, groups and institutions which may not yet have self-identified as "STS."
This exhibit is a first step towards answering the STS Across Borders analytic questions regarding a growing community of critical scholarship and practice related to science and technology in diverse African contexts. We hope that future iterations can and will expand on this initial work. Future iterations might include groups like the LOST Research Network which hosts an STS-Africa Research Network. Additional journals - disciplinary and interdisciplinary - should be queried to find works related to STS in Africa. Previous 4S conferences which included presentations related to STS in Africa should also be more thoroughly included as part of the next iteration of this exhibit. Greater research on organizations such as Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER), Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR), the critical technical practice laboratory at the Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute, and African Leadership University, among others, should be done for inclusion in the next iteration. Critical perspectives on science and technology emerging from the visual and performance arts have also been noted and should be explored for inclusion in the next iteration of the exhibit.
AO: This blog post posted on the 4S 2018 website in the weeks before the conference aimed to briefly touch on some of the challenges, motivations and inspirations encountered in the development of the exhibit.Read more
STS Across Borders digital collections are focused through ten questions that can be asked across all STS Formations so as to provoke comparative insight.
BEGINNINGS: What stories have been told about the beginnings of this STS formation?
CONDITIONS: What external conditions have influenced this STS formation?
INFRASTRUCTURES: What scholarly infrastructure has supported this STS formation?
EVENTS: What events have marked the development of this STS formation?
FRAMEWORKS: What (methodological/ theoretical/ political/ ethical) frameworks have had strong influences on this STS formation?
PROJECTS: What people, projects, and products exemplify how this STS formation has developed over time?
EDUCATION: What educational programs have been built within and through this STS formation?
ENGAGEMENTS: How has the work of this STS formation moved beyond the university?
TOPICS: What topics have been prominent in this STS formation in different periods?
FUTURES: How is the future of this STS formation envisioned?
A desire for putting together this exhibit was to not only destabilize the idea of “Africa” but also to take a broader understanding of what STS means across the world and normalize different modes of knowledge production that might not readily be recognized as STS work (e.g. iHub Research). As the exhibit creaters, we sought to show that “STS” means a great variety of different things. Despite time and capacity constraints, we therefore attempted to pull into one frame some of the wide diversity of projects being done on science and technology across diverse parts of the African continent. This diversity of scholars and scholarship means that we have a community included in the exhibit that widely differ in their understanding of science and its social contract even as they all work on topics related to STS.
Scholars working on Science and Technology in Africa have worked on projects covering a wide range of topics related to cultural astronomy (Holbrook; Segla); innovation and entrepreneurship (Wahome; Mavhunga; Avle; Densmore; Odumosu; Mwenda; Burrell); hardware “hacking” (Coban; Mboa Nkoudou); data (Biruk; Tichenor; Bezuidenhout); genomics (Okeke; Pollock); intellectual property (Foster; Osseo-Asare); urbanism (Adelusi-Adeluyi); health, healing and medicine (Livingston; Meek; Langwick; Pollock; Tantchou; Hamdy; Benton; Osseo-Asare); capital (Peterson; Breckridge); capacity (Tousignant; Okeke); energy (Osseo-Asare; Hecht); environment (Rarieya; Green; Solomon); imperialism (Tilley); scholarly mobility and infrastructures (Bernard; Auerbach; Okonkwo; Lachenal; Mwangola); humanitarianism and “development” (Peterson; Bernal; Biruk; Burrell; Benton); new media (Opeibi; Bernal; Avle); biometrics (Vally; Breckridge); race and gender (Pollock; Benton; Twagira; Okonkwo).
As of May 2018, 177 results emerge from a quick search of “Africa” in the 4S journal "Science, Technology and Human Values". Of these, 120 are research articles. Most of these keyword "hits" were as a result of the mention of "African Americans" within the papers. It is also notable that the works explicitly focused on African contexts in "Science, Technology & Human Values" have primarily been published since 2000. Such work has largely focused on topics related to health, social and economic development, technology, and the biopolitics of race.
Since 2014, there have been several notable academic and practitioner conferences with increasing frequency on topics related to and relevant for science and technology in/on the African continent. These events have taken place across the Africa, Europe and the US, and have been characterized by the attendance of local and transnational scholars. Topics have tended to focus on mobile technologies and their uses in the African context, biomedicine, open science and technology, etc.
This is the first year that an explicit pre-conference workshop on STS in Africa is being held as part of the 4S annual conference. This marks an important milestone for a community of practice that is continuing to grow and be in conversation.
This essay highlights interview and survey responses related to future directions of studies of science and technology in Africa as held by individuals working on critical science and technology issues in Africa. Responses highlight that future studies of science and technology in/of/from “Africa” should pay attention to the growing presence of multinationals working and promoting science and technology in Africa (Green; Sambuli); Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (Orwa; Ochieng); scholarly infrastructures (Densmore; Green; Okune; Bezuidenhout; Barnard; Coban; Meek); and making/hacking/innovation/experimentation (Bernal; Mwenda).
The iHub Research exhibit, a separate stand-alone exhibit within the 2018 STS Across Borders initiative, is one example of a non-traditional research organization working on "STS in/from Africa" that moves STS beyond the university and originates outside of it. As a non-academic research center striving to produce knowledge relevant for its community which could also be read by the academy and other stakeholders, its exhibitors argue that iHub Research should be considered an example of a key site of knowledge production offering critical perspectives on technology in Africa by and for the technology community in Kenya and beyond.