Research Update – 3 Dec 2018

Richmond, CA — The standard opening of an ethnography begins with the “arrival scene” of the researcher to foreign host country. As those who have been following my blog know, part of why I have been blogging (albeit sporadically) has been to foreground my own research training and process and to complicate the idea of the “field” (as scholars like Gupta and Ferguson 1997 have long been doing). I think my outlining here of the learning and research work that I have been conducting while still located in Northern California (Richmond Annex to be exact) helps to displace the idea that ethnography only begins once we land on foreign soil. What kind of preparation and work (beyond just reading a sh*t ton) goes into getting ready for our ethnographic engagements? How do we ensure we are getting ourselves into the right headspace while fully recognizing and being ready for things to completely and utterly shift once you are in the field? I believe this is in line with what McGranahan (2014) has written about as ethnographic sensibility. Raul Pacheco-Vega (2016) has also blogged about his understanding of what an ethnographic sensibility might mean.

As I increasingly find my project turning into a “digital humanities” project that includes setting up a data archive, I am necessarily having to skill up and prep myself to have various ideas and “tools” in my arsenal to help foster and facilitate the engagements I anticipate in the field. Therefore, I have been thinking of this phase of the process (between passing my orals and arriving in Nairobi) as my “skilling-up” stage where I am learning more about IP, tech tools, server pricing and technologies, available qual data repositories and accompanying policy and guidance documents, etc. Who knows what will turn out to be relevant (and I know I will need to learn much more once in the field) but I hope that this will help to get me ready for the work that is to come in 2019!

Below I repaste a slightly modified version of my first “official” email update to my dissertation committee since becoming “ABD” (all but dissertation). I plan to send them snapshot updates on a monthly basis all of next year as a way to keep the members of my academic committee updated while I am in Nairobi. I also plan to circulate a similar type of “summary” of the month to the various research organizations I will work with as a way to not only keep them in the loop of what all I am doing but also as a way to “circle back”/ “repeat back” to them what I observe and hear (and leave space for them to dispute/correct anything as needed).

Prep for 2019 Fieldwork


  • Submitted to UCI. Received some initial questions which I have responded to. Waiting for next steps. While that is going on, finishing all other paperwork to get Kenyan research permit (via NACOSTI) as well.

“Skilling up”

  • On-going engagement with digital humanities librarians / museum practitioners
    • Trained on Scrivener by UC Berkeley anthro librarian which I will use to take my field-notes; ongoing discussions about scholarly infrastructures.
    • Consulting sessions with UC Berkeley’s Scholarly Communications Officer (legal scholar) on advice for my project; she is currently reviewing a draft scope of work document that I will use to share with research orgs that I will partner with.
    • Discussions with anthropological archivists to talk about what other skills/trainings I can obtain to prep for developing my own and others’ data archives.
  • Attended part of Nonprofit Dev Summit 2018 and learned about “story-based strategy” as offering possible tools / techniques to elicit research organizations ideas about why they might want to develop archives and who their imagined audiences would be. Trained on information architecture and “website design brief” process which I am planning to merge with some of the icebreakers from Aellah et al. (2016) to use during first meetings with the various organizations.


  • On-going: Figuring out where I should set up server for my PECE instance.
  • Deciding what other types of tech I will need in the field…

Desk work

  • Ongoing landscape / ecosystem analysis of the various existing data platforms and policies across national, international, disciplines using attached analytics.


  • Ongoing reading of African Studies work – aiming to develop a one pager that outlines exactly how my project relates to African studies. Currently reading Nanjala Nyabola’s recently published book on digital democracy in Kenya.
  • Ongoing reading of work going on in UK theorizing “data justice” (Heeks 2018; Linet Taylor’s work; Laura Mann; etc.).
  • Ongoing reading of “Digital History” (Cohen and Rosenzweig).

Academic Conferences/Service

  • Presented at AAAs on a co-organized panel entitled “For Whom Do We Refuse? : Exploring the politics of ‘Refusal’ and ‘Resistance’ in and beyond social movements.” I’m now reworking the paper for publication.
  • Submitted panel abstract for 4S 2019 on the “Politics and Infrastructures of Data Collaboratives.”

Other updates:

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