Open Ethnographic Archiving as Feminist, Decolonizing Practice

It has been a long time coming (I submitted an abstract to the initial CFP way back in 2018 before I had begun my fieldwork!) but I recently had an article published in the feminist technoscience journal, Catalyst. In it, I detail my approach and reason for using the Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography (PECE) open source software in my dissertation project. The article was part of a special section of Catalyst that I encourage you to also check out!

Abstract

Dubbed Silicon Savannah, Nairobi has become a hot spot of tech development that promises to “save Africa.” Qualitative research—carried out by a tangle of private, academic, and non-profit organizations—is part of the work, promising to reveal how people in Kenya are building and benefiting from a dazzling array of digital products. Amidst the enthusiasm, longstanding problems with ways in which research data in Nairobi is conceived, collected, and shared are easily glossed over. This article advances thinking about the politics of qualitative data, unraveling normative concepts like ethics and transparency by both examining existing data practices and modeling alternatives. I describe the sociotechnical infrastructure underlying the ethnographic project, detailing tactics for deploying an instance of open source software—the Platform for Experimental, Collaborative Ethnography (PECE)—to draw research interlocutors into collaborative effort to understand and build decolonized qualitative data infrastructures. Through such processes I learned that collaborating on data not only refreshes the social contract of qualitative work; it can also enhance its robustness and validity. I advise scholars to better document our own knowing practices in order to attend to the inevitability of margins created through all data practices, including our own. Read the full piece here!

2 Postdoc Opportunities at the University of Bologna: Due Jan 17, 2020

Call for application for two postdoc vacancies in the context of the Processing Citizenship Project, funded by the European Research Council (http://processingcitizenship.euhttps://bit.ly/2PFbBp7). The positions are opened at the University of Bologna, with Annalisa Pelizza as Principal Investigator.

Highlights:

  • One position in “Social studies of data infrastructures for population management”

Open to candidates wishing to focus their research on the socio-organizational aspects of data infrastructures, with attention to how circulation of third-country populations data shapes and is shaped by inter-organizational boundaries.

Strongly encouraged backgrounds: Science and Technology Studies, sociology of technology or sociology of organization with a focus on data infrastructures, social informatics, software studies or information science with a sociological sensitivity

  • One position in “European studies with a focus on multi-level governance of data infrastructuring for migration management”

Open to candidates wishing to focus their research on European multi-level and multi-sectorial governance, with attention to data infrastructuring for migration management

Strongly encouraged backgrounds: political science, EU public policy, European history, European law, International Relations or sociology, all with a focus on European integration

  • Where: University of Bologna, Department of Philosophy and Communication.

Bologna is one of the most sought after cities to live and work in Italy and Europe

  • Duration: 12 month, renewable
  • Salary: between 2.200 and 2.600 euro/month net
  • Start date: March 2020, a later date can be negotiated
  • Submission deadline: 17th January, 2020
  • Interviews: 5th (Social studies of data infrastructures vacancy) and 6th  (European Studies vacancy) February 2020, candidate decides whether in person or via videocall
  • Full-length call and submission link (tip: filter by department “Dipartimento di Filosofia e Comunicazione (post 240/2010)”)

For scientific questions, please contact the PI Annalisa Pelizza before 29/12 or after 12/01.

For administrative questions, please contact Ms. T. Mattioli, +39 051/2092202, tatiana.mattioli [at] unibo.it.

Open Call: Editorial Assistant, Backchannels 4S committee, Global South section

The Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) is looking for an STS grad student, postdoc or junior scholar from the Global South (particularly from Africa) who can contribute as an assistant in the Backchannels 4S Committee. The person will be expected to share and disseminate (re-blogging) STS news from/about the southern hemisphere in the form of short academic writings. Besides some editorial skills, the assistant will encourage authors to contribute with their works about report-backs in STS from the global South. The Committee plans to collect, edit and publish 13-14 writings for 2019-2020. The volunteer will assist the collection, editing and publication of the writings in Backchannels.

This is an opportunity to become part of a collaborative network, that works voluntarily and with an excellent academic group, to become familiar with editorial tasks, and to get to know the STS community around the world.  We are looking for someone interested in being in this position for at least two years.

If you are interested, please send a short CV and a one-side letter expressing your interest to [mariaelisatorrescarrasco@gmail.com] & [gloria.baigorrotegui@usach.cl] by 7 February 2020.

CFP ElPub 2020

CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE 24th ElPUB Conference

The 24th International Conference on Electronic Publishing ElPub will take place on 18-21 April 2020 in Doha, Qatar.

The conference will address the general theme Charting the Future(s) of Digital Publishing. It will be hosted by UCL Qatar, a centre of excellence in cultural heritage studies in Qatar located in the Education City in Doha. The local organising committee is working towards providing support to authors of accepted papers to attend (the request for support is part of the paper submission form).

This is the first edition of the conference coming to the Middle East after multiple events in Europe, North America and one South American edition. The Middle East is a great place to come together with colleagues from the East and West and hear more diverse points of view what will happen next and how changes in publishing influence the life of academics, learners and all citizens.

The event traditionally brings together academics and practitioners interested in digital publishing, librarianship and information studies, scientific communication, open access and open science. To reflect the diversity of participants and experiences the conference invites full and short papers, practitioners’ papers and posters.

This is the list of topics of particular interest:

  • Theoretical aspects of digital publishing

    • Methods to forecast future trends in digital publishing

    • Driving forces for changing the digital publishing landscape

    • New insights into readers and reading

    • Synergies of publishing and media

    • The evolution of business models in digital publishing

    • Regulation of publishing

    • Digital divide and the future digital publishing

  • New technological developments
    • Artificial Intelligence and scholarly publishing

    • Mobile publishing

    • Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) in publishing

    • Social networks and publishing

    • Tools for measuring quality in digital publishing and emerging metrics

  • Digital publishing, openness and academia

    • Digital publishing reshaped by open access and open science

    • Self-publishing

    • Publishing, metrics and research evaluation

  • New roles of libraries

    • Libraries as publishers

    • Data publication and management

    • Innovation labs for experimentation with digital content

    • New ways of supporting scholars and learners

  • Coping with scale

    • Scholarly communication infrastructures and publishing

    • Big scale digital publishing

    • Publishing and managing big data

  • Skills

    • New professional skills for the future of publishing

    • Digital publishing and new literacies

  • Other relevant topics

Please check the call for papers – submit your paper proposal and join this first of its kind edition of ElPub in the MENA region!

Dr. Milena Dobreva, UCL Qatar (General chair)

Dr. Jadranka Stojanovski, University of Zadar, Croatia (Programme chair)

For further information: https://milenadobreva.net/2019/11/17/charting-the-futures-of-digital-publishing-share-your-views-at-elpub2020-in-doha-qatar/

Post-doc opportunity (Hertie School of Governance, Berlin)

–Reposting from a friend–

To support research projects on Organizations, Institutions and Social Change and the Knowledge Initiative on Organizations and Society (KIOS) under the direction of Prof. Johanna Mair, the Hertie School is recruiting a Post-Doctoral candidate with expertise in qualitative and/or quantitative research methods and broad interests in organizations and their role in tackling social problems and societal challenges. As a school of public policy, The Hertie School of Governance in Berlin prepares exceptional students for leadership positions in government, business, and civil society. A renowned international faculty with expertise in economics, business, law, political and social science take an interdisciplinary, policy-orientated approach to the School’s teaching and research agenda.

The position

This is a part-time position (30 hours/week) with an initial contract for one year that  can be extended. The position is to be filled as of October 01, 2019.

Research tasks:

  • Advance a research agenda around the role of organizations in addressing social problems and transforming institutional contexts, with the goal of publishing relevant research  in leading peer-reviewed outlets
  • Examine a diverse range of alternative and traditional organizational forms (social enterprises, cooperatives, corporations, non-profit organizations; development organizations) that actively pursue strategies to alleviate a social problem, affect social change, and alter institutional arrangements.
  • Think through the complexities that tackling social problems involves and engage directly with organizations and initiatives. Empirical settings for advancing this research agenda include developing and developed economies.

Project management tasks:

  • Take the lead and work closely with the project leader and other members of the team to coordinate data collection, analysis, and writing. Other tasks may include grant applications and coordinating research colloquia.

Outreach:

  • Aim at producing high quality research, attending and presenting at the leading conferences across the social sciences (e.g. management, sociology, political science), and communicating your findings to researchers across related disciplines and policy-makers relevant to the field and the project

Your qualifications

Requirements:

  • The ideal candidate will have a PhD or an equivalent degree in organization and management theory, organizational/economic sociology, or comparative political economy
  • Regardless of background, a keen interest in the interplay of organizations and their institutional contexts is a must
  • Familiarity of and willingness to keep up to date with state-of-the-art research methods in the social sciences
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills in English
  • A self-driven, independent individual who is keen to lead and work in an international environment

Nice to have:

  • Familiarity with debates on the role of organizations in addressing societal challenges (e.g. social entrepreneurship, social movements, corporate forms of responsibility etc.)
  • Willingness to engage with related debates across the social sciences
  • Familiarity with data handling and analysis (e.g. through Stata/R) is a welcome asset
  • A record of or demonstrated potential to publish work in international outlets


To apply for this position, please visit 
hertie-school.dvinci-easy.com/en/p/en/jobs/152/…. Deadline for full consideration is August 31, 2019. For further questions, please contact Johanna Mair, Professor for Organization, Strategy and Leadership, at mair@hertie-school.org.

Tech tools

On a lighter note, wanted to post links to techie things that I’ve learned about from friends in Nairobi. I am not receiving any advertising money from these orgs nor do they probably even know I exist but sharing because I thought these might be life changers for some of you …

My friend and I were trying to figure out how to do the design work for an upcoming event (we don’t have a budget for it) and she told me about this. Amazingly simple and beautiful designs to whip up a quick poster, ppt, etc.:

https://www.canva.com/

Are you like me and have a gazillion tabs that you say you are going to read and never get around to until your browser looks like hell? This has saved me:

https://www.one-tab.com/

The thought of transcribing the interviews that I’ve been doing has been overwhelming me…Until a friend mentioned Otter AI. You upload the interview and it picks and auto-transcribes. Then you go back in and clean it up. Working pretty well so far!

https://otter.ai/

Decolonizing scholarly data and publishing infrastructures

I was recently invited to write a post for the LSE Citing Africa podcast/blog series and am reposting below the final version of the post that originally appeared here. I want to also point your attention to the fast approaching deadline for ASAA call for individual papers and panels (closes on May 30th and June 15th, respectively)! As I argue in the post, the choice of which conference to attend is in fact a demonstration of ethical orientation and politics. Whose scholarship and institutions are you building through your participation and payment of conference fees? (I would urge you to support the African Studies Association in Africa).

***

books and laptop research

Where and how is scholarly knowledge produced and circulated, and with what effects? We must be wary of the over-production and representation of work from particular geographies, as well as the relegation of other locales as sites of data collection.

Existing scholarly infrastructures continue to enable and in fact re-entrench what Paulin Hountondji called ‘extroverted scientific activity’, where researchers on the African continent investigate subjects which are of interest first and foremost to a Western audience. Hountondji argued that while academic work can meet the theoretical needs and questions of the Western academy, it does not serve the societies within which the science is conducted.

This paradigm is reinforced by a growing reliance on exposure in conferences and academic journals with high Impact Factors based in the global North. An original signatory of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, critical development scholar Leslie Chan noted that often ‘the implicit message is that research from the South has to mimic that from the North, even if it means abandoning research that would contribute to local well-being, while favouring research with international appeal’. This speaks to the motivations of my own research. I ask fundamental questions about how and to whom researchers are held accountable and what role scholarly work should play in today’s late industrial moment.

I have come to understand that working outside conventional structures requires additional commitment, time, labour and social capital. For example, Abena Busia describes the challenges faced when working on the monumental Women Writing Africa (WWA) project: despite the women involved principally wanting to broadcast African women’s voices throughout the continent, the project being hosted within the US-based Feminist Press distribution network meant it was more readily available to North American and European audiences. In order to redress this issue, the co-founders together with the Feminist Press had to purposefully pursue African regional partners, volume by volume, to publish and distribute the series on the continent.

Nanjala Nyabola faced similar challenges when seeking a public library in Nairobi to launch her recent book on Kenyan politics. She was eventually able to host the event at a branch of the Kenya National Libraries, but doing so required on her part additional labour and effort. In most cases, this additional labour is neither valued nor promoted within academic review systems, and so it falls onto the shoulders of the individual scholar. To move their work outside of well-established, normative systems of scholarly knowledge circulation, these scholars must go beyond what is expected, accounted for and credited, in an already demanding system.

That this ‘double burden’ (also described elsewhere as a ‘second shift’) falls on the same scholars who already have to do more to diffuse their work is revealing of the politics and dynamics of knowledge production on/from the continent. ‘We feel pressure to do it [data and research output sharing] differently but I worry that we will not be able to,’ a Kenyan researcher admitted to me in a discussion about how communities felt exploited by normative practices of research data collection.

The drive for some scholars to work outside of conventional structures is rooted in a desire to combat an unequal representation in academic knowledge production. One proposed solution has been to increase African-authored scholarship. But focusing on the symptoms of extroverted scientific infrastructures, rather than the systems themselves, carries a risk of tokenising individuals. For example, in response to critiques about the lack of representation from the global South in Information and Communication Technologies in Development (ICTD) work, I observed at the 2015 ICTD conference an increase in rates of co-authorship between global North and global South scholars. Nonetheless, Northern scholars still appeared to drive the agenda. Although all of the research from the 24 co-authored papers at the conference took place in field sites located in the ‘global South’, only four had primary authors who hailed from institutions situated in the global South itself. Studies by Lam (2014) and Bai (2018) echo this finding.

Dependency on the Northern primary researcher who determines who they want to cite or bring into the academic system is therefore perpetuated: ‘I met an Ethiopian student in Ethiopia and I just decided to bring him to the US to be my student!’ a tenured professor at an American university mentioned to me. ‘I think my biggest impact to my academic field will be that I helped get more Africans into it.’ These examples illustrate the limit of what we can expect if we only focus on individual-led solutions to structural issues, and continue to rely on, and thus reify, traditional scholarly channels and practices.

Rachel Strohm and Edwin Adjei critiqued the establishment of the Centre for Public Authority and International Development (CPAID), which is hosted at the LSE Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa in partnership with African universities, funded by a £5 million, five-year grant from the Economic and Social Research Council. While the CPAID centre works with local researchers, they noted that funders continue to invest in centres of knowledge about Africa hosted outside of Africa, rather than primarily support institutions and scholarly infrastructures based on the continent and focused on African audiences. Strohm asked: ‘Why are Northern academics so good at studying inequality and uneven post-colonial power dynamics in the South, and so bad at recognizing their own role in perpetuating inequality within the international scholarly community?’ She concluded: ‘We must be missing so many interesting voices, so many valuable contributions to knowledge, because we’re systematically underinvesting in African academics. Spending £5 million to set up a research centre in the UK rather than somewhere like Accra or Nairobi (or Tamale or Eldoret or Kisangani) only perpetuates the problem.’

Responses to Strohm’s post highlight that initiatives attempting to rectify such inequalities in investments in African research already exist. Adjei points to CODESRIA’s long-standing work since its founding in 1973 towards remedying the unequal circulation of African scholarship, as well as more recent work from the African Studies Association of Africa (ASAA), an Africa-based association which promotes Africa’s specific contributions to knowledge about the peoples and cultures of Africa and the Diaspora. The association’s third biennial conference will take place in Nairobi in October 2019; the choice of which conference to attend is in fact a demonstration of ethical orientation and politics. Whose scholarship and institutions are you building through your participation and payment of conference fees? (Note the ASAA call for panels closes on June 15th!)

Figure of the academic knowledge research production process

There is also a neglected commercial layer to these discussions. Emerging studies have shed light on the expansion of commercial publishers into all parts of the scholarly research life cycle, including data analytics for ‘impact factors’, university rankings and management of research data. The diagram above illustrates the extent of Elsevier’s expansion through its acquisitions (illustrated by logos) of companies across the research process. The growing consolidation of research infrastructure by private industry actors such as Elsevier make working outside of mainstream forms of knowledge production even more challenging. Given the high costs of non-participation in the system, many researchers, especially those in contexts with little government or funder support, have few options but to entrust their knowledge to these corporations. Given the already uneven landscape of publishing power, what are the implications for the diversity of knowledge production in such moves towards consolidation?

The map below illustrates the high imbalance in regional representation in published academic work in the Web of Science and demonstrates how existing academic publishing infrastructures privilege certain regions and types of knowledge. Scholars concerned with decolonising knowledge need to turn a critical gaze on the structures through which academic knowledge circulates and who owns and makes decisions about these structures.

World scaled by number of documents with authors from each country in Web of Science.

The ‘replication crisis’ highlighted by Laura Mann in her Citing Africa blog post has led many concerned scholars towards Open Science – the movement to make scientific research open access and accessible across society. The increasing push for pre-analysis plans, publishing of research instruments and datasets, among other demands, is viewed as a way to increase transparency and ‘better science’. As growing critiques of Open Science have argued, however, such practices and tools do not necessarily challenge the powerful actors governing the Science industry and may in fact be re-entrenching power by creating new technical boundaries and requirements. Who is able to publish ‘openly’? And if barriers to ‘openness’ remain, will we merely deepen the over-representation of some groups over others?

Working with the Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network (OCSDNet) over the last five years, I have observed that a ‘crisis of replication’ has indeed contributed towards a growing normative push for Open Science, with a focus on tools and technologies. Despite the revolutionary rhetoric, it appears that much of the mainstream Open Science movement continues to operate under the same values and structures of the pre-crisis era, albeit with new tools and norms to revitalise its credibility.

Furthermore, the frame of what ‘counts’ as valid knowledge should reach beyond the confines of the scientific academic journal article. During the last ASAA conference, Dr. Wangui wa Goro highlighted that the university should not be considered the only site of knowledge production, and forms of knowledge like hip-hop and jazz, which fall outside of normative scholarly frames, should also be valourised given that African scholars have long worked outside these frameworks. Groups like Critical Investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa (CIHA) have also highlighted poetry, photography, dance and other visual work as important when speaking of alternative forms of knowledge and remind us that the politics of language must also be part of these considerations. While writing this blog post, outside of the university Virtual Private Network, an article on decolonising knowledge would have cost $42 USD or 4,200 Kenyan Shillings. For whom are we ultimately creating such knowledge and for what purpose? To get towards a ‘pluriverse’, more multimodal ways of doing, acknowledging accessing and credentialing scholarship are needed.

As Laura Mann prompts in her Citing Africa post: why are we all doing this work? And how do we ensure that the socio-technical infrastructures that facilitate the work are in line with those values? I argue that no matter who we cite in our academic work, as long as we continue to publish and write within existing academic systems and genres, and follow established ethical standards and protocols to keep research data locked in university office filing cabinets, the contradictions and ironies will only become more glaring and apparent. We must take real steps to reassess the values inherent in scholarly processes and publishing.

Chan has recently written that Open Science requires us:

‘[T]o think beyond the confines of the genre of the academic journal and the narrow set of standards and quality markers designed and controlled by profit driven entities … there is a need to think about enabling infrastructure for data and diverse forms of outputs and processes … there needs to be more thought given to keeping infrastructure open and public.’

The academy is increasingly becoming a space where commercial publishers are leveraging ‘platform capitalism’. Legacy multinational publishers and new players from the global North have been able to concentrate and consolidate their control of the sites of knowledge validation and distribution.

A key component missing from conversations about Open Science is that ethics are not only articulated in institutional review boards and project proposals; ethics are demonstrated in data practices, in publication venues and in decisions about whether we support the companies involved in scholarly production. The challenges are clear. We are constrained by time, funding, deadlines and hierarchies of power within the academy and the scholarly publishing world. Yet scholars concerned with the global practices of science — those interested in articulating why we are here — must get involved in rethinking how scholarly infrastructures can be decolonised and decentralised for greater equity in knowledge production. As a small step towards these aims, I have drafted a set of reflective questions as part of a self-review of my own citational practice available under a Creative Commons license to reuse and remix. My ongoing research project also more deeply engages with these questions, looking at public qualitative research data infrastructures and their making in Nairobi.

Unless we critically assess what counts as ‘high quality’ scholarly knowledge and who determines what counts, we run the risk of reproducing the ‘savage slot’ and tokenism. Using a framework of cognitive justice to describe how decolonising knowledge systems might transpire, Maja van der Velden highlights that giving ‘voice’ to knowers, or being ‘tolerant’ of alternative knowledge, is not enough: ‘cognitive justice requires resisting the hegemony of the dominant knowledge system in the struggle for survival, peace and social justice’.

To radically reshape the way scholarship and scholarly knowledge is produced and communicated requires questioning who makes the decisions about it and why. Focusing our attention on the sociotechnical knowledge infrastructures can help spark these important conversations: what might decentralised, non-hierarchical and locally controlled forms of scholarly communications and knowledge look like? From that vision we can help pluralise forms of knowledge and bring its stewardship and care closer to the communities it most concerns.

I would like to thank Titilope Ajayi, Cecelia Lynch, Leslie Chan, Laura Mann, Laurence Radford and Leah Horgan for comments on an earlier draft of this post.

Why haven’t I updated more often “from the field” ?

During an interview this past week, the interviewee mentioned that she has read this blog in its entirety. I apologized for not updating it recently. I had thought (and mentioned) that I would be sharing more regular updates from “the field”. I know some student start blogs to “report back” (to their family and friends?) from the “field”. I speculate that their desire is to share what they are learning and what they are up to from their fieldwork sites.

But strangely, since returning to Nairobi in January, I have felt less of a desire to post on this blog. Why? Well, first and foremost, I am busy!! 😉 But also, I think it is because I am interacting with the people that in my mind were my audience for this blog – my Kenyan interlocutors. Third, I don’t feel like my findings are articulate yet in a form that would be meaningful to share. I’m still incubating on them… Given that many interlocutors are reading this, perhaps I feel particularly self-conscious about posting any intermediary findings before they have really been fully worked out.

I started this blog out of a desire to open up a channel of communication between Nairobi interlocutors while I was not in Nairobi. I had a feeling that I needed to “report back” from the university so that it didn’t feel like I had just left Kenya and “gone back.” I don’t know how many Kenyan interlocutors actually read my blog (although I have observed that many of my new interlocutors whom I’ve met this year have begun to read this blog!). Somehow it eased my mind to have a way of sharing what I was working on with former colleagues, friends, community advisors, and allied strangers. Now that I am back, talking to them in person is much more rewarding!

But I am still around and will do my best to post periodically so don’t give up on me yet! 🙂

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).

Continue reading “Research Update – 3 Dec 2018”

Research Relations: An Ethnography of Qualitative Data Sharing in Nairobi

Last week, one day after returning from a whirlwind trip to the 2018 Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) conference in Sydney, I submitted the outputs that have been the bane of my existence for the last one year. That might be a bit melodramatic but as per the UCI Anthro research timeline, the third year of the PhD is dedicated to the production of the three orals documents. I’ll post links with full access to the three blog posts once they have been reviewed and commented on by the committee. I’ll also work on distilling some of my learnings from the process in a separate post (and as preparation for a workshop on the same that I’m planning to facilitate for grad students within my department next month) but for the time being, phew! What a relief! Of course there’s always more to do but one of the benefits of a hard deadline is the sense of relief after you’ve met it!

I’ve now got more time to dedicate towards updating this blog, reconnecting with those in Nairobi that I am very excited to be working with more closely again from next year and spending time with family. As one step towards the first goal, here’s a brief blurb about the latest iteration of my project! As always, comments and feedback are so appreciated!

Research Relations: An Ethnography of Qualitative Data Sharing in Nairobi

Keywords: qualitative research data, education, relational ethics, collaboration

This project examines how qualitative research data is produced, shared, and contested by diverse research groups in Nairobi, Kenya. Despite decades of research aiming to solve Africa’s problems and billions of dollars in funding, many of those who are studied see little change in their everyday lives. Particular communities such as groups in Kibera, an infamous slum in Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi, demonstrate survey fatigue, falsified responses, and even feelings of being exploited by global processes of scientific knowledge production. “Open Data” – datasets made available for public use and reuse — has gained increasing support from governments and international policy makers, and proponents argue that Open Data could enable greater development outcomes from scientific research. Through a comparative study of three Nairobi-based research organizations working in and on technology and development, I examine negotiations over privacy, quality, ownership, and ethical responsibility enacted by the processes of opening up qualitative research data. This research will analyze changing ideas about data sharing amongst social scientists in Africa, responding both to increasing concern that scientific knowledge is not benefiting the communities studied and to growing, global interest in the possible benefits of “open data.”

I propose to work with three Nairobi sites: A, B, C [will keep these anonymous for now until I confirm their participation]. These leading centers facilitate collection, storage and management of significant qualitative research data on Kenyan technology entrepreneurship and development. The bulk of my fieldwork data will be collected by facilitating discussions within and between the researcher organizations. I propose to support the development of local organizational archives hosted on an open source, virtual research environment in order to spur discussions about data sharing. My own research data, collected through this project, will also be stored and shared on this platform. I have developed this approach to data in part to move away from narratives of deficit that are heavily part of existing discourses about Africa. I am keen to work together with research groups to shake out issues that emerge when the existence of “African” data and its generation and sharing are taken as a given. Through participant observation, interviews, focus group discussions, a survey and archival work, I would like to collaborate with research groups to understand the infrastructures, cultures, and practices through which qualitative technology development research data is produced and maintained in Nairobi.

This project advances understandings of data practices and infrastructures within the fields of anthropology and science and technology studies (STS) by considering how the experiences of those who are heavily studied could inform research design, fieldwork and data sharing practices. This project also contributes to a growing body of work on “Open Science” and “Open Data” from an African context, looking at how growing global shifts toward opening up data and scientific practices are saturated with multiple and sometimes competing notions about what constitutes ethical science (Biruk 2018; Bezuidenhout 2017). In particular, I am interested in understanding how opening up datasets for the purposes of enacting social good and justice operates, uneasily, with the potential risks of commercial exploitation, decontextualization, appropriation, and use in state surveillance.

This study will contribute:

  • a socio-technical infrastructure for the sharing of qualitative data produced by research organizations working in and on Nairobi. Not only will this enable the research work to be more accessible to online publics, this infrastructure can also enable greater collaborative analysis of diverse qualitative datasets;
  • empirical evidence to help inform scholars working on the sharing of qualitative data sharing within their universities and scholarly presses;
  • best practices for qualitative research data sharing which are important for policy making regarding the role of Open Science in global South contexts;
  • suggestions to research institutions and funders on how to better ensure those studied play an important role in shaping African research agendas;
  • publicly disseminated findings via research interlocutors’ blogs to spur public debate about the benefits and risks of open research data; and lastly,
  • to my training, which will result in a dissertation and open access publication of several journal articles.